I took part in The Kiltwalk in April 2021 to raise money for Deaf Action. As a deaf person, I know how organisations like Deaf Action play an important role in improving deaf people’s lives, so to raise vital funds, I challenged myself to walk 26 miles on the Water of Leith in Edinburgh.
During my training, it struck me that there are a number of challenges for a deaf walker that I had not considered before. Deafness is invisible – no one can tell I’m deaf when I’m out walking by looking at me, which can sometimes lead to some uncomfortable situations. But I’ve learned a few things along the way.
On wider paths, I’ve learnt to keep to the left, giving cyclists space to come past me. But where paths are narrower, this isn’t always possible. No matter how much cyclist ring their bell as they approach me, I’m never going to hear them. To the cyclist, it looks like I’m stubbornly refusing to move out the way, but for me it’s a shock when a bike comes hurtling past.
As with cyclists, I am not aware of runners approaching from behind, so I don’t get a chance to move aside or at least prepare myself for their passing.
Occasionally, I have noticed people giving me offended looks. The conclusion I have drawn, from watching other walkers, is that they have been making polite conversation with me as walkers often do, but I have been oblivious to this, and appear to have rudely walked on without exchanging any pleasantries.
I had never known that when approaching a blind junction, a rider will shout ‘horse’ to forewarn others on the path of their presence. Of course, as a deaf person I am blissfully unaware that I am about to come face to face with a horse as I turn a corner!
Of course, being a deaf walker, I don’t hear the sounds of nature. To repeat the cliché, I can’t hear the birds singing, so this might mean I’m missing out on some nature-spotting as I’m not aware of the tell-tale signs of a bird or wild animal nearby. I like to keep a close eye on the riverbanks and trees – you never know what you might spot!
Walking & talking
When you’re relying on your eyes to look out for obstacles it’s a lot to ask of them, so walking with a companion becomes a riskier business. Whether I’m with another sign language user or having to lipread, paying close attention and looking at the road ahead can be tiring.
So I hope I haven’t offended any walkers, joggers, cyclists or horse riders out there, who I’ve inadvertently ignored!
Deaf awareness tips for walkers
For hearing people who may come across a deaf person when out walking, jogging or cycling, we’ve put together a few top tips:
- Be patient – if someone seems to be ignoring you when you make your presence known, consider if there is a reason for it. The person might be deaf.
- Be kind – give people the benefit of the doubt. Don’t get angry if someone doesn’t respond to you, they simply may not be able to hear you.
- Give space – if someone doesn’t hear you as you approach, give them plenty of space so not to startle them.