Traveling with a hearing disability – Deaf travel
This is the third article in a series on Traveling With A Disability: Traveling with a hearing disability (Or Deaf Travel). The introduction to the series (and an index) can be found here. In this article we will be specifically addressing Deaf travel, travel for the Deaf community and traveling with a hearing disability (those who have significant hearing loss).
As an ASL (American Sign Language) student, I’ve absolutely loved getting to know more about Deaf culture both in America and also around the world. And I want to encourage you that it is possible to travel regardless of being deaf! Quick clarification – “I will be using Deaf” with a capital D to refer to the culture, community, and identity, whereas “deaf” with a lowercase d will refer to moderate-severe hearing loss to severe-profound hearing loss in medical terms. We at Good Neighbor Insurance understand that hearing loss is not a “disability.” This article is going to mainly take a medical perspective, not a cultural one and try to help deaf travelers be better prepared when going overseas.
Don’t let being deaf keep you from traveling! http://deafinitelywanderlust.com/2015/02/why-deafness-shouldnt-be-used-as-an-excuse-to-avoid-traveling/
This article will address both those traveling deaf and Deaf travel:
It’s highly recommended that you travel with a hearing companion
They can help interpret for you and if they already speak or partially speak the local language, your travels will be that much easier. This is especially true in countries where laws are strict or that may speak another language. For example, in some countries, it is illegal to take pictures of dams, utilities or inside of airports. Certain areas may be restricted such as schools, beaches, or even inside of factories. One other time it may be critical to have a companion/hearing companion is if you need medical attention overseas or need to use your travel medical insurance (international health insurance) overseas. Consider if you are in pain and cannot respond to questions, or unable to call your medical I.D. number abroad. Having a hearing companion who can call for you (and translate if they speak the local language) can be important.
Law enforcement and border patrol overseas do not care if you aren’t able to hear their warnings.
This police training video is a good example of how a confrontation with police in the USA may unfold, it is even more serious overseas. Not heeding warnings whether by authorities or by a passerby that sees you may be in danger is especially important if you are in surroundings that are not familiar to you or in cultures that do not operate like our own.
You do not want to be seen as “non-compliant.”
While you should always carry a card describing your condition, realize that border agents and police abroad may not want you to move or be reaching into a pocket. Not following their verbal instructions (if you did not see them approach) will already cause them to be “on edge” and less sympathetic. For Deaf travel, this is true of places like Israel and Italy just as much as it is in Russia or Thailand. In these cases, moving slowly and slowly signing (In ASL) that you are sorry that you cannot hear them should help them understand. Gesturing slowly “Can you write?” might help. Usually they will clearly indicate what they want you to do (or for you to stop doing) and hopefully you’ll be on your way.
Cultural differences when using hand gestures
In some cultures, even showing a guidebook with the words “Which direction to the nearest toilet?” will not cause someone to point you in the right direction, if “pointing” with one’s finger is considered offensive within that culture. If you are pointing, try to use an open hand gesture instead to ask if something is a certain direction. In many cultures worldwide, hospitality is very important and you may find people escorting you to a destination, even if across town! – We have found this to be true regardless of having a disability or no.)
Be aware that in Mediterranean countries such as Turkey and Greece, as well as Brazil, the “OK” sign is a very vulgar gesture and signals roughly the same thing as flipping someone the middle finger in the U.S. It also suggests homosexuality in some places. It is not an appropriate response to indicate your meal was satisfactory or when someone at the hotel writes down the WiFi password for you.
A “thumbs up” sign in the Middle East essentially means “up yours.” You do not want to insult people when you travel. It essentially means the same thing in West Africa and South America.
In Greece, showing your palm to say stop is offensive.
Always research any cultural gestures that may be “VERBOTEN” before you travel.
You will be additionally limited in visual cues if the country does not use English, or uses a foreign script such as Arabic or Chinese.
The deaf mainly rely on visuals, but foreign language scripts and different cultural cues may be harder to get used to. Stay out of fast moving streams of people, and allow yourself to absorb the environment without blocking anyone or getting shoved into traffic. Little old ladies can be pushy if you’re in their way! Especially if trying to board public transport or if standing in a busy area!
