Marissa Larson feels a bit like Harry Potter. She's not a wizard. (At least not that we know of.) But like Harry, she is part of a unique culture — one with its own traditions, language and educational institutions. And one that is often invisible to those who aren't a part of it. Larson, a clinical research coordinator at Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus, is deaf. That said, she tells us that while "being deaf is a huge aspect of who I am," it doesn't "define my life."
Although she admits that "being a deaf person has its challenges," Larson wants people to know "there is nothing wrong with being deaf. We can do anything but hear." That was a message Larson shared recently during a presentation to her colleagues in Mayo's Department of Otorhinolaryngology. The goal: to provide education about Deaf culture and explain what it's like to be deaf.
Larson, who works with an American Sign Language interpreter, says it can be easy for hearing people to misinterpret some of a deaf person's actions. For example, not taking notes at a meeting could be misconstrued as a lack of interest. But for a deaf person, Larson says that's far from the case. "You would have to look up and down while watching the interpreter, and this will cause you to miss out on a lot of important information," she tells us. Another common misperception, Larson says, is that deaf people can communicate effectively through lip reading alone. "Skilled lip readers can only understand about 30 percent of English speech," she says. Hearing aids aren't magic wands, either. "Wearing a hearing aid does not mean that I have the same hearing as you," she tells us. "The way I interpret sounds and volume is not the same as a hearing person."
Being deaf in a hearing world can be lonely and sometimes painful. "Hearing people often don't realize that there are deaf people around, since they don't show any features of being disabled," Larson tells us. And that can lead to even more misunderstandings, as when a deaf person doesn't realize someone is speaking to them and fails to respond. "I get really nasty looks from people thinking I was rude," she says. "Little things like that actually really hurt."
Larson also shared tips for communicating with a person who is deaf. Tips like using a pen and paper, or the wizard (a.k.a. cell phone) in your pocket. She also asked for patience. "If we ask you to repeat something, please don't say, 'Never mind,'" Larson says, adding that she and other deaf and hard of hearing people "appreciate it when you take the time to communicate with us."
Since Larson's presentation, those around her have been doing just that. "My colleagues are more willing to talk with me without the fear of not knowing how to communicate with a deaf person," she tells us. And for that, among other things, she is grateful, telling us she appreciates her Mayo colleagues' "patience, time and willingness to accommodate and work with me. It has been a wonderful experience so far, and I love working here."
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