Opinions about speechreading (lipreading)

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This document contains opinions of some deaf people about the utility of lipreading (known also as speechreading). If you want to contribute your opinion, E-mail it to Omer Zak.

Lipreading is good for survival

Robert Huestis asked the following questions:

  1. I saw a person do it brilliantly in a job interview once but what I want to know is not how normal can you look, but what is it like for the speech reader?
  2. Is it just more guess, guess, guess? Or can you actually communicate comfortably?
  3. If you speech read, how do you feel when you speech read?
  4. Does it serve your social communication needs or just your survival needs?

Eric Smith answered (at 15 Oct 1994):

Strictly survival. Socially, you will be a misfit if you try to get by with speechreading. For example, someone tells a joke, and you see the people laughing, and you ask if it was a joke, and they say yes, just a silly little joke. Then you ask, if it's just a silly little joke, why are you still laughing? And that makes them laugh more. You become part of the joke that way. Misfits can be funny.

As another example, your kid is climbing a tree, and meets a bird, which just stares at him. He calls down to you to tell you about the bird, and describes it. Oh well, no big deal, who cares about silly little birds anyway.

For survival needs, speechreading is good, but for social communication, which tends to be "small talk" not worth repeating, you would need an easier way to communicate such that you wouldn't miss anything and would never have to ask anyone to repeat anything.

That's why deaf people who sign tend to have better personalities than do strictly oral deaf people. Oral deaf people are like machines, who concentrate on surviving but have no real friends.

Hearing society expectations of deaf people

(Contributed by John Campbell at 21 Dec 1994.)

Hearing society expects deaf people to be able to lipread very well. They think the voice they hear should be as understandable as reading lips. Not true for many deaf people. I think the majority of deaf people do not read lips well, only the few can. Deaf people who embrace Deaf culture view lipreading as oppressing and humiliating and a way of forcing them to conform to the hearing norm, a way of maintaining control.

Last update date: 
2005 Nov 30