Lipreading lets the deaf “hear”

I saw a fantastic video the other day about Lipreading which helps to show what it’s like for a deaf person to try and communicate. It shows how difficult it can be to lipread if a person covers their mouth, or mumbles or has an accent or facial hair.

The video is narrated by Rachel Kolb and is based on her excellent essay “Seeing at the Speed of Sound” about her experiences of communicating as a deaf person. Watch the video here:


I can really identify with what she says in the video and in her essay. I often have trouble communicating because of my hearing loss. I have to use lipreading as well as my hearing to understand what people say.

I have a high-frequency hearing loss which means I can’t hear high-frequency sounds. 60% of the sounds necessary to understand speech are in the high frequencies, particularly consonants. So this makes it difficult for me to understand what people are saying, even though they may be talking at a loud enough volume.

Talking louder or slower than normal in a quiet environment, or shouting in my ear does not help. It is just annoying. All you need to do is to repeat yourself at the same volume and speed, or move in front of me so I can see your lips moving. Rephrasing what you said will help if I still don’t understand.

Kolb says in the video that there are a number of things which make lipreading difficult. These include being in a noisy environment, people covering their mouth with their hands, mumbling, not being able to see the face clearly, speaking too fast and having an accent or facial hair.

If you took my glasses off I probably won’t be able to understand what you were saying, unless we were in a quiet environment. I wouldn’t be able to see your face and if there was more than one person present I probably wouldn’t know who was speaking. Unless of course I’m used to the sound of your voice.

It sounds odd to say that “I can’t understand what you’re saying because I haven’t got my glasses on”. But people with a hearing loss need to use different senses to communicate when the intended one doesn’t work as well as it should. I need to use my vision to make up for my loss in hearing.

Sometimes I wish I was either completely deaf or had perfect hearing. I wish I wasn’t somewhere in between. It’s not always obvious to people that I have a hearing loss as I can hear some things but not others. So when I don’t understand what people are saying it often makes me look stupid when I say the wrong things, or antisocial when I don’t say anything at all. They don’t  understand that I’m saying the wrong things because I didn’t hear the question properly.Or I’m not saying anything because I can’t catch the topic of conversation. It’s not that I don’t want to speak it’s because I don’t know what to say.

If I was completely deaf maybe they would understand better, and make less assumptions about me. I wish I could communicate in a visual language like sign language, but this is not possible because I can’t move my arms. It helps if I’m in a noisy environment when people write down what they want to say on their phone and then show it to me. So I can just simply read it instead of them shouting in my ear.But this only works when I’m talking to someone one-on-one. Not in groups.

So when you talk to someone with a hearing loss please help them to understand you. Here are some tips:

  • Make sure you have face-to-face contact with the person you are talking to.
  • Get the listener’s attention before you start speaking, maybe by waving or tapping them on the arm.
  • Speak clearly but not too slowly, and don’t exaggerate your lip movements – this can make it harder to lipread.
  • Use natural facial expressions and gestures.
  • If you’re talking to a group that includes deaf and hearing people, don’t just focus on the hearing people.
  • Don’t shout. It can be uncomfortable for hearing aid users and it looks aggressive.
  • If someone doesn’t understand what you’ve said, don’t keep repeating it. Try saying it in a different way instead.
  • Find a suitable place to talk, with good lighting and away from noise and distractions.
  • Check that the person you’re talking to is following you during the conversation. Use plain language and don’t waffle. Avoid jargon and unfamiliar abbreviations.
  • To make it easy to lipread, don’t cover your mouth with your hands or clothing.



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