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Today was a reminder that the cultural gap between deaf and hearing people yawns just as wide as ever. I’m not talking about Deaf Culture vs Hearingism or anything like that. It’s the communication gap (again).

I met a couple of new people today, and, despite the person making the introductions adding that I was a lipreader, they both started talking to me at once. They simultaneously realised their mistake, but it got to be a bit like when you meet someone in the street and you try to dodge each other, going the same way until one of you breaks away. It was like Wimbledon, looking from one to the other saying “After you”, “No, you first.” Lipreading-induced repetitive strain injury . . .

At a recent presentation, the speaker managed to stack a few cards against himself despite clearly being personable and knowing his stuff – though I managed very well, physically getting every single word though I haven’t quite mastered the knack of taking all the sense in, especially when it’s a long speech. (I can do a mean recap if it is a short speech or a conversation, though.) In this there’s a difference between hearing and lipreading. By lipreading, you’re one step ahead in the old ‘hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest’ stakes! It reminds me of the time that I, the only deaf child in the class, was the only one able to answer the teacher’s question about the difference between hearing and listening.*

Afterwards the consensus was that most people were impressed by the speaker, finding him warm and genuine. Despite his obvious likeability, I wasn’t so impressed – which is why I say he managed to stack his cards against himself. He dragged out his presentation with umming and erring, broke off halfway several times to say something else, and took off his glasses so we all became a blur, without having to make eye contact with anyone. Actually, I was listening more than anything: lipreading by itself would have been too tiring! But everyone looked at me as if I were mad and said: “But that’s what people do!” “That’s normal!” I guess I’m so used to missing all these things out: lipreading is, well, if you lipread every single word you’re fantastic, and you’re not going to spot all these half-articulated sounds at the back of the throat with the lips barely moving, and communication support – be it speech-to-text, lipspeakers, sign language interpreters – doesn’t replicate all these hesitations.

It almost strikes me that hearing people are so used to poor communication that they take it for granted, and that’s why they make little effort, because they don’t have good role models in effective communication, skills which aren’t that difficult to learn. If you can only make eye contact and be a little more direct, you don’t just make friends with deaf people, you get everyone on your side.

*Hearing = the passive act of receiving sound. Listening = the active processing of information received.

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