Google Translate (the app) now has a feature that translates signs. It is great for translating signs and menus. There are a number of apps that can help you. We put a link to a good .pdf resource down under the Resources section, below.
Many students overseas must study English in school. Local people you run into may be more comfortable reading/writing English than speaking it. They may smile broadly when they realize that they can read your message and will then nod and indicate/show you what you are asking for, or write back a response versus trying to speak, which may be embarrassing to them.
Make sure others know you’re deaf, such as airport staff, hotel staff, local transportation, tour guides, etc.
Ask for someone to alert you of any audio cues, notifications or emergencies. See https://www.tsa.gov/travel/special-procedures and select the “Deaf or Hard of Hearing” option from the drop down to see the Travel Safety Administration’s advice on air travel for the deaf.
Take precautions in case your luggage is lost. Bring all important hearing aids, extra batteries, etc. with you on board in a “carry-on.” You’ll also want to be extra careful with your hearing aids / CI (cochlear implant). Pack extra batteries, and make sure you take a waterproof case with you to protect your hearing aids / CI when not in use as they are very sensitive to moisture. Research and be aware of places around your destination that will be able to repair your hearing aids in case of an emergency.
Always carry a card with you listing any disability or impairment in case of accident or emergency.
You can create a free one here: www.medids.com/free-id.php. Include “Deaf,” “deaf,” or “hard of hearing.” Include the name and phone number of your physician as well as a (hearing) loved one they can contact. Include your Medical Insurance information in case of accident. If you need medical insurance or a recommendation, text us using Skype at “good neighbor insurance” or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Overseas there are often no explicit laws and services protecting or serving Deaf persons
You may find people are not as understanding or supportive as those in America. The World Federation of the Deaf is working to change that.
In the meantime, consider travel to “warmer,” friendlier cultures that are more helpful and kind overall than travel to cultures that tend to be “cooler”, efficient, or brusque. (At least until you have a few thousand frequent flier miles.)
Deaf Travel and TSA lines
Flying is difficult for both Deaf and those who are hard of hearing
When you reserve flights online, there is usually a space to note disability and the kinds of services offered. Sometimes it is not very helpful, but it may assure you pre-boarding and a greater opportunity to let air stewards know your needs. You should always try to do this so you can request to be notified in the plane is delayed, going to be early, and of other pilot announcements. Ask them to take note of your seat and to alert other cabin staff where you will be sitting.
Depending on your carrier, here is a list of links and numbers to get additional assistance: http://www.cheapflights.com/news/traveling-with-disabilities/
An unfortunate solo travel story by Coco: https://tactiletheworld.wordpress.com/
Remember what we said about people trying to “help” only to be a burden and yet won’t leave you alone? In this case, even a very experienced traveler like Coco (Christine Roschaert), Director of Nepal DeafBlind Project.
Even if you are able to hear sound on some level, the plane’s engine is so overpowering that everything else just gets lost in the midst of it all.
Inform a seatmate so they can help notify you in case of emergency or delays.
According to the AARP, those who are deaf or have significant hearing loss represent 1 in 5 air customers. Of the 50 million Americans with hearing loss, quite a few end up on airplanes. Here is a list of 10 things those with hearing loss can do on board a plane.
Self-identify and notify the airline of your disability so that they can provide you with services — like giving one-on-one training about takeoffs and landings, emergency procedures, and writing things down so that you can read it, such as meal choices.
PA public announcements will be missed including any change in schedule which may effect your arrangements at your destination or connecting flights. Heavy turbulence is another thing that can be downright scary when you have no notification.
Keep an eye on departure boards and other screens change of platforms or terminals or gates as well as cancellations or delays will usually be updated there quickly.
Local travel for the Deaf and those hard of hearing
On the streets overseas, distractions and traffic can be very noisy, with car horns, traffic, motorcycles, street salespeople and more masking any cues you may want (and need) to hear. You may not be able to hear warnings and directions at all.
Unlike other visual forms of disability, deafness is not “recognizable”
People overseas can be less patient with you or even grab you/try to make you do what they are requesting/insisting on. At least half of the problems people run into while traveling are a result of some sort of miscommunication or cultural miscommunication.
