Secrets, Secrets, Everywhere!!

Have you ever been in a situation where it felt like everyone knew something that you didn’t?  It was pretty uncomfortable, wasn’t it?  This is the world that Deaf people have to traverse every day.  They are surrounded by people having conversations, sharing information, telling jokes, and they are not included.  This can be an extremely lonely existence.  Have no fear, you can be of assistance!

In the world of ASL, you will often hear the words “Sim Com”.  This means “Simultaneous Communication” and refers to signing and speaking at the same time.  It is some what of an art form and takes some practice, but it is something that will mean inclusion for the Deaf that you socialize with.  By signing what those around you are saying, and using “Sim Com” when you are speaking, the Deaf can be included in the conversation, understand jokes, and generally be a part of the crowd.

This has the added benefit of showing your friends how cool ASL is.  When they ask you how they can learn, you can confidently say “just go to!”

Deaf Culture #14

All deaf people use Hearing Aides?

This is false.  If you have such a profound hearing loss that only the loudest of noises (think close range jumbo jet), a hearing aid would be completely ineffective.  Deaf people can have an extremely wide range of hearing loss, from very little, to profound.  Sometimes the hearing loss is so complicated that a hearing aid would be of no use.  Also, some people prefer not to wear them.  There is a certain amount of stigma related to hearing aids, and many people would prefer to deal with their hearing loss, than to deal with the repercussions of that stigma.  The bottom line is that it is personal preference as much as medical necessity.

Cochlear Implant usage is on the rise in the Deaf Community?

This is, unfortunately, true.  It is unfortunate, not because of the technology itself, but what it means for Deaf Culture.  As technology advances, cochlear implants are becoming better and smaller.  As we know, 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents.  Those parents are more likely to opt for the Cochlear Implant in order to bridge the social, cultural, and physical chasm that exists between their child and themselves.  These two facts have led to an increased number of children being implanted.  Formerly, these children would drift towards the deaf culture as a way of assimilating with others who understood them.  Now, with all of the advances in implantation, these children identify more with the hearing community than the Deaf.  This is leading to a decline in both the number of individuals in the Deaf Community, as well as the number of individuals who have use for ASL.

Cochlear Implants are a miracle fix for someone with a hearing loss?

Here is a little known fact about Cochlear Implants: in most C.I. patients (especially those implanted later in life), use of their implant causes an intense headache.  There is nothing miraculous about having a headache every time you make use of your “cure”.  Many people think that once a person has a cochlear implant, they will hear the same sounds as a person who has no hearing loss.  This is false.  The C.I. allows for “sensations” that are then translated into meaning.  It is like learning to detect sounds with your kneecap and calling that “hearing”.  There is no “miracle fix” for someone with hearing loss, there are simply adjustments that are made.  It is up to the individual whether those adjustments steer them towards the Hearing world, or the Deaf world.

Capital “D” Deaf means that the person attended a residential program, uses American Sign Language, and feels like they are a part of the Deaf Community?

We have discussed previously what the term Deaf means to an individual.  It is an identity, not a label.  It is not uncommon to hear of a person with profound hearing loss, who is extremely active in the Deaf Community, and an advocate for all things Deaf, to be referred to as “Big D Deaf”.  The capital D is the primary indicator of self-acceptance.  The Deaf individual is not looking to change him or herself, and is unwilling to let anyone else change them.

Lower case “d” deaf means that the person most likely attended a mainstream program, may use ASL or some form of it, and also may use amplification devices?

The lower case “d” indicates a medical diagnosis.  The person that identifies with the hearing world, and sees being deaf as a handicap that is to be fixed.  The deaf individual usually wants to be known as something other than deaf, whereas a Deaf individual is, first and foremost, Deaf.





Deaf Culture #13

NTID stands for: National Technical Institute for the Deaf?

True! NTID is located in Rochester, New York, and is one of nine colleges within RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology).  Started in 1967, the school’s mission is to give Deaf and Hard of Hearing students a quality education in technological fields.  According to the website, nearly 1,400 of the 1,529 students enrolled are Deaf or Hard of Hearing, and in the last five years an astonishing 91% of graduates that pursue employment have found a job within a year.

Gallaudet University is located in Washington D.C.?

