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How Does a Deaf Person Communicate?

a hand cupped to an ear of a brown haired woman

When someone begins to experience hearing loss, there can be a lot of initial uncertainty both from the individual affected and from those around them, who may have questions or concerns about how best to manage the situation. The truth is, with the variety and technology of hearing aids available these days, taking control of your hearing is easier than ever. You just need some professional guidance to assess the right solution.

Hearing loss is a wide-ranging experience. Everything from mild hearing loss to complete deafness occur, and the communication skills needed will depend on the person and the severity of their condition. For mild hearing loss, it may simply be a case of ensuring that you enunciate clearly and slow down your speech slightly to achieve clarity and understanding. With more severe deafness, there are lip reading and sign language as primary communication tools. Remember that, although someone experiencing hearing loss may have trouble hearing the words you speak, this doesn’t mean that they can’t understand you – especially if they choose to lip read.

How does lip reading work?

Lip reading is a technique that helps a hearing-impaired individual to understand speech, by using visual cues given by the shapes formed by the lips and tongue, the facial expression and the body language of the person speaking. It’s a complicated and nuanced process. The lip reader will draw together clues from all of these factors, plus from things like the context or the topic of conversation, their own knowledge of language and speech patterns, and any level of residual hearing they may have. They may also use a hearing aid to increase the amount they can process aurally.

These techniques help them by working together to help narrow down the range of vocabulary you are using and help the person arrive at a conclusion. Many lip readers become so skilled at what they do that you may not initially realize they are living with hearing loss. This method can be used in combination with sign language or instead of it by deaf people who do not sign. Anyone can develop the skill, although it tends to be most popular among those who were born hearing and then lost some or all of their hearing over time. Sometimes you may encounter someone using lip reading with sign supported English or SSE. This uses some signs for certain keywords, and the speaker will combine their speech with signing.

Although there are talented lip readers out there who can make it seem pretty seamless, actually only around 30% of spoken English can be lip read with any accuracy. There are many words which are impossible to differentiate, because they use the same lip pattern – generally, these are words which sound the same but have a different meaning, and English is especially rife with these. In these cases, the lip reader will usually draw on the context of the conversation to help them determine which of the two words is the more likely. Being clear in your choice of words can really help to assist someone who is lip reading during your conversation. It takes a lot of practice, skill and quite a lot of patience to be able to lip read, but there are classes available to teach people how to begin.

What is sign language?

Each country has developed their own form of sign language, the same as the variation in spoken languages. Sign language tends to be used mainly by people who have experienced hearing loss from birth and are a part of the deaf community. This clever visual language incorporates hand gestures, body language and facial expressions to build up a complete picture of the intended meaning. As a separate range of languages, sign languages have their own syntax and grammatical structure that doesn’t exactly replicate the spoken language. There are also regional signs in use, a little like regional accents in spoken language. Some forms of sign language use what is known as the two-handed fingerspelling alphabet. This can be useful to spell out names of places or people where there is not a specific sign for that word. It can also be combined with lip reading to clarify certain words, usually as sign supported English. There is also a version known as Makaton, using simplified gestures suitable for small children, that generally works alongside speech as a communication aid.

There are lots of combinations of sign language, lip reading and hearing aids which can be combined to suit the degree of hearing loss and the individual preference of the person living with reduced or no hearing. To see how this can be supported with the use of a modern hearing aid, you can work with a hearing instrument specialist (HIS) to find the right solution – learn more at Niagara Hearing and Speech Clinic. Call today at 905-938-1661 to find out what could work for you and your loved ones.