Last Saturday at a men’s group at church, I was sitting at a table with a few guys eating breakfast. They were talking about football and then started talking about the deaf player on the Seattle’s Seahawks team. Then the guy across the table from me said “Steve here” (meaning me) “is really good at reading lips.” The men at the table knew I have a hearing loss, and that I do not wear hearing aids, (although I used to) and yet I can communicate very well with others. I told them I really don’t read lips that well. I got a lot of weird looks from them about that.
So… If I don’t hear well, and I don’t wear hearing aids, and I don’t read lips very well, how do I know what people are saying? I speech read.
First let me tell you about lip reading. Most people, whether they are hearing, deaf, or hard ‘of’ hearing, can not truly lip read. (I found out one day that there is the word ‘of’ between ‘hard’ and ‘hearing’) Lip reading is very difficult. Let’s say we’re on a farm and you’re deaf or very hard of hearing and someone says “We should butcher the ____.” You say “What?” Again you hear :Go butcher the ____!” now you’re wondering, were you told to butcher the cow, or the sow??? Look in the mirror. Both words look the same.
With football or any other sport, you already know the subject matter. That helps a lot. Another thing is you only need to see a few words to guess what the other team will do. Front, forward, back, right, left, all look very different from each other. In a restaurant I have seen and understood a waitress asking someone on the far side of the room if they want sugar or something else. But this is rare. One interesting thing I must add is women will move their lips more than men. Look around, you’ll see what I mean.
My outdoor power equipment repair (lawn mower repair) business has over 800 customers. Only a very few know I don’t really hear them fully. Even on the telephone. How do I get away with it? Sometimes I don’t and then things ends badly. Once a customer was upset with me because I didn’t fix the noise. I didn’t know there was a noise.
Speech reading is taking in everything. Lips, facial expression, body language, and what’s going on at the time. For an example; you know when eating in a restaurant and your mouth is full and the waitress comes up is says, “Blah-blah”. You’ll know she’s asking if everything is OK. Speech reading is much like that. Do I make mistakes? Yes.
When I see a customer and if I don’t understand them, I watch. (Some people I have no problems understanding. Others are impossible.) People always point to the problem and they talk with their hands. Soon I understand the problem with their equipment whether it is electrical, engine, transmission, or something else. I fix the problem and most of the people have no clue I didn’t understand them verbally.
The telephone presents another problem. Too many letters sounds the same. Numbers however all sound different. If they are a repeat customer I will ask for their phone number and look up on my Excel spreadsheet the information I have on them such as name, phone number, address, and the type of equipment they had last time I saw them. Also, fortunately many of the streets in this area are numbers, like 2nd, 3rd, even up to 320th. So I get by. Barely. I have great trouble with voice-mail. I have to listen to them 5 or 6 times and often I still won’t understand.
So if you are hard of hearing or even deaf, please take my customer’s advice, and tell people you don’t hear them. I finally started doing this a couple of years ago and life is so much easier now.
If you know someone who is hard of hearing or deaf, always look at them, let them see your face. And please don’t yell at us. We don’t like that. It’s often insulting. Also please don’t pull this stunt of turning up the car radio to hear your favorite song and then start mumbling before turning the radio down again.
If you would like to learn more about hearing loss, here are three places to check out. There are lots more of them out there.
Hearing Loss Association of America
Association of Late Deafened Adults
Hearing, Speech, & Deafness Center (servicing Western Washington)
Also if you’re interested, read the post I wrote: Not Hearing, Not Deaf
“Do not insult the deaf or cause the blind to stumble. You must fear your God; I am the Lord.
New Living Translation