Can you lip read?

Even those that know me well tend to forget that I don’t hear the majority of what is actually said to me. They know that I’m deaf. They remember to face me, to not cover their mouth and some of them also make sure that they identify the context of conversations with me as well, which makes a huge difference for me.

Yet, a recent conversation made me realise that not only are hearing aids misunderstood (See my post Deafness is a continuum for more information on this) but so is lip reading.

People assume that as long as I can see your lips, that I can read your words, just like reading a book.

That isn’t the case.

I, personally, speech read which means that I also use your entire facial expression, body language and the context of the conversation to interpret what I hear audibly and visually.

I still probably only ‘get’ less than 30% of what is actually said, and I’m very experienced and have very high comprehension rates when tested.

I was, therefore, thinking about how to explain what it’s like for me  and how best to explain it to other. I decided that there had to be others that had the same problem, so I turned to the Internet and came across this great video by Rachel Kolb.

Rachel has done a great job of explaining what it’s like to be deaf in a hearing world in her TEDx Stanford talk so I’m going to link to it here.

Navigating deafness in a hearing world

She also wrote a great essay on the same subject: Seeing at the speed of sound

However, even if you don’t have the time to watch or read these I implore you to watch this short 4-minute video that she developed that actually shows you what it’s like to be deaf and to rely on lipreading.

Can you read my lips?

Please watch this and keep it in mind next time you’re talking to a deaf person.

As for me, I’m going to address today’s images:

Yes, there are times when I really do know things that I’d prefer not to because I have ‘read it’ rather than heard it. That is not always a good thing or very pleasant.

As a speech reader, I have to work hard to ensure that I don’t violate others privacy. Just because I can understand the side comment that’s being made, across the room from me, in a meeting that I’m attending doesn’t mean that I should either comment on the content or be offended by it when it certainly wasn’t intended for me.

On the funny side, the teens in my life have learned the hard way, that swearing under their breath doesn’t work with me as I can’t tell the difference between that and when they’ve actually said it audibly so they get in trouble for swearing regardless.

The less funny side is when people assume that because I’m deaf that they can say incredibly offensive, rude things to me, and about me.

That’s when I tend to choose to ignore them.

However, it can also be very educational to let them speak their vitriol  and then go up to them and comment on their rudeness repeating their words back to them. If nothing else, they at least learn to not assume that just because I’m deaf it doesn’t mean that I can’t speak or understand you.


I just don’t always have the energy to educate.

If you are interested in learning to lip read there are great resources available here Lipreading Practice and Lipreading

Can you beat my score of a perfect 1200 on the first game?

Leave a Reply