There are approximately 48 million d/Deaf and hard of hearing (HoH) people in the U.S., and about 466 million in the world. This community is so rich and diverse just within itself, with people from different backgrounds, experiences, and languages; and a lot of people outside of this community recognize that, and express interest in the culture and the language.
But because we live in a society where the majority relies on sound and hearing, and a society that has been built for that majority, a lot of misconceptions have formed around the d/Deaf/HoH community, creating tension around issues like accessibility and equity.
To address some of these misconceptions, I’ve made a list of 5 things that you should know! While these tips come from my personal experience and what I’ve learned from having conversations with others in the community, I don’t speak for everyone.
Alright, let’s jump in!
1. Lipreading ain’t easy
Some people are good at reading lips, others are not. Research shows that only 30% of the English language is visible on the lips, which leaves the rest as puzzle pieces to be assembled based on the context of a conversation. Plus, everyone speaks and moves their mouth differently, or has facial hair, which can make it harder to lipread. So don’t assume that a d/Deaf/HoH person can just read your lips. Instead, ask them what they’re preferred mode of communication is (which could be through a phone or pen and paper).
2. Louder doesn’t mean clearer
If anything, the noise will become distorted. It’s better to speak at a natural and comfortable pace. Patiently repeat what you say or rephrase it. Sometimes it requires you repeating things in a different way for the individual to catch on. Don’t exaggerate your words or your mouth, it actually makes it harder to understand.
This also applies to when you’re watching a movie or any video/media content. Turning up the volume won’t make the sound clearer or more comprehensible, it would just become louder noise. Instead, turn on Closed Captions! To watch something without captions, is like watching a sports game with no commentary of what’s happening on the field. Beware of auto captions on YouTube, they can be wonky and erroneous!
If you’re trying to get their attention, try tapping them on the shoulders or waving in their eye line.
*Pandemic note: By all means stay safe and wear your mask, but they have definitely made communication more challenging (for individuals who rely on lip reading and facial cues). If you cross someone who may be d/Deaf or hard of hearing, please remember that louder is not clearer, instead try a different mode of communication as stated in my previous point: pen and paper or a phone.
3. Good lighting is everything
Good lighting isn’t only important for the perfect selfie, it’s also important for good communication! While communicating face to face is essential, so is good lighting which allows the d/Deaf individual to see your face.
Visibility is key, for viewing your face, mouth, and expressions. Which reminds me: Please don’t talk with your mouth full! Not just for clear communication but also MANNERS?? (LOL)
4. Hearing loss is not “all or nothing”
I realized that a lot of people approach hearing loss as a “you either don’t hear or you don’t” sort of situation, which is so far from the truth. Hearing loss is a spectrum. Everyone has different degrees of hearing and different types of hearing loss; and even identify with different terms including deaf, Deaf, and hard of hearing.
5. ASL isn’t a universal signed language
American Sign Language, is not the only signed language! In the U.S., there is also Black American Signed Language (BASL), which is a dialect of ASL that was developed by Black deaf people in the 1800s and 1900s during segregation. There are many different signed languages all over the globe, just like there are many different spoken languages. Isn’t that cool? There are approximately around 300-400 signed languages around the globe. A few examples are: American Sign Language (ASL), Australian Sign Language (Auslan), and Spain Sign Language (LSE).
Signed languages are very visual and physical languages that rely on facial expressions, hand movements, and body language. And like many languages, they have linguistic properties and their own grammar. With this in mind, I want to clarify that ASL is not translated english. You might be thinking of Signed Exact English (SEE) which was created, to match signs with the English language, many years after ASL was developed in the early 1800s.
Not all deaf or hard of hearing people know sign language! If you’re interested in learning ASL, there are so many free resources out there to help get you started. If you’re interested in learning ASL, there are so many free resources out there to help get you started!
May this help guide any future interactions you may have with those who are d/Deaf and hard of hearing.
Written By: Desiree Salamasina Washington