Overcoming in a world designed for the hearing

Recently I got a craving for a Five Guys burger and decided to brave the long line on a busy evening to buy one. I already knew what I wanted so I was just standing in the long line observing the people in front of me.

Being deaf means that I’m not often on my phone when on the go or waiting in lines. I have to be alert to what is going on around me. Which often leads to observing the people around me.

Hence I found myself on that busy evening in line observing the people in front of me. For some context, Five Guys has a very simple menu displayed large on top of the cashiers. You can get a Little Burger or a regular burger, with cheese, bacon or any toppings and condiments you like. Little or regular fries with or without Cajun spices, hotdogs, grilled cheese sandwich, milkshakes or a soft drink you can fill yourself from the Coca Cola every flavour machine. A child can figure it out.

You get your order in a paper bag no matter if you are eating in or taking away. Once you paid you get a number and move on to the pick up counter to wait for your number to be called. There are no digital displays with the number being called.

For starters there was only one person taking orders, so the line was moving very slow. Yet everyone waited till their turn to decide what they wanted to order. Only a couple of people had their order ready.

In front of me was a young couple, obviously tourists and for the first time ever in a Five Guys. They where looking at the Five Guys website on their phone. When their turn came up they asked about the food. The guy taking the order went in the whole routine of explaining the whole concept to them. I actually did a real face palm. (I went to Shake Shack for the first time last year in Manhattan, alone. I had no trouble “getting it”.) They finally decided what they wanted, paid and got their number. I was done right away with my order and went to stand next to them at the pick up counter.

Here comes the difference between being deaf and hearing. As a deaf person when there is a line with or without numbers, I observe who all are in front of me and how many. This way I can keep track and make a good guess when my turn/number is coming up.

Now at Five Guys the numbers won’t be always called in order because special orders take longer.

These tourist couple just like me stood in line behind 10 people and yet right after we got our number the guy started assuming that every bag placed on the counter was theirs. These hearing people who probably don’t understand English? Or didn’t get their number would be called. Never even thought that logically people standing in front of them would be called first.

That moment was like an aha! moment to me. Being deaf for almost 12 years has made me very skilled in how to adapt to a world designed to exclude me. Instinctively I have adapted ways to “survive”. Not only standing in line, but every interaction every day, always.

When I lost all my hearing I was seeing a sort of instructor that helped me how to deal with being deaf. He told me that I could manage just fine. That for example, a hearing person traveling in China would have just as much as a hard time as me to communicate with people there that don’t speak any English.

That evening at Five Guys I realized that no. I would manage better than a hearing person in a country in which the people don’t speak English. Because for the last 12 years I have been living in a world designed for the hearing. I have been living in China all along.

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