Chris Ashton

dai11y 11/05/2022

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I’m Deaf And I Have ‘Perfect’ Speech. Here’s Why It’s Actually A Nightmare.

Rachel Zemach writes about some of the frustrating encounters she’s had, as someone who became Deaf at the age of 10 (and had already learned to speak). Her speech is indistinguishable from someone who is not deaf, and she can ‘lip read’, which is problematic, as we’ll discuss below.

Incidentally, I’d come across the term ‘Deaf’ (with a capital D) before, but wasn’t quite sure when it should be used. Rachel links to an article describing the difference, which essentially comes down to whether or not the subject sees their deafness as an identity; a community that shares a mutual culture and language. Hence Rachel “became Deaf” at the age of 10, and “someone who is not deaf” refers simply to the medical definition of hearing loss. But I digress…

Lip-reading is hard, and pretty inaccurate: “55% to 70% of English is not lip-readable because many sounds are made deep in the mouth or throat”. This makes Rachel’s encounters with waiters and the like all the more frustrating, when, upon realising Rachel can lip-read and speak, they push to communicate only in speech. This contrasts heavily with when Rachel is out with her Deaf friends, who can not or choose not to lip-read/speak, where waiters are far more willing to ‘pantomime’ gestures to communicate.

Rachel has concluded that she will try and avoid speaking in future. She finishes with a request:

If you’re a hearing person, please, when you meet someone who says they can’t hear you, take your cues from them. Do they want you to write what you have to say? Do they want you to take down your mask and speak slowly? Do they want you to pantomime? Deaf and hard-of-hearing people are the experts on how to communicate with them. Ask them openly and earnestly and respect their solutions, which they’ll undoubtedly have.


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