A couple of weeks ago, a customer came through my line who left a lasting impression. An older woman, very short, a little taller than the height of the credit card machine on the platform in front of the register, so 4-foot-something. White hair loosely tied up in a bun, toting a granny cart.
Her eyes downcast, she was quiet and withdrawn. I recognized the signs immediately: she was avoiding eye contact and discouraging interaction. As I attempted to greet her, she waved me off, indicating what I suspected, that she is deaf.
She clearly didn’t expect me to be capable of accommodating her needs, or worse, expected me to be uninterested in doing so. I can relate. So much. Sometimes — often, really — explaining my hearing impairment requires too much effort for the simple task at hand. She hoped to simply hand over money, get change, take her purchase, and go. Been there, albeit on a much lesser scale. Where she is quiet and withdrawn, I’m often simply smiling and nodding as I get through an interaction as quickly as I can with a stranger I expect never to see again.
As much as I tried to get her attention to let her know I was simpatico with her, I couldn’t break her focus. It wasn’t until we finished our transaction that she looked up at me while I counted her change back. Seizing the opportunity, I used one of the only signs I know: “Thank you.”
Upon seeing the sign, her eyes lit up and her face became animated; she began to speak to me in sign. I never wished I could sign any more than I did in that moment.
It was pretty clear her first question was inquiring if I, too, was deaf. With one of the other few signs I know, I was able to let her know I am hearing impaired, and by lipreading and facial expression, I expressed my regret that I don’t sign. I did, however, demonstrate my ability to finger spell. She smiled, nodded her understanding, thanked me in sign, and walked away a little less withdrawn than she had entered my check stand.
Yesterday she returned, as I’d hoped she someday would.
What a different interaction.
She came into my line, bright-eyed and beaming. She waved hello and smiled at me while she waited her turn behind the person ahead of her. She approached and put down the paper she was buying and noticed my Seahawks shirt which I was wearing because it was game day. With a combination of fingerspelling, lipreading, and a little happy dance, she conveyed her joy that the Hawks had won. I made up my own sign to ask her if she needed a bag. She nodded. I bagged her order. We had a lovely interaction and she enthusiastically signed “thank you” as I thanked her and she strode off about her business.
I am grateful for the hearing I have, and I am grateful to be able to bridge that divide with my new deaf friend struggles with every day, in every situation, with every stranger she encounters. I look forward to serving her again.