Blind or Deaf?


Are You Blind or Something ?
Why Can’t You Listen to me ?


The difference between blindness and deafness is not so much in that completely separate senses are affected but rather how observers, rather than sufferers, interpret and react to the afflictions. It is also important also to realise that there are different degrees of blindness and deafness and so interpretation of this missive must take into account  the varying degrees of affliction.

A blind person is immediately obvious to everyone, whether it is the appearance of the eyes, a white stick or a partner guiding them to wherever they want to go. A deaf person is far less obvious to the man in the street because, apart from hearing aids (which can be almost invisible in modern.  times), there is no way they can be identified until you attempt to speak with them.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are more people who are deaf or hard of hearing than there are people who are blind or visually impaired. Specifically, the WHO estimates that globally, around 466 million people have disabling hearing loss, while around 217 million people have moderate to severe visual impairment.

It goes without saying that blindness is a far more disabling condition than deafness. Sign language, lip reading and the ability to read enable a deaf person to remain completely functional and able to express what he or she needs to express in day-to-day life. I certainly would not be happy without seeing the people I love, and I don't think I could manage the range of reading I like just by using Braille. I think being blind would generally be scarier and more dangerous as well. Putting it simply, you can get by with deafness but with blindness you lose a degree of your independence.

Having said that, and in more specific terms, what efforts do the media make to accommodate sufferers and the loss of the two senses – and I am talking about severe deafness and almost total blindness rather than partial disabilities. Blind persons can listen to a television programme and generally get an idea of the story without visual backup; but deaf people simply cannot interpret a story just by looking at pictures. It is therefore important for visual media outlets to make more effort to accommodate deaf people than blind. To a certain extent they already do this by using sign language interpreters on screen (bear in mind that only a small proportion of deaf people can read sign language) and by including subtitles on request.

As a moderately deaf person, even with hearing aids, I feel that programme makers, particularly American, give little consideration to how the sound quality of their output affects listeners. And I am not talking about the mumbling and emotional voice distortion we hear so much about; rather, I am talking about the inclusion of sound effects to, according to the editors, stress the excitement of the scene they are portraying. As a comparative example, when I am arguing with my wife at home we do so on a one-to-one basis – we do not do so with a 40 piece orchestra in the background emphasising the points we are trying to make as happens on screen!!.

A recent programme I watched, about the universe and the solar system, was presented by a quietly spoken scientist who was virtually drowned out by the dramatic music accompanying the light displays included. Even with expensive headphones, American dramas using American English are almost impossible to follow with the dramatic and overloud music overlay.

And so, programme makers, please take into account the fact than a very large proportion of your viewers, particularly older viewers who spend a great deal of time in front of the television, are deaf to varying degrees. A solution would be to maybe employ partially deaf persons to listen to your programmes and to advise on the toning down of the background music according to their experience.  


Barrie Davies
September 2023

I hasten to add that this is a personal viewpoint


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