How a Dismissive Wave Impacted a Woman who is Deaf 19 May
Those who are part of the deaf and hard of hearing community are facing unique challenges during this global pandemic. Kimberly Fugate, a toddler support teacher at the Center for Children in Lexington KY, is no exception.
Fugate, who received a cochlear implant when she was six-years-old, shared in a viral post, her story of a stressful interaction she faced in a recent trip to the grocery store.
During this routine outing, Fugate experienced a feeling she had never felt before.
She felt anxious. Her glasses fogged up.
“I rely on lip-reading a lot even though I can hear pretty well with my cochlear implant,” Fugate shares. “It’s a weird feeling I’ve never experienced…It is hard to read lips when everyone has a mask on.”
As she entered the store, she was faced with another unexpected challenge. The straps of the mask were rubbing on her cochlear implant microphone and making an unbearable noise. She opted to take off her device.
No stranger to navigating difficult situations, Fugate was born hearing only to lose her hearing at age 5 when she got Spinal Meningitis. A year later, she received a cochlear implant and shortly after learned American Sign Language (ASL). Through many years of speech therapy, she regained the speech that was lost during the meningitis.
Fugate says she’s always been supported by her parents and loved ones.
Fast forward…When arriving to the checkout line during her trip to the store when someone stopped her.
“I assume they are talking to me,” she says, “so I tell them I can’t hear.”
The person proceeded to grab a piece a paper and write down what they were asking her. The note read: cash or credit?
“Gotcha,” Fugate says.
It was a communication win.
But things went downhill from there. As she approached the register, the woman scanning her groceries said something, not realizing Fugate couldn’t hear. Fugate let the checker know she couldn’t hear and instead of trying a different approach to commuicate, the staff member gave her what Fugate describes as the, “wave off with her hand as if she’s telling me never mind.”
Fugate then asked the checker to write it down, only to be waved off again.
For some, this exchange may seem harmless. The sales person may have not had ill intent by her actions. Only, for those who are deaf and hard of hearing, being “waved off” often feels dismissive and hurtful. Exchanges such as this have been desrcibed by those who have hearing loss as isolating and cruel. An audience memeber of My Battle Call says, “It is like I don’t matter. I am invisible.”
This exchange certainly felt like a lack of compassion to Fugate.
She paid for her groceries and headed for her car, tears running down her face.
“As someone who is deaf and has been faced with lots of frustrations with communication in the past, this experience really hurt,” Fugate shares.
Being waved off makes me “feel as if I am not worth conversing with and it makes me feel dismissed and adds to the already isolating times we are dealing with today,” says Fugate.
The communication challenges for those who are deaf and hard of hearing during this time are complex and often misunderstood.
“The biggest challenge I have faced due to the virtual shift is communicating. It is hard to communicate via Zoom and/or Telehealth. It’s also challenging being isolated at home. You feel a disconnect from the world, but as a deaf individual, the disconnect is stronger because it’s a bigger struggle in the way of communication with masks,” Fugate adds.
Hoping her post will help others be more understanding and compassionate, Fugate shares, “Please be patient with anyone you come across who is deaf or hard of hearing. These times are not easy on any of us… It’s so simple to dismiss someone, but you have no idea the feeling that puts on us. It hurts. Be patient. It goes a long way.”
Fugate wants people to know that those who are deaf can do everything hearing people do except hear. She has been overwhelmed by the amount of support, messages, and compassion she has received since sharing her story.
Fugate’s husband, who had no idea she was deaf when they met, is grateful and proud that the love of his life has been an inspiration for caring and patience during a time in history where it is so important to be aware of those around us, and their struggles, even if they cannot be seen.
“Being deaf or hard of hearing may seem like an invisible disability, but it carries a lot weight. We have to learn to adapt to the world, as it is always changing. During COVID-19, so many adaptations are being made every day. It is up to us to pave the way for the future deaf and hard of hearing population, so they may have an easier time in this life.”
*This story was shared with permission from Kimberly Fugate.
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