MIKE GULLIVER

Deaf geographies, and other worlds.

Visible doesn’t always mean visible

One of the things that hearing people have to learn when they first encounter a Deaf space workplace, is to use their eyes in a different way. Both in terms of picking up more information… broadening peripheral attention, becoming aware of the need to guard against unwanted visual noise… but also in terms of picking up less information. One example of this is when you might choose not to eavesdrop on a visible conversation that has nothing to do with you.

The opportunity to do the latter is rife in a Deaf working environment because of the visual nature of Deaf spaces. Deaf people like to both see and be seen. Office doors are propped open, window blinds are up, desks are arranged so that everyone can see everyone and the door and the corridor outside, and mirrors are even installed so that peripheral vision can tell you what’s going on.

Being ‘visible’, however, doesn’t mean that you are observable. And so you learn, as a hearing person, that privacy works differently from the way it does in the hearing world.

In the hearing world, you are responsible for your own privacy. If you want to be in private, you shut your door.  You remove others’ opportunity to observe or disturb you.

In the Deaf world, on the other hand, my experience is that you are responsible for others’ privacy. Being visible is bigger than a choice about availability. It’s a communicative, cultural necessity. You gift others with your visibility all of the time. And so it’s incumbent upon others to respect, and choose what to do with that gift.

In the hearing world, privacy is taken.

In the Deaf world, privacy is given.

Knowing the difference makes this article about academics objecting to windows in their office doors, into quite a critical read about hearing-world cultures.

Deaf people have figured out how to make it work. Go ask them.

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This entry was posted on August 11, 2016 by in Musings.
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