Gallaudet University is, in fact, located in Washington D.C.  We have previously discussed the history and implementation of Gallaudet, but what it is most known for is the “Deaf President Now” movement.  In 1988 the University found itself in need of a new president.  They began interviewing candidates and narrowed it down to two Deaf men, and one hearing woman who did not know sign language.  In a move that I’m not sure anyone, including those involved, understood, they chose the hearing woman as the president of a Deaf university.  This sparked an intense 3 day protest in which the students chanted “Deaf President NOW!” and blocked access to the university, effectively shutting it down.  After 3 days, the administration relented and selected I. King Jordan, a well-educated Deaf man, to be the next president of the University.

DPN (Deaf President Now) is a moment in history where the whole nation was focused on the Deaf, and their needs.  As a result (and rightly so), DPN is a huge point of pride for the Deaf Community.

NTID is located in Rochester, New York?

True! To be more specific, NTID is located at:

52 Lomb Memorial Drive

Rochester, NY 14623

However, if a road trip is not in your future, you can go to and take a virtual tour of campus.  While you are there, check out their calendar of awesome campus events and schedule your vacation time accordingly.  It will be the perfect way to practice everything that you have learned at!

 Gallaudet University was founded by Edward Miner Gallaudet?

True!  In 1857, Amos Kendall donated the land for Columbia Institute for the Deaf and Blind, and made known his wish for Edward to become it’s leader.  Mr. Gallaudet jumped at the chance and became the school’s first principal.  Gallaudet, however, had bigger plans for the school.  He wanted to see it become a college.  To do this, he appealed to the higher powers, even going so far as to request a bill be signed in to law, which was an unnecessary move.  He was appeased, however, when the president at the time, a Mr. Abraham Lincoln, signed such a bill, giving the authorization for the Columbia Institute to begin awarding college degrees.  Gallaudet remained active in the college, both as President of the University and then later, President of the Board of Directors, until his retirement in 1911.

Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet was instrumental in bringing ASL to America?

It may be difficult to understand the motives of Edward Miner Gallaudet without first speaking of his father, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet.

Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet dreamed of becoming a preacher.  That was until he met nine-year-old Alice, the deaf daughter of his neighbor, Dr. Mason Cogswell.  Alice befriended Thomas, who began trying to teach her the names of objects by writing in the dirt with a stick.  As you can guess, this effort did not reap the desired outcome.  Alive with new purpose, Thomas abandoned his dreams, as well as the master’s degree that he received at the age of 20 from Yale University, and took off for Europe to study methods for teaching deaf students.  After several dead ends, Thomas was introduced to Abbe Siccard who ran the Institution Nationale des Sourds-Muets a Paris (The National Deaf-Mute Institute of Paris), who in turn introduced him to Laurent Clerc, and Jean Massieu, two of his deaf faculty members.  Thomas, impressed with the advanced education that the two men had obtained by using the manual method, begged Clerc to return to America with him.  Clerc agreed, and on the three month journey home, taught Thomas Sign Language.  Upon his return to America, Thomas took Clerc around the eastern seaboard, campaigning and collecting money to begin their own school.  They succeeded and built a school that would eventually become known as the American School for the Deaf.  The first class consisted of seven students, including, of course, his young friend Alice.


Deaf Culture #12

It is not unusual for deaf people to have difficulty with the English language?

This is true.  The English language is incredibly complex.  We have words that look the same but mean different things, sound the same but are spelled differently, odd rules for pluralizing, and that’s just the beginning!  Add the fact that for most deaf individuals, English is their second language, as well as the linguistic rules of ASL being completely different to those in English, and…well…it’s pretty easy to see why deaf people may have difficulty.  They are not alone either.  Most major publications hire a “copy editor” whose only job is to correct the spelling, grammar, and syntax of the writer’s work.  Many native English speakers, born and raised into the language, and taught how to use it at every stage of their schooling, still struggle to follow all of the complex, and seemingly ever changing, rules.

Deaf people prefer to use the TTY than a videophone?

This is the perfect follow up to the previous question.  It is true that the majority of the deaf community prefer to use a videophone to a TTY because, when using a videophone, they can use their native language of ASL.  Using a TTY requires the user to be able to write, read, and comprehend English.  While this is certainly possible, it would be rare to find anyone, deaf or hearing, that would feel more comfortable conversing in his or her second language.