Always let your flight, bus, train and even walking company know in advance of your deafness and check if they have materials you can use to follow along with instructions. Since visual directions may only be in another language, stop and ask someone for help understand any rules/regulations that are posted. A local “guide” or friend can help you with local cues and norms/customs to make travel easier.
Use your smartphone to communicate with others.
You can find excellent tour guides / interpreters / travel agents at any of these sites:
- Kerstin’s Deaf Travel – Tours and cruises organized for the deaf
- Hands On Travel – ASL guided tours around the world
- Ask Deaf – List of travel resources (car rentals, tours, hotels, etc.) for the deaf
- Deaf Globetrotters – Travel agency, also offers certified interpreters
- Passages Deaf Travel – Organizes all-deaf trips around the world
- Deaf Europe – Travel agency that organizes fully-ASL tours in Spain and throughout the rest of Europe
Helping those who Deaf travelers or hard of hearing
For those of you seeking to help Deaf traveler or those who struggle with hearing, understand that sign language is different in different locations around the world. ASL is just one form of signing and is not mutually intelligible. Every country has their own sign language. Just like there are many different spoken languages, there are many different sign languages. Here’s a site with lots of good ways of communicating overseas, where people might not know sign language or the same sign language as you: http://www.miusa.org/resource/tipsheet/technologyfordeaf.
Cross signing is one way an ASL user or other traveler can make themselves understood.
Stay especially close during busy traffic or crowded markets. Ask if you can help on planes, through airports or places where commands and following verbal instructions is very important.
- A good way to communicate with others overseas is to hire an interpreter who knows ASL and the local language.
- There are over 400 different sign languages across the earth, so even if you meet other deaf people overseas, you might have to put in a little extra effort to talk to them! Don’t let that discourage you, however, because the connections you’ll make overseas are so worth it. Check out this story from a Deaf girl who is traveling the world and meeting other deaf people despite the language barriers! You can always write and use miming / body language to communicate as well.
- Have a (hearing) companion can help you through those tough situations. Especially if they speak the local language.
- Check the box for disabilities when buying your ticket. Pre-board so you have additional time to alert airplane staff about your wants/needs (incl. menu options!)
- Carry on hearing aids, extra batteries, so they do not get lost in transit!
- Always carry a card describing your condition and let local staff/helpers/others know so they can be of help. Suggest/write out specific ways they can help you because they may not know (probably have no idea how to help).
- Consider starting overseas travel to more relaxed/kind cultures and established tourist routes versus remote travel or travel to more “demanding” cultures. Travel to countries using English or with high use of English may help as well.
- Use a smartphone and Google Translate (even to translate signs in another language – What was once called “WordLens” was bought by Google and incorporated into Google Translate which especially helps deaf travelers!)
- Sign language is different for almost every country and local signs may not be in English erasing visual cues you may be used to.
- Always secure good, affordable travel insurance before you travel overseas (from Good Neighbor Insurance or a reputable source that also understands and has plans that cover pre-existing conditions)
Let us know in the comments below if this helped you or if we missed something! We’d love to hear your tips and stories of Deaf travel!
SATH has a good page for both Deaf and hearing impaired travelers – http://sath.org/how-to-travel-with-hearing-impairment-or-deafness
A great list of apps for your smartphone – http://www.hearingloss.org/sites/default/files/ASmartphoneIsaHearingAssistiveTechnology.pdf
Links for “Students on the Go”, A Deaf travel training manual in .Doc and .Pdf – http://www3.gallaudet.edu/clerc-center/info-to-go/transition/students-on-the-go.html
Travel Tips for the Hearing Impaired (AAO-HNS) – http://www.entnet.org/content/travel-tips-hearing-impaired
Air Travel by The National Association for the Deaf – https://www.nad.org/resources/transportation-and-travel/air-travel/
http://flightofthetravelbee.com/ – A great, personal resource for deaf international travelers
http://deaffriendly.com/articles/the-wander-list-why-deaf-people-love-to-travel/ – Why Deaf people love to travel