Imagine you see someone whom you know to be deaf (let’s not even bring the cultural perspective in here yet) on a phone call.
You might even hear his voice as he has his cell phone to his ears. And yet, when he tries to communicate with you, he uses only non-lingual gestures, or sign language, or does so through an interpreter.
You may wonder: Why doesn’t he just talk? Clearly he can.
You’re right about that, you know. Many signing Deaf people have enough residual hearing, or have had enough voice therapy, that they’re able to use spoken language intelligibly enough.
But that does not mean they are comfortable using their voices to communicate all the time, or with just anyone.
Deafness has a range. It is not as simple as just things being not as loud in the ears of a deaf person. Sometimes, some kinds sounds are not heard. Imagine going through life without ever hearing the ‘ch’ sound. Without help (and even with help), you would have difficulty producing it. Now, imagine that issue magnified: You cannot hear your own voice, cannot use your hearing to modulate volume, pitch, etc. You know that people can hear and understand you, but you are also aware that you don’t sound like them, because you see it on their faces, and they tell you, sometimes laugh at you.
How comfortable would you be using your voice then?
Granted, there are many Deaf who are perfectly comfortable using their voices to communicate with hearing people, and those who do so even along with their signing with other Deaf. But it is their choice. And we should respect that.
In telling a Deaf person that he or she should talk you are saying that their language is less important than the hearing person’s. Let’s try not to send that message; and even better, try not to think that, either.