Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Just Give Me a Call

How many aspects of my daily life I accept as normal, even obvious, until someone comes along and jolts me out of the illusion. Using the phone, for instance. I have never used the phone outside of some basic practice conversations with the CI. It's hardly even something I think about anymore. Other people talk on the phone; I don't. When it rings in our house I yell to my sister to go pick it up. I stand at the receiving end of conversations, watching my companion intently and imagining a little bit what it would feel like to talk to a disembodied voice like that. Occasionally a friend or acquaintance tries to call me, and I shake my head at their number on my screen before ending the call and texting back, "Hey."

I do sometimes wish I could make phone calls, but the concept is still so far removed from my personal experience that the desire passes quickly enough. It's like wishing I could breathe underwater. Useful, but I'm not a fish. Besides, modern technology is so text-based that I rarely feel too deprived. Many of my friends text or email more often than making phone calls anyway, and many profess to hate talking on the phone. There are downsides to such a text- and information-obsessed society, but I often find that I don't complain about them too much.

Still, there are the disorienting moments. Shooting off an email to a new coworker and receiving the reply, "Why don't you give me a call?" Having technological issues in the office and being told that I oughtn't to be shy, that I ought to pick up the phone right now and call the help desk and resolve the problem. Earlier this spring, submitting job applications and being asked when I was available for a phone interview. Having a new friend tell me, "Call when you're on your way," or "Call if you have any problems." Ummm…

Beyond these personal interactions, the world's infrastructure is grounded in hearing-person assumptions. I often feel stuck by the fact that applications, forms, and other information records require a personal cell phone number. I hesitate, knowing that whoever gets that number will ignore my requests to text and will call me instead. Then I put down someone else's number, usually my mother's. (She deserves accolades for taking all my calls.)

With the exception of required phone numbers for registration, these moments with hearing people simply require a few words of clarification, and then things proceed without a problem. Still, I occasionally find myself asking a non-family member/close friend to make a phone call for me, or telling someone that I simply can't do what they're asking and need them to send me an email instead. Depending on the person and the impression I want to make, such experiences can be surprisingly hard. I dislike drawing attention to what I can't do, and moreover dislike that those normative assumptions should exist in the first place. I suppose it's pride that gets in my way. It's even a flabbergasted sort of annoyance. But – I'm deaf. You should know that, you should have thought, have anticipated, before asking me to do something so obviously silly and impossible.

But, nothing. My reality is not other people's reality, and vice versa. And thank goodness for that – may we both learn to get used to it while not setting limitations on each other or ourselves.

That said, "text only" or "I prefer email" next to my phone number really does mean, guess what, exactly that.