Sigh…here it goes again, folks. A person paying me a supposed compliment by telling me how well I can speak:
Wow, you do so well with your voice! I can understand everything you say quite clearly!
I wonder what these people would say if they knew that I don’t always consider this such a compliment.
The truth of the matter is…sometimes being able to speak and lipread is more of a curse than it is a blessing.
Don’t get me wrong – I realize that my oral skills have opened doors for me and given me opportunities that perhaps I wouldn’t have had otherwise. But they have also been a royal pain in the arse, and have led to a lot of misconceptions, misunderstandings, and miscommunication.
Rather than try and explain it all to you, I ask that you watch this video created by a fellow Deaf Professional who like myself grew up oral and also has good speech and lipreading skills. For those of you who are “signing impaired,” be sure to click the red CC button in the lower right-hand corner to turn on the captions.
Note: You may need to watch this video at YouTube on a full screen to see the captions clearly. I use a MacBook and that seems to be the only way I can get captions to show up. They are there…just keep trying until they show up on your screen!
I fully identify with what Don is saying here. I’ve dealt with all the same issues.
I have seen people who formerly would write and gesture with me suddenly stop doing so when they discovered that I could in fact speak and lipread. I’ve had people who just assume that “all deaf people can read lips.” I have been with Deaf friends who do not speak, and had hearing people basically ignore them and only talk to me. I have had hearing people tell me about the deaf person they know and make a comment such as
She’s a nice person, but she’s not as smart as you are…she can’t speak like you do.
Do these people not realize how offensive such a comment is to me?
By making such comments, you are showing your true colors – that you see me not for who or what I am, but for how “normal” I appear…that you judge me and fellow deaf individuals on how well we fit into your comfort zone. As long as you don’t have to make an extra effort to communicate with us, then we are perceived as being your intellectual equals. As long as you can indeed forget that we are deaf, then we’re okay. Otherwise, we have failed your test.
While I admit that I do use my voice in public, more and more I am finding myself turning it off. I am finding myself preferring to use written communication and gestures in order to assure that full communication takes place, with no struggling and guesswork on my end. I am finding myself desiring and implementing that “equal effort” in communication – that it should be a shared responsibility, and not something I should have to shoulder all on my own.
So the next time you are tempted to tell me or another Deaf individual how well we speak, or to expect us to just lipread everything you say with no problems, or get exasperated with having to write things down, or whatever…
Just remember this video and give these points some serious thought.
Special thanks to Dr. Don G for creating this video and telling it like it is. For more of his videos and views on Deaf issues, check out his blog at