Read My Lips!

by Tina Blue
January 2, 2002

          The other day I was trying to talk to my son while he was using the blender  He couldn't understand a word I said, even though I understood everything he said.

          There have been many times when I have tried to carry on conversations with friends or relatives in situations with a lot of background noise: while running the blender or the vaccuum cleaner, at a loud and crowded party, at a sidewalk cafe during rush hour.  In such situations I do quite well.  Certainly I do at least as well as I do when conversing in a quiet room.

          But my normal-hearing friends and relatives are quite helpless under such circumstances.  The background noise drowns out my words, and they have no other skills to help them figure out what I am saying. 

          I depend only minimally on the actual sounds of words in conversation, since most of what I can hear sounds like an indistinguishable murmur rather than like discrete words.  So I read lips, and I am extraordinarily alert to such clues as context and body language.  In a one-on-one conversation most people can't tell that I 'm deaf.  In fact, even those who know of my deafness sometimes find it hard to believe in it.

          Loud background noise is annoying to me--even painful.  I can barely tolerate the noise of those blenders, vaccuum cleaners, cars, and crowds.  But bothersome as it is, such noise does not interfere with my ability to understand what is said to me, as long as I am speaking  to only one person, and that person is facing me so I can read his lips.

          But most people with normal hearing don't read lips, so if they can't actually hear the words, then they are entirely at a loss to understand them.

          For those of us whose hearing impairment is severe enough to interfere with communication, lipreading is as natural and as necessary as breathing.  It's almost impossible to imagine that there are people who simply cannot do it.

          Whenever I am in a situation like that, where background noise prevents a normal-hearing, non-lipreading person from understanding what I say, I find myself feeling impatient and annoyed.  I want to say, "Pay attention, you idiot!  Read my lips!"  It seems so obvious that they could understand if they'd just put forth a little effort.

          But of course they can't, just as we who are hearing-impaired can't hear any better, no matter how hard we try, even when we give it100% of our attention.

          The experience does help me to understand why the hearing get so impatient with us sometimes.  I certainly feel frustrated that their inability to read lips, something that seems so natural and easy to me, complicates and disrupts the normal process of conversation when they can't hear my words.

          And do you know what?  I never miss a chance to point out that normal conversation for me is always as difficult as conversation is for them in such noisy conditions.

          Of couse, they probably can't understand what I am saying, what with all that background noise.

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