Deaf Culture #3

The term “Hearing Impaired” is offensive?

“Hearing Impaired” was once considered to be the politically correct term for someone who is Deaf or Hard of Hearing, but has since fallen out of favor. The word “impaired” is being used less and less to describe people, and rightfully so as “impaired” is defined as “weakened, diminished, or damaged” (  I don’t think anyone wants to be described in that way.  Deaf” not only describes a hearing loss, but also the culture and community that goes along with it.  It is a label of pride and belonging.


The majority of deaf people have deaf parents?

Interestingly, about 90% of all Deaf people are born to hearing parents.  Unfortunately, only about 25% of those hearing parents take the time to learn ASL.  The other 75% of hearing parents either neglect to ever learn the language, which makes communicating with their child nearly impossible, or they force their child to learn to speak and lip read.  Neither of these options provides effective communication, and many times leads to a lifetime of roadblocks and frustrations.


Facial expressions are an important part of ASL?

Facial expressions could arguably be the most important part of ASL.  There is a saying in English that holds a lot of truth, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.”  And in ASL, facial expressions are “how you say it.”  They convey meaning, feeling, tone, and intent.  And maybe even more importantly, they keep the listener from getting bored!  Think back to the best public speaker you have ever seen.  Part of what makes them such a successful speaker, is how they use their voice.  They use lots of inflection, change the volume for emphasis, and may even add an accent or change the tone to indicate another speaker.  In ASL this is all accomplished using facial expressions and body movement.


Lip reading is an easy skill to master?

It is an all too common misconception not only that all Deaf people can read lips, but that this is sufficient communication.  Lip reading is not only very difficult to master, it is also largely ineffectual.  The best lip readers can obtain on average, 20% of the spoken information.  That means that in a sentence containing 10 words, they may understand 2.

Here is an example:

The ____ ___ _ _______ lunch ____ __ ___ ____.

Did you understand the message?

You should have gotten:

The other day, I bought lunch meat at the store.

The reasons why lip reading is so difficult often has very little to do with the skills of the lip reader.  Most often, the problem lies with the speaker.  Anything in or around the mouth will distort the message.  This could be a beard or mustache, chewing gum, or even braces.  There can also be problems if the speaker has a speech impediment, is a fast talker, or tends to mumble.  Also, if the speaker is aware that someone is trying to read their lips, they may attempt to help, which usually ends up being a hindrance.  By attempting to speak more slowly and clearly, they will distort the natural cadence of the words, making it more difficult to understand.  If this does not make it difficult enough, by design, lip reading only works when the speaker is looking in the direction of the lip reader.

Add all of these problems together and it is clear why even the best lip readers obtain so little of the message.


A professional interpreter is someone who is certified?

True, although each state has it’s own laws or guidelines regarding what makes an interpreter “certified”.  In some states this means passing a standardized test, others may require a certain amount of continuing education credits each year, and some may require both.  However, in all states, the interpreter must know, and abide by, the Code of Professional Conduct.  Part of this code says that, when asked, an interpreter must provide documentation of their certification.  This allows for the client to take charge of their communication and make sure that the person representing them is adequately qualified to do the job.