Monday, October 12, 2009

An Inevitable Involuntary Manifestion: Or How I Learned To Read Lips Without Knowing About It

A few things happen when one begins to lose her hearing, things that are beyond control, involuntary, and absolutely pivotal.  In my previous posts, you read that my hearing loss began in the 5th grade and I somehow managed without hearing amplification to become a junior in college with a 4.0.  And you're probably wondering how I pulled it off...
When hearing loss is progressive, you adapt, even if you don't realize that it's happening.  Simply put, I learned to lip read; honestly put, I learned a lot more than that.
When people speak of lip reading, I believe that they may not fully understand what is actually involved.  Lip reading or speech reading is not simply watching lips and being able to "see" what sounds are made.  It actually involves a whole lot more, such as analyzing body language and using context clues.  Wikipedia defines it as "a technique of understanding speech by visually interpreting the movements of the lips, face and tongue with information provided by the context, language, and any residual hearing."  Basically, you learn to use everything you've got to make out whatever it is you're trying to hear.  Lip readers use cues from the environment and put that together with what is most likely to be said in the given situation. For me, this just happened involuntarily; I didn't look it up or take a class or even ask another deaf person how to do it.  It happened before I even realized it was happening and I was doing it long before I realized I was doing it.
Fortunately, I have a gift for using context clues and solving puzzles.  Maybe I was born with it, or maybe, it's a byproduct of my hearing loss.  Either way, I'm good at this sort of thing.  I can usually figure out what you are saying even if I can not hear all of the words.  But that does not mean I will not ask you to repeat yourself if I did not get it all the first time.  I think that this kind of speech reading is what helped me survive without hearing aids for so long.  Believe me, it is not enough on its own, but it was something that helped me get through life as long as I did without amplification.  Another thing to keep in mind, is that a hearing impaired person is using many more levels of concentration than others might use.  I often find myself exhausted after a night of social activities (even without the wine) and there are some people I know that I'd just rather not make the effort to socialize with because they require so much energy to be understood.  Some of these people get the nod and uh-huh tactic and some of them, I simply avoid as much as possible.  However, most people do not fall into either of these categories and with some effort, can be heard and understood even without my hearing aids.

What can you do to make it easier for the hard of hearing/deaf/hearing impaired to read your lips?

-always face the person you are speaking with
-slow down, avoid slang, especially new or trendy phrases that don't really make sense in context, and mixing languages such as English and Spanish which is fairly common in Texas these days
-be careful not to stand in front of a bright window or light or your face will be shadowed
-mustaches and excessive facial hair can pose a hindrance
-allow only one person in a group to speak at a time
-do not try to exaggerate or speak too loud; this confuses us when we are trying to place context clues and can distort the sound of what little we can still hear
-be sure to enunciate and even slow down a little
-do not talk with food or anything else in your mouth
-get my attention before you begin speaking to me, please don't yell at me, just touch me or say my name when I look at you
-remember some rooms are better situated to hearing than others (acoustics), rooms with carpet, drapes, soft furniture are easier environments than hard floors, tall ceilings, background noise, or even outdoors
-if you have an unfamiliar accent and are soft spoken, be prepared to repeat yourself many times or just write it down

I'm sure to think of more later, but for now, just try to keep these tips in mind.

1 comment:

  1. Enjoying the blog, Heather. You're a great writer! I'm learning a lot, too.


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