One of the ironies of being deaf: We rely heavily on visual cues to navigate this world, yet our disability is largely invisible to the naked eye.

“But … you don’t even look deaf” is a surprised comment many a deaf individual has encountered. Without seeing immediate telltale cues like sign language or boldly colored hearing aids, your first impression of a deaf person may be that of a hearing person. 

Because their disability is invisible, it’s also vastly misunderstood. That’s why so many deaf and hard of hearing travelers have funny-but-sad stories of flight attendants coaxing them into using a wheelchair at the airport or waiters handing over a Braille menu.

The visual cortex is always looking for associations and ways to “fill in the gaps” during a first impression. In many cases, disability is first and foremost paired with mobility challenges.

Like dyslexia or mental illness, hearing loss is something that’s worth a second glance — so pay attention to the cues your customer might be giving you! Once you identify a customer is deaf or hard of hearing, a light bulb goes off, and you’ll be able to bring on the customer service game like a pro.