When I was in high school, I worked as a cashier at Venture for about a year and a half. Venture was a store similar to K-Mart, your basic discount department store in the Midwest. This was back in ’81-’82, and the stores didn’t have scanners – we had to key in three sets of numbers for every item (department, item class and price). On top of that, the cash registers had no numbers on them, just blank white keys, meant to encourage us not to stare at the register but to look at the item and quickly key in the numbers on the price tag. (That scared me almost as much as the phone!) If a customer presented a credit card (and that was rare back then; most people used cash or checks) then we had to drag out the knuckle-buster and a credit slip, write all the information down, and call the charge in if it was over $50 (my biggest nightmare).
I got really good at the cash register part, and I was quick and efficient, moving my line along at a brisk pace. I usually had no problem understanding people, between my speech reading skills and my hearing aid. Back then, I had a moderate-severe loss in my left ear, and a severe-profound loss in my right ear; I wore one hearing aid, in my right ear. The biggest issue I really had was with the phone, which had no amplifier.
If I had to call in a charge, I never knew if I would be able to understand the person on the other end. Many times I had no idea what they were saying, but I got used to the questions they would ask so I would throw that information out there and hope it was what they needed. At least half the time I couldn’t hear the confirmation number they gave back to me; I’d just write down a bunch of numbers on the slip that sounded close to the noises I was hearing on the phone.
As a side note, I always looked for jobs that involved little to no phone use (I still do that even today). When I chose a cashier job, it never occurred to me that there would be a phone involved. I figured I couldn’t ask for a special phone and never bothered to even mention my difficulties to my boss. Although I kind of enjoyed the cashier aspect of the job, I would probably never go back to another cashier job because of the phones (and now those walkie-talkie things that everyone seems to use – those are a million times worse than the phone for me). Kind of a bummer because I’m looking for something very part time, just to bring in some extra money now that the business is slow, and it is hard to find something that doesn’t involve a lot of phone use with the skills I have (mostly office work). Between my phone phobia and my difficulties on the phone, I have no interest in using the phone at work – it stresses me out way, way too much. I can get by with a captioned phone, but I still would not want a job that had me using the phone very frequently. It’s going to be a long job search!
Getting back to my job at Venture…one day a lady came in, and I can’t remember now if she was alone or with somebody else, but I think she was alone. She told me she was deaf. And that’s all she said: “I’m deaf.” It froze me completely. I was terrified! I didn’t know sign language, didn’t know anything about deaf people or how to communicate with them. For all I know, she might have been able to hear a little bit; in my mind, ‘deaf’ meant completely devoid of hearing, no sound getting through at all.
I just smiled and nodded, didn’t say anything, and rang her purchases up. The whole time, I was slightly panicked, wondering how I was going to tell her the total of her purchases. I had no idea if she could lip read, I had no idea how to communicate with her at all. I believe she moved around so she could see the total on the cash register, then she paid and that was that. But all these years later, I still remember how freaked out I was to have someone tell me they were deaf…even though I also had a hearing loss!
Now that I’m deaf myself (and hearing with CIs), that always stays in the back of my mind if I identify myself as deaf to somebody. I never, ever just say, “I’m deaf” and leave it at that. I follow up with, “I read lips and I have cochlear implants.” Depending on the situation, I might also let them know that I’ll say something if I’m having trouble hearing. Usually I just like to throw it out there if the situation warrants it, so they don’t think I’m either rude/ditzy/clueless/stupid if I don’t respond appropriately. I always say that I’m deaf, though, because I am and also because it seems to catch people’s attention more than “I have a hearing loss.” People tend to be more careful about looking at me when they know I’m reading their lips; if I just say that I have a hearing loss, most of the time they talk with their head turned and/or talk too quietly or too fast.
Hopefully I’ve never elicited the same amount of fear in somebody that I had that day I met my first deaf person. Part of it was my young age and inexperience; part of it was her lack of information. Although she didn’t have to tell me anything else, it would have helped to know how to communicate with her since it wasn’t something I had any experience in. Live and learn!