Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 10, 2018

How to Be Deaf (2016), by Rosie Malezer


ILW 2018

I stumbled across How to be Deaf at Goodreads where its author Rosie Malezer had reviewed another self-published book that I was curious about.  This is the blurb:

For over 40 years of living in a hearing world, a woman wakes up one day without sound. After being diagnosed as profoundly Deaf, she realises that she now lives in a world filled with audism, surdophobia, and people who blind-side her at every opportunity.

After having her rights being taken away and being threatened with arrest for talking too loudly in a government building when she begged for an interpreter, she decides to put together a book for her younger self, in the hopes of softening the impact of such a hard transition. Going from hearing to Deaf really knocks the wind out of you, but not for the reasons you would expect.

I was puzzled by those two terms: audism and surdophobia and had to hunt around online to find out what they meant:

Audism is the notion that one is superior based on one’s ability to hear or to behave in the manner of one who hears, or that life without hearing is futile and miserable, or an attitude based on pathological thinking which results in a negative stigma toward anyone who does not hear. (Wikipedia)

Surdophobia is the hostility, intolerance or fear against Deaf people, Deaf culture and the Deaf community. … It can consist of a range of negative attitudes towards Deafhood, the idea of deafpositive and Deaf rights. (This definition came up on Google search results page but the Wikiwand site from which it came seems not to exist any more).

Unwittingly, I had dipped my toe into the Deaf culture v Hearing culture debate, about which I knew almost nothing.  But I also didn’t know anything about what adult onset deafness might be like, so I bought the book.

At the outset, I should say that the Kindle edition of How to be Deaf does have some of the problems that mar self-published books.  Malezer writes well in an engaging style and there are few flaws such as missing words or faulty spelling or grammar.  But there are some repetitions of incidents that an editor would have corrected, as when she writes twice in two separate locations about being given a wheelchair or a menu in Braille because that’s what panic-stricken people do when they think she is ‘disabled’.  Also, the voice of the older and wiser Rosie advising her younger self seems to fade away in sections of the book where strong opinions dominate, particularly in the section about cochlear implants, about which Malezer writes with passion.  (I don’t have an opinion about this issue, other than that, as with most of such issues, I think it’s a good idea to take advice from professional sources with experience in the field).

More problematic is the issue with the layout of images which obscure the text in the Kindle edition.  These screenshots illustrate the problem.

I expect this problem could be overcome in subsequent editions.

But overall, this is a useful book.  Malezer is a Gubbi-Gubbi woman from the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, but these days she lives in Finland with her (hearing) husband so hopefully some of her negative experiences of support services don’t apply in Australia.  However, quite apart from the practical advice she offers, her emotional responses to her sudden loss of hearing are universal.  As a result of domestic violence with a previous partner in Australia she had had severe hearing loss for some time, but when she was concussed by falling snow from a house-roof in Finland she lost her hearing altogether – and her greatest fear was that her husband would leave her because they could no longer communicate.  Malezer is at her most compelling when she writes about their loving bond and how he supports her while respecting her independence.

The book is not, however, just a self-help manual for the deaf.  Also very valuable are Malezer’s  anecdotes about the insensitive ways that hearing people behave because they don’t know any better, and the book offers guidance for everyone who encounters deaf people and wants to treat them with respect.  There are Dos and Don’ts about how to interact with deaf people, about how to help without making assumptions or compromising independence, about the issues that are specific to the deaf community, about terms and expressions that are offensive, and about solutions both short and long term for communication difficulties.  Obviously, if you don’t know the deaf alphabet and you can’t sign (e.g. using AUSLAN, the Australian sign language) then a short term solution is to use pen and paper, but surprisingly few people apparently take this simple step.

However, Malezer says that learning to sign is a wonderful way to get to know someone who may enrich your life.  One issue I hadn’t realised is that sign languages are country specific (though this is not likely to be a problem unless you are travelling): AUSLAN is not the same as ASL (American Sign Language) because ours derives from and is almost the same as BSL (British Sign Language).  There are other sign languages too, but as you would expect ASL is widely used around the world, and there are helpful videos to learn it too.  (Check out the ASL video here and this one for basic greetings in Auslan, which is not as good because it’s much too fast and it doesn’t include repetition or interaction to assist with learning.  This one is better.)

I won’t go into detail about the advice and strategies that Malezer suggests, because you should buy the book for that.  Malezer makes her living as an author and the purchase of her books enables her to be financially independent and have a satisfying career.

This short video is made by a couple of Australian students, and as well as explaining the incidence of deafness in Australia, it teaches the sign alphabet and some simple greetings so that you can introduce yourself, and it models a short conversation.  (From this video I learned that the British alphabet that my mother taught me as a child, (and which I have used once or twice to introduce myself to a deaf person) is not exactly the same as the one to use here in Australia!)

Rosie Malezer is a Gubbi-Gubbi woman from the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.

Author: Rosie Malezer
Title: How to be Deaf
Publisher: self-published, 2016
ASIN: B01E00LXAQ (Kindle edition)
Source: purchased for the Kindle from You Know Who, $6.51.

Available in Australia & NZ from Fishpond: How to Be Deaf

(Cathood: How to Be the Perfect CatThey also carry Cathood: How to Be the Perfect Cat.)


  1. […] See Lisa’s review at ANZ LitLovers […]


  2. […] lots of helpful tips for anyone coming to terms with a similar experience, but as I’ve said in my review, How to be Deaf is not just a self-help manual for the deaf.  Also very valuable are […]


  3. I had a deaf workmate in my last job and we would talk by writing on scraps of paper. It was surprising how soon you forgot you were not ‘talking’. I know now I should have learned Auslan. His biggest problem as a truck driver was that he couldn’t hear warnings on the CB radio – particularly in relation to making way for wide loads.


    • There’s a good case for teaching Auslan in schools so that everybody knows it IMO.


  4. Reblogged this on Rosie Malezer.


  5. […] How to Be Deaf, by Rosie Malezer […]


  6. […] How to Be Deaf by Rosie Malezer […]


  7. […] How to Be Deaf by Rosie Malezer (updated 5/6/19, see here) […]


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