Chapter 5 – Reading lips and Deaf drivers

9 06 2011

Reading Lips

“Elephant Shoes”… Or did she just say “I Love You”?   Yes, I have big feet, and I wear comfortable shoes, so it could be either.  From a strict lip reading perspective, the mouth shapes around these prhases look identical.   (You probably just “said” both phrases silently –  maybe even into a mirror.  Sorry to mess with you like that – but they do look the same!).  My point is that while reading lips is a skill that most deaf people can do way better than hearing folks, they won’t get every word only through lip reading.  We CODA’s also do it pretty well.  We get tested all the time. 

 In the above example, did she have a face and body language indicating that she really was in love (hopefully with you), or was it more of a shocked “how could he wear those shoes?” look?  Refer to the context lesson again in the previous chapter if you’re still not with me.   My point is, if you want to communicate with a deaf person, use your body language, and look into their face so they can read your lips.  You DON’T – NEED – TO – YELL – REALLY – LOUD – AND – SPEAK – VERY – SLOWLY.  No matter how hard you yell, if they’re truly deaf, they won’t hear you any better, and yelling distorts your face (and neck) more than speaking in a normal voice would be.  But, if you insist, keep on doing it, as those of us who are hearing but Deaf really appreciate a good laugh now and then.  We may even, eventually, walk over, sign to the deaf person “mother-father-deaf”, and offer to help out in translating.  Then, after you leave, we’ll parody your corded-neck yelling really slow expression back at the deaf person, and get another good laugh out of it. 

 Unless you are a professional coach who is trying to read the opposing coaches play calls in order to counter the play that was called, this skill really only helps in the business world in sneaky ways. 

 Situational Awareness – the world needs more deaf drivers

My dad taught me how to drive.  As you know, he’s deaf.  Being deaf and in a drivers seat is not the handicap you might think it is.  First off, deaf people are not distracted by the cell phone, music blaring, horns honking, kids fighting, etc.  They have spent their lives using their eyes to compensate for their lost sense of hearing.  Because of this, they have tremendous situational awareness.  My parents both have their heads on a swivel when driving.  Their eyes constantly scan all 3 mirrors, and what’s going on in front of them.  Because of this, they can anticipate earlier when they’ll need to change lanes to get out of someone’s way (refer back to the uncommon courtesy lesson). 

 I will caveat this theory with a story from a recent funeral. A dear friend of the family, and my Dad’s best friend died recently.  I drove to CT to pick up my dad, and take him to the funeral.  When I got there, he offered to drive, as he had a new car that he wanted to take.  At the last minute, one of my Dad’s friends decided to go.  Because he was deaf, and I’ve already explained how common courtesy is a mind set, I offered to let him sit in the front seat, so he could talk with my father without trying to see his hands over the seat.  Now, when you get 2 talkative deaf people in the front seat of a car for a long car trip, you can drop the “best drivers theory”.  These 2 guys signed back and forth the whole way to NY.  I finally had to stop watching the road, as my dad weaved back and forth most of the way, as he was spending too much time looking at his friends hands, or using his own to sign responses.  Many, many grey hairs were born on my head that day.  Despite my nervousness, I don’t think my dad crossed the dotted lines on the road, he just used all of his allotted lane.  We didn’t have anyone beep at us, which at least I would have noticed, so maybe I’m being a bit harsh in my judgment. 

 As another illustration of situational awareness among the Deaf:  When I was 12, I got in trouble for something.  I don’t even remember what I did to get scolded, but I do remember the aftermath.  My mother just finished telling me what my punishment was.  We were both steaming mad.  My anger was the righteous “unjustly punished” anger of a 12 year old, and she was extremely disappointed in whatever it was I did.  After telling me what my punishment was, she turned her back on me and walked toward the living room.  When she did, I did the unthinkable. Yes, to my eternal shame, I flipped my mom off behind her back.  Her head swiveled around so fast, that I didn’t have a chance to “unfurl”.  Oh… My… God… Her eyes got so big, I thought she was having the proverbial “conniption”.  She yelled at me, spun me around, smacked me on the butt, and sent me to my room for a week – in the summer!!!  How the heck did she do that?  Yep.  Situational awareness strikes again.  She knew how mad I was, and she gave me the opening… just enough rope to hang myself.  I can still see the look on her face when she turned around.  She KNEW I’d be flipping her off.  She was so sure of it that she was inhaling for the big yell.  She also may have just looked slightly satisfied to have been right.  We laugh about that now.  She still won’t tell me if she saw me in the reflection from the TV, or windows, or what.  Regardless, she was aware of what was going on around her (the tension, the anger, her knowledge of my human nature, and the fact that I was behind her), and she caught me red handed (well… red fingered). 

 Situational awareness is probably the single biggest advantage my upbringing has brought me.  Combining my background experiences with cultural empathy, courtesy, lip and body language reading skills allows me to be more successful in life.  I move about in my environment with a higher awareness of the situations around me, and that allows me to make the most of whatever life throws at me.  I’ve got a great group of friends who love me as much as I love them, and most of the people at work get along well with me.  Taking a few moments to ask someone about their weekend, if I know that they are an extrovert, or asking about their family because there’s a family issue going on costs nothing, and pays back huge dividends.   This also means that I know when to leave someone alone and NOT ask them what’s going on.  Some people are more private – and show it, if you know how to see it.   

 When I’m on the opposite side of a debate, being able to read body language lets me know when they’re glossing over the bad news, or are guessing when they are saying they know (which is my biggest pet peeve).   That, combined with the common courtesy lesson insures that I’m sure to give opponents a gracious way out.  This avoids making enemies, while still being able to win debates, or get the audience to my side in the debate.




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