Another reason that the videophone is preferable is for linguistic nuances and non-verbal cues.  Head nods, eyebrow movement, and eye gaze are a few examples of “non-manual markers” and are extremely important to the meaning behind what is being said, and are how ASL users display prosody, or voice inflection.  If you think about your own English conversations, you will notice that you use the speakers voice inflection to understand if their comment is rude, sincere, sarcastic, or even funny.  These nuances are lost when the conversation is in text, and the speaker’s intent can easily be skewed.  Anyone who has ever opened an email or received a text and thought “What do they mean by that?” has had first hand experience as to the clarity that inflection can add to a message.  Videophones can add back in the meaning that simple text is lacking.

Deaf people use flashing lights to indicate a knock or noise?

They sure do!  Many Deaf homes have lights that will flicker to indicate that someone has pushed the doorbell or that the phone is ringing.  There are also lights installed on the smoke detectors to indicate when there is a fire, and many Deaf have a pillow or pad on their mattresses that will vibrate when their alarm goes off in the morning.  The world that we live in is very much centered around sound which means that accommodations must be made so that the Deaf have equal access to the information that Hearing people receive through their ears.

American Sign Language is becoming more popular under World Languages?

True.  With advances in diversity requirements, more and more members of the Deaf community are gaining access to equality in both the educational and professional worlds.  Because of this, more of the hearing population is becoming familiar with both ASL itself as well as ASL Interpreters.  The extra exposure has created an interest in the language, which in turn, has led to schools adding ASL to their foreign language offerings.  This change in attitude towards ASL is a huge advantage for the Deaf because the more people that know ASL and understand Deaf Culture, the more equal access there will be for the Deaf.

American Sign Language is more popular than Signing Exact English?

This is true for many reasons, and those who use ASL will likely share their opinion with you, loudly and vehemently.

The main difference between ASL and SEE is that ASL is a language, while SEE is not, nor was it ever intended to be.  SEE is a system that was devised to help Deaf children learn English.  The system is cumbersome, requiring nearly twice the number of signs as the same sentence in ASL, as well as adding hand shapes to indicate some words and word endings such as: the, is, -ing, -ed, etc.

Not only does SEE remove the beauty of ASL, it also changes the structure.  SEE, like English, is a linear language.  One thing leads to another, and you must wait until the end to get a clear picture of the concept.  ASL begins with the picture, or the concept as a whole, and adds to it.  Here is and example:


“The boy is climbing the tree.”

TREE-BOY, and show him climbing up the tree.


(Words in bold are signs or movements that do not exist in ASL)


As you can see, a lot of the magic is missing.

SEE should not be confused with PSE (Pidgin Signed English).   PSE is ASL in English word order.  While it is not a language, nor is it as beautiful as ASL, it is accepted as a mode of communication in the Deaf Community.


Deaf Culture #11

Most deaf children have deaf parents?

False.  Only 10% of deaf children have deaf parents.  The remaining 90% have hearing parents.  These children are more likely to attend a public school with a mainstream program, have an amplification device, and rely on oral skills, or Signed Exact English, as opposed to ASL.

Working with a deaf person requires an interpreter all of the time?

There are many day-to-day activities that do not require an interpreter.  Often the deaf person will communicate with pen and paper in order to ask general questions, order fast food, go to the pharmacist, and other mundane tasks.  Though many Deaf use an interpreter for on the job training, staff meetings, and other important work functions, there are very few who have an interpreter with them at work at all times.

If you do not know sign language, it is acceptable to write back and forth with a deaf person?

True!  This is one of the most acceptable and often used methods of communicating with a deaf person, if you don’t know ASL.  Many members of the Deaf community developed a tendency to carry a pen and notepad with them so that they are readily available when needed.

Deaf people don’t mind working in noisy environments?

You may find it surprising to learn that this is false.  The word “deaf” is an umbrella term that may refer to people of many different degrees of hearing loss.  Some people may be bothered by high tones, others by low tones, and still more by mid-tones.  Even people with complete hearing loss can be sensitive to “environmental noise”, which are the vibrations caused by sound waves.  Working in a noisy environment can be just as distracting for a deaf person as it is to a hearing person.

Deaf people tend to be more sensitive to the light?

This is true.  It is not uncommon for people who experience sensory depravation to have their other senses compensate for the one that is lost.  Deaf people may be more sensitive to light, vibrations, smells, or even tastes.  Light is also an important issue to consider when signing too much, too little, and reflections can make it difficult to see the other person.



Deaf Culture #10

When talking with a deaf person through an interpreter, always look at the interpreter?

