A few days ago, someone asked me what a deaf person thought about what’s called “lip-reading,” meaning that they could understand what a person is saying by reading a person’s lip movements. Thus, I’ve taken the time to address this question. I hope to be able to foster general understanding on the topic and to respect both sides, but also let readers know a deaf person’s perspective.
First, let me say that lip-reading is one of the many useful tools of communication between a hearing person and a deaf person, although it has certain kinks to it. One of those kinks is that speech patterns have a lot of similarities, so even the trained lip-reader may or may not have a hard time understanding what a person is saying. It has been estimated that only 30 to 40 percent of sounds in the English language are distinguishable from sight alone. For example, the phrase “where there’s life, there’s hope” looks identical to “where’s the lavender soap” in most English dialects.
I know several deaf people who are excellent at lip reading and do not have a problem with it, and even thrive in the world with just that and I applaud these people.
For me and for many other deaf people who don’t lip read very well, it tends to be a little annoying when people talk to us. They signal that they are deaf, then they say “Oh!” then move close to their faces and repeat what they said in wider, slower motion so we can see very clearly the content of their mouths, with spit and everything.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m completely sure no offense was intended. After all, in this situation we weren’t able to maintain a proper understanding of each other, so I want to help everyone understand better.
In some cultures you’re supposed to become a slave for life when you insult somebody, but since we live in the good ol’ U. S. of A., and I’m a very nice mellow guy, I’ll let it slip by.
In hopes of avoiding awkward confusion with deaf people in the future, what you can do if you happen to encounter a deaf person is (1) simply point to your mouth. Generally, they understand this to mean “Do you lip-read?” (2) If they nod, speak normally. Deaf people are deaf, not blind. (3) If they don’t lip-read, get a paper and pen (or a phone with texting if you have one) and type what you want to say. (4) Don’t assume that all deaf people know lip-reading because many just don’t.
There is also my personal favorite:
(5) Learn sign language. It’s better and easier for everyone else that way.