Many people may not know that September is Deaf Awareness Month. Author and digital marketing pro Meryl K. Evans admits that there are a lot of “awareness months” that may often get overlooked. Still, she hopes that people will take the time to learn more about the issues those designations were meant to highlight.
Evans was born hearing-free, which she says is just another way to say profoundly deaf. Based on advice from experts at the time, she grew up orally. That means she took lots of speech therapy to learn how to read lips and speak.
“I’m not fluent in ASL or any sign language. A lot of folks view it as English on the hands, but ASL is a full language with its own syntax,” she says. “Like any other language, you need to practice regularly and there was no one in my life who was fluent. So, I never learned it. It’s not a good or bad thing. It’s not better or worse. No one is superior based on how they communicate. It just is.”
Despite the obvious challenges, she earned her bachelor’s degree and worked for two Fortune 500 companies before deciding to work as a full-time freelancer. Over time she found her niche in digital marketing. In 2019, she attended her first accessibility conference, which changed the arc of her career again.
“I knew I found my people but wasn’t sure how I’d make a career of it,” she says. “Thanks to my creating content on LinkedIn and my blog, I met a lot of people in the accessibility world and things snowballed from there in a good way. Now, I speak at many events, do interviews, and work with two well-respected accessibility companies.”
One thing Evans says she will never do is roll her eyes to any questions about being deaf. In fact, she wants people to ask questions so that can better understand what many people are going through. In recognition of Deaf Awareness Month, she answered few questions for Plano Magazine about what it means to be deaf, and how others can help those with hearing disabilities.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions people may have about being deaf?
The biggest one for me is that many people — including accessibility pros and one U.S. VP who shall remain nameless — assume because I was born deaf that I know ASL and that I’m a member of the deaf community. They also think when they meet one deaf person that we’re all the same. We’re just as diverse as anything else. Ask 10 deaf people a question and you’ll probably get 10 different answers.
Are there simple things people can do that would benefit the deaf community?
Be flexible. There was recently the story of a deaf woman who went to Dunkin’ to order food. The staff had their masks on and would NOT communicate with her using pen and paper or pulling down their masks. This is outrageous. They should’ve at least communicated with pen and paper or on a cell phone.
Retailers need to think about more than digital accessibility. A website may be accessible, but their brick-and-mortar store may not be. I had to get a COVID test for an upcoming event. It required using the drive-through. In 25 years I’ve lived in Plano, I’ve never gone used the drive-through at the pharmacy across from me. The online signup went smoothly. They texted me the day of the appointment and sent a captioned video of the procedure. Excellent. I told my spouse he doesn’t have to go with me. He insisted. Thankfully.
It turned out to be an exasperating experience. The person talked to me through the speaker. I couldn’t hear her. I couldn’t see her either because of the reflecting glass window and her mask. She couldn’t hear me read out my number, so I put the phone to the window so she could see it. Since then, I’ve heard two different inaccessible COVID testing stories. One was from a blind man who couldn’t sign up online because the website was not accessible. One from a woman who wanted to use the drive-through but they told her to go in. That wasn’t acceptable for her because she has mobility challenges. She went to another testing facility.
What is the one thing you would hope people learn from Deaf Awareness Month?
Deaf people are all different. Shed those assumptions. We don’t all know sign language. We don’t all speak. We don’t all have a hearing aid or cochlear implant.