This is false, although it is one of the hardest things for a hearing person to master.  From early childhood we are taught to give our attention to the person who is speaking.  Therefore, it is ingrained in us to look at the interpreter, since they are the ones that are speaking.  In order for the Deaf client to feel like you are listening to them, you need to give them your attention, both when listening and when speaking.  Again, because of the way we in the hearing culture are raised, we tend to direct our questions towards the interpreter.


For Example:

“Would you please ask Mrs. Smith if she has ever had an X-ray?

The correct way to address a deaf person through an interpreter is simply to say:

“Mrs. Smith, have you ever had an X-ray?”

Don’t worry, Deaf and Interpreters alike are used to this being awkward at first.  That is one reason that you will often see the interpreter standing behind and a little to the side of the hearing person.  That serves as a gentle reminder that the interpreter is not actually part of the conversation.

Deaf people tend to feel more comfortable socializing with other deaf people?

This is true.  As humans, we tend to congregate to others that are most like ourselves, in large part, due to language barriers.  Even fluent users find it mentally taxing after a while to translate to and from their native language.  Therefore, it stands to reason that if you can surround yourself with others with the same native language, you will be more comfortable.  Another reason that people of like backgrounds tend to gather is because of past experiences.  Deaf like to socialize with other Deaf because they have a lot in common.  They can talk, vent, and laugh, and know that whomever they are speaking to understands completely.  Much like the fact that people outside of your family may not find the quirkiness of Great Aunt Louisa to be quite as funny as you do.

It is easy to become a sign language interpreter?

This is very, very, false.  It takes a lot of skill and a lot of practice to become an interpreter.  A Sign Language Interpreter needs to be fluent, not only in ASL, but also in English.  In order to interpret, a person must be able to listen to the English, understand the meaning in order to convey the concept, rearrange the sentence structure and add the appropriate facial movements and body language in order to follow the linguistic rules of ASL.  And all of this must be accomplished so that the ASL is almost simultaneous to the English so that the Deaf person does not fall behind in the conversation.  They must also be able to do the opposite and change ASL to English in order to convey the thoughts of their Deaf client.  An Interpreter must also have training that allows them to, know and follow the Interpreter’s role and responsibilities under the Code of Conduct, be able to solve ethical dilemmas,  and know the laws not only governing Interpreters, but also those that involve the deaf community in order to advocate on their behalf.

As you can see, being an interpreter is much more complex than it may seem on the surface.

The term “Deaf” is appropriate?

Absolutely.  As has been previously discussed here, the term “Deaf” refers to an entire community of people and evokes feelings of pride and belonging, much like the terms “American”, “Christian”, or for those enlightened few…”U of M fan”.

All deaf people can read lips well?

This is false.  This too has been previously discussed, but cannot be reiterated enough.  Do not assume that all deaf people excel at reading lips.  One phrase that interpreters often hear is, “Oh, he doesn’t need an interpreter, he can read lips.”  True, some deaf are quite skilled at lip reading, however, it is not an effective form of communication.  No one should be forced to guess and stumble their way through the doctor’s explanation of their upcoming heart surgery, a job interview, or any other important discussion.


Deaf Culture #9

Deaf people should wear contrasting colors in order for people to see their signs?

Not necessarily.  In general, this rule applies to an interpreter, or a Deaf individual that will be giving a presentation to a large crowd.  As you can guess, it is usually easier to see signs with a solid, contrasting background when watching from a distance.  Those times, however, are somewhat rare, and normal clothes are perfectly fine for everyday interactions.

How do people become deaf?

There are lots of ways that a person can become deaf, and the most common ways are illness and injury.  Because neither illness nor injury has any effect on your genetic material, you can imagine that heredity is the least common way for a person to become deaf.  As previously discussed, 90% of deaf children have hearing parents.  The remaining 10% are deaf children that were born to deaf parents, and most are deaf due to a genetic abnormality.  This being the case, there is a fair chance that they will pass their deafness on to their own children.  This type of hereditary deafness is somewhat of a legacy in the Deaf Community.  Those involved in multi-generational deafness are seen as a “dynasty” and regarded as superior.  This hierarchy is much like the “old money” families in the South.

