I’m deaf. It’s true. I’m stone deaf and sign language is my main mode of communicating. Of course, it can’t be only mode though. There are too many people out there who don’t know sign language to expect to be able to get around in the world only using that method. No. Another way I communicate is via the written word. If I’m lucky enough to encounter a hearing person with patience, writing back and forth is a really good way to go.
But that doesn’t happen all the time. I wouldn’t say it’s rare, but it certainly doesn’t happen often. Usually, people are in too much of a hurry to put their stuff down and write to me. What tends to happen, regardless of if I announce I can’t lipread, is people discover I’m deaf and then they tend to just speed off with their mouths, expecting me to lipread them with ease.
Truth is, I’m more than willing to try to lipread people. But they have to put forth some effort as well. That brings me to these five ways to make lipreading easier for the lipreader…
Tip #1: Beware of facial hair.
As anyone who has ever tried to lipread can attest, pseudo-Santas and other men with Frito catchers around their mouth can prove a great challenge. If you’re a man with a mustache (or a woman, for that matter), please make sure it is trimmed around the lips. It can be downright impossible to lipread someone with hair all over the place.
Tip #2: Don’t stand in front of a window or light.
One of the biggest problems I run into is trying to read the face of someone standing in front of a window or light. This puts a shadow on their face and makes it nearly impossible to tell what they’re saying. While we’re talking about it, don’t stand in front of a window or light even when you’re signing. The shadow makes it impossible to even see facial expressions—something crucial in a signed conversation.
Tip #3: Watch your hands.
Something many people don’t realize is how much they use their hands when they talk. It’s true! You have no idea how often I’ll look over and think two people are signing to each other until I realize it’s just hearing people using their hands. It might not be practical to tell you not to use your hands at all (in fact, sometimes it really does help give clues to what’s being said), but mind yourself when you go to put your hands to your mouth. This happens a lot. We cannot lipread you if your hands are on your lips.
Tip #4: Speak naturally and at a SLIGHTLY slower pace. Do not over-enunciate.
I am a lot of things. But one thing I am not is a dentist. I do not need to see your fillings and cavities, One thing a lot of people do when they find out I’m deaf is start to over-enunciate, saying each word overly clearly and with big lip movements. It’s scary! It’s true that speaking a little slower, a little more clearly, may help. But not so much that it changes the look of the words. Speak clearly, but at a normal rate. And, for Pete’s sake, keep your dental work to yourself!
Tip #5: Don’t chew gum or talk with your mouth full.
Finally, there’s one thing you would think wouldn’t need to be included on this list, but sadly does. Please do not talk with your mouth full of food…even stuffing it to the side. It’s downright nasty! It’s difficult enough to try to decipher what you’re saying. But when you add gobs of mushy egg salad to the mix, it’s gross! Even chewing gum while you speak can make it impossible to know what you’re saying. So swallow before speaking, please.