I recently received a question from one of you: What is the most deaf-friendly place?
Once again, a tough question, with which you stump me. Reality is, there is no clear answer. It comes from within the traveler, from the traveler’s experience, and their feelings about the places they visit, as well as what they define as deaf friendly. For my definition, see this page.
The primary thing that makes the experience of travel to a place memorable, is the way people treat me everywhere. I personally don’t mind to be asked questions about my hearing loss, how things work, and (to a certain extent) how I ended up with hearing loss. Most people tend to shy away from asking about this topic at all, until I make a few jokes or bring it up myself, which I do at some point, to move on with the elephant in the room. I make few concessions of others when I’m in foreign countries–that means that I’ll go to the noisy restaurants, and busy streets that make part of the experience of the place. And honestly, I don’t mind that either. But what I cannot put up with, what really tires me out, is when people get annoyed at you for asking “what?” or “please repeat” for the third time, when they turn away from you while talking, or when they cover their mouth with their hands. I don’t like when people get irritated because I can’t hear them well, and refuse to put in the effort to communiate with me. Places that have kind and understanding people, who don’t treat you differently than their own friends, despite your hearing loss, are the ones that tend to bring a smile to my face, and where I have the greatest memories.
To speak plainly, my favorite countries are Poland, Thailand, and Spain. Not only do these three countries have beautiful cultural traditions, and history, they also give me that sense of belonging, familiarity and acceptance. It’s a huge jump from the way that I’ve been treated in the United States, a place where I have grown up. When I think of Poland and Spain, two countries that I have spent an extensive amount of time, I can never think of a time where I felt I was slighted because of my hearing loss. Most people in those two countries have treated me as a regular person, and even if they noticed that I had hearing aids, they certainly didn’t care for it beyond making sure that I was comfortable to converse with them. Thailand on the other hand was different–I felt accepted not because I looked like them, or spoke the language, but rather because I was different. It was the ability to speak without using sound, the ability to communicate all that needed to be said with just the nod of a head, that made it feel like I belonged. I didn’t spend an extensive amount of time in Thailand–three to five days at most–but it’s a country I yearn to visit again. On the other hand, my experience in the United States was such that I was constantly bullied, isolated, and disregarded.
Because of that experience, even today, I find it easier to trust international people from different countries than individuals from the US. As a result, I find it harder to connect with US citizens living in the US or those living abroad. I often find myself guarded with US citizens in ways that I would not otherwise be with foreigners.
But one thing that we must remember, and I always try to drive home: My experience with the United States not atypical–it can be anyone DHH’s experience in their own home country, no matter where in the world it is.
For this reason alone, I can’t give you a list of the most deaf-friendly or hard-of-hearing friendly and safe places around the world. There is none. It depends upon you, your perceptions, and experience. It’s your place to find, so you must go out into the world and seek it on your own.
However, one thing that I have noticed and want to point out is how certain places are more accessible than others. In my experience, European countries have better accessibility for DHH individuals than even the US. There are more signs, and more screens advising travelers of conditions delays, and such important tidbits of information in Europe than anywhere else in the world. And in that sense, it does make Europe a little more DHH friendly than anywhere else.