How do people learn American Sign Language? (From other deaf, from a book, from

The easiest, and by far the best way to learn ASL is from, of course!  Learning ASL from other Deaf is also quite effective, and learning ASL from a book is possible, but much more difficult.  ASL is a 3 dimensional language, and it is difficult to get a feel for the movements of the language from the pages of a book.  It is also nearly impossible to start to understand someone else that is signing without seeing them physically use the language.  Learning from other deaf is a wonderful way to learn, as you gain exposure to both the language, and the culture.  However, in our busy day-to-day lives, is the best of both worlds.  It offers the ease and accessibility of a book, as well as the exposure and culture of language interaction.

Text messaging is a popular way to communicate among the deaf?

Text messaging is the single greatest advantage that has come to the Deaf community in recent memory.  Now, with texting being so prevalent, Deaf individuals can do everything from conversing with friends and colleagues, to talking to their child’s teacher, to scheduling a doctor’s appointment.  Video phone is wonderful for a long chat with a friend, or something that cannot be completed via text or in person, but is often inaccessible outside of the home.  This was a distinct disadvantage to the Deaf community until the implementation and widespread use of texting.  Now, members of the Deaf Community are equally as accessible as those in the Hearing Community.

The term, “Deaf and Dumb” is not acceptable?

This is true.  The terms “Deaf and Dumb”, “Deaf-Mute”, or referring to someone as a “Mute” are all unacceptable by today’s standards.  Most people prefer being simply “Deaf”, or depending on their hearing loss, “Hard of Hearing”.  If you have a hard time remembering the correct term, simply ask yourself if you would like to be referred to as “dumb”.  The answer, most likely, is no.

Deaf Culture #8

How do you reference a person who is not in the same room while you are signing? (Point to a specific location in front of you)?

If the person that you are referring to is not in the room, you can point to a specific location in front of you.  By doing so you “set them up” or assign them that spot.  This makes it easy to continue to refer to the person by simply pointing to the place where you set them up.  Wherever you put them is where they will stay until you change topics in the conversation, or you assign them somewhere else.  You can also set up more than one person at a time.  A cautionary word, the more people you set up, the harder it is to remember who was where!

All deaf people sign ASL?

All of those who live in America do not speak English, those who have lost a limb do not always have a prosthetic, and all deaf people do not use ASL.  Each person adapts to their environment differently, which is what makes us all unique individuals.  The decision to use ASL or any other form of communication is partially that of those who raised or are raising the deaf individual, as well as the individual’s personal preference.  Some may begin their lives lip reading, or communicating by writing, and then eventually decide that they would prefer to learn ASL.  The opposite is also true.  Some people may never master the art of ASL and find it easier to follow different avenues of communication.  There are also many different styles of ASL, as well as different skill levels.  So it is important to remember that just because someone is deaf, does not mean that they can sign.

Most deaf people attend a residential program?

Much to the Deaf Community’s dismay, this is not true.  The residential programs are by far the preferred method of learning in the Deaf Community, but due to tuition constraints, location, and parental preference, attending a residential school is often impossible.  Most students attend what is referred to as a “mainstream” program.  This usually consists of the student being enrolled in a special education program, (hopefully) supplied with an interpreter, and given other accommodations to aid in their education.  In areas with a larger Deaf population, the school may have an HI (Hearing Impaired) classroom.  This functions as a place for students to get extra classroom help, improve their signing skills, learn about the tips and tools that they may need to function in a hearing world (such as how to care for their hearing aids, or how to use an FM system), and to socialize with other deaf students.

Deaf schools tend to be the cultural hub of the Deaf Community?

Schools, in general, are a cultural hub, however Deaf schools are even more so.  While hearing children are exposed to different cultural norms throughout their everyday lives, many deaf children are surrounded by hearing people and know few, if any, other deaf.  This makes the attending a residential school even more important.  Not only are these children getting a quality education in their first language, they are learning to socialize with others, learning independence and self-advocacy, “how” to be deaf, and also have access to positive adult Deaf role models.  Like any school, many lasting friendships are formed as a young adult, and even more so at a residential school where you actually live with your classmates.  Although there may be some downfalls, attending a residential school has a huge positive impact on the rest of a deaf child’s life.

Cochlear Implants are not acceptable in the Deaf Community?

