Rachel Kolb: Help for the Signing-Impaired

Rachel Kolb
New York Times

While talking to a hearing person at a noisy party, I inevitably reach the point when I want to stop, switch off my cumbersome voice, and let my hands fly.

The communication breakdown happens quickly and predictably:

“I’m sorry, what? It’s so loud in here, I can’t hear you.”

“Could you repeat yourself?”

“Hold on, let me get closer.”

I find myself pressed up against someone’s ear, their head turned and
their tousled mass of hair all but inviting me to stroke it like a dog. We are no longer looking at each other, and with this change it strikes me that an essential opportunity to connect has vanished. Gone are the human eyes gazing into my own, the socalled windows into the soul – or what I consider true communication, anyway. I feel ridiculous, shouting and taxing my voice, pouring its wispy essence into the hole in the side of my companion’s head. Around me everyone else is doing the same, speaking louder in desperate attempts to triumph over the sea of communal noise. It is a tragedy of the commons: in the hearing world, when everyone tries to hold individual conversations at once, everyone loses.

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