How Deaf people hear without ears

Washing dishes facing the kitchen window, a Deaf mother smiled as she listened to the running feet of her five-year-old girl running around in circle in the kitchen. Or, as soon as someone slammed the door downstairs, she knew someone had departed. But, she is profoundly Deaf without any hearing devices nor hearing. How? Vibration.

Hearing people typically believe that it is unimaginable to live without sound that they think they could not live without hearing. Deaf people shrug off that life is perfectly fine without those sounds. Below are experiences of what it is like to live with visual cues and vibration-based sounds.

If you have your other experiences or stories, feel free to send an email to Handspeak. Below is not an exhaustive list.

Calling or getting someone's attention..

Tapping her/his shoulder.. turning on/off the light.. stomping on the floor.. waving hands.. using an intermediary person.. flashing a light.. seeing through a mirror or reflection.. if none of those work, throw something light..

Waking up to a clock alarm..

Modern days: light-flashing clock.. vibrating clock... Old days but may be still practiced: biological clock.. sunshine rays.. drinking a large glass of water before sleeping..

"The public bus was our clock alarm. In a Polish village, Ratowice, in the 1970s, the first public bus usually passed by our house regularly at a specific time every early morning. It made enough rumbling vibration and its headlights flashed through the window that woke us up for work." -- Zofia Lapiak.

Responses to baby cries..

Light-flashing detecting devices..

In the olden days like many cultures, babies co-slept with their Deaf parents.

Doorbell ringing..

Light-flashing doorbell rings.. dogs barking.. knocking (or kicking) on the door hard if no doorbell light (e.g. hotel room).. waving a paper or flat object under the door (e.g. dorm room or hotel room).. these days, texting on cellphone...

In the olden days, people waved hands in front of Deaf people's windows. There was a flashlight hanging outside the door that when a visitor came to the door at night, s/he could wave the flashlight through the window.


A common text-based translation is the captioning on television, screen, or laptop.

Telecaptioner in the 1980s used by Deaf
Image source: Internet

The captioning device (image above) was an external device in the 1980s. It was put on the top of a television set, just as some of you probably had a cat sitting on the top of yours. Since the 1990s, all television sets come with an internal captioning chip that everyone, hearing and deaf alike, can turn on captioning.

Another form of captioning is a live court reporter who also works in the educational settings, not only in courts. A deaf or hard-of-hearing person sits in front of the laptop and watches the captioned English translated from a teacher, instructor, or professor's speech.

Also see phone technology of the Deaf people, and how they hear doorbells and rings.

Deaf drivers

Disability and cultural relativism from a Deaf perspective.