As discussed in the Deaf Culture Quiz #4, Cochlear Implants are not widely accepted among the Deaf community.  It is worth reiterating, however, that the person with the Cochlear Implant is not looked upon negatively, or treated as an outcast.  Instead, it is the idea of the implant in general, and the parent’s tendency to force their children to get the implant.  Aside from being an unaccepted practice, the surgery is extensive and painful, and it is documented that most people who receive an implant are plagued with headaches that do not ease until the implant is turned off.  It is also worth noting that this is a touchy subject within the community.  Much like discussing politics or religion, it is usually unwise to enter in to a discussion with a Deaf person about Cochlear Implants until you know that person quite well.

Deaf Culture #7

The signs for male “gender” are:

The “masculine” area of the face is near the forehead.  There are mixed theories on the reason for this, some saying that it is because men tend to be taller than women, and others say that it starts with the sign for “boy” (resembling the brim of a baseball cap), and continues from there.

The signs for female “gender” are:

The “feminine” area of the face is near the chin.  There are also mixed theories regarding this, some saying (you guessed it!) that it is because women tend to be shorter than men, and others say that it starts with the sign for “girl” (resembling a tied bonnet string), and continues from there.

A person’s signing space is:

Generally, a person’s signing space is from the waist to the top of the head.  This gives ample room to set up the different 3-D elements of ASL.  As with anything else, signing space can vary somewhat from person to person.  Some of this is due to personal comfort, and others because of the type of signing that they are doing.  If you are on stage, signing for a large crowd, your signs and your signing space will be much larger.  Conversely, if you are signing on a TV or computer with a limited screen, having an intimate conversation, or signing with someone who has a limited field of vision, your signing space would be smaller.

The signs for niece and nephew are:

“Niece” and “nephew” are initialized, as are “cousin”, “aunt” and “uncle”.  These are also great examples of the gender division on the face, as gender is specified (and therefore the correct English word is chosen) by the signs location.

Which word is a natural gesture (Book, Train, Plane, Bike)?

If you didn’t know ASL, which gesture would you use in a game of Charades?  If you are like most people, you probably chose “book”.  The sign for book is “iconic”, meaning that it is a visual representation of an actual book.  You are miming opening a book to begin reading, which makes this a natural gesture.  Other examples include: “phone”, “listen”, “baseball cap”, and “hair”.

Deaf Culture #6

90% of all deaf children are born to hearing parents?

Surprisingly, this is true.  The other 10% are called DOD, or Deaf of Deaf, meaning that they are the Deaf children of Deaf adults.  DOD tends to be a title that is somewhat coveted in the Deaf community.  It is a source of pride that they are able to carry on the “legacy”.  DOD, both children and adults, have been known to be more confident, prone to becoming leaders, and have a better linguistic command of both ASL and English than their DOH (Deaf of Hearing) counterparts.  This may be due to their immediate inclusion in the Deaf community, and the encouragement to learn ASL and to take pride in their Deaf title.  DOH children are often sent to oral schools, given Cochlear Implants, and encouraged to speak rather than sign, in hopes that they will fit in with the Hearing community.  There are exceptions of course, Hearing parents that encourage ASL and other aspects of Deaf inclusion, but by and large Hearing parents tend to try to assimilate their children to the Hearing culture.

75% of all parents with deaf children do not know sign language?

Sadly, this is also true.  This is a baffling statistic, as it means that 75% of all parents with deaf children have an extremely limited ability to communicate with their children.  The reason behind parents not learning ASL is unknown.

10% of Americans know ASL?

This is false.  In truth, the current number is unknown.  The census that is generally referenced when speaking of ASL users was completed in 1970 and included everyone who signs, whether or not they are fluent in ASL.  It is known that the use of ASL is on the rise, so there is hope a new census will be completed in the near future. The results of that census would prove to be both interesting and encouraging for people who wish to learn.

60% of the English language is visible on the lips?

Though many who rely on speech reading wish this were true, unfortunately it is false.  As discussed in Deaf Culture #3, only about 20% of words are visible on the lips, and even that number is contingent on specific elements.  Words may be difficult to read for many reasons.  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.

It is acceptable to bounce your letters while fingerspelling?

Imagine trying to read a book while driving down a bumpy dirt road…that is the equivalent of bouncing your letters while fingerspelling.  Mastering the fine art of fingerspelling requires infinite amounts of both practice and patience and it would be a shame to blur all of your hard work by bouncing your hand!  Often, the bouncing of letters while fingerspelling is the result of fierce concentration and the wish to form the letters correctly.  Thankfully, the cure for a bouncing hand is simply practice and confidence!