This was originally published in March, 2016.
I’m deaf and I’m a lipreader.
I only started learning ASL a few years ago. I was raised oral, and only ever attended hearing schools, always without accommodation.
Can You Read My Lips almost perfectly describes my experience as being a lip reader.
Lip Reading is Exhausting
Like she says in the short film, lip reading IS a study and it can be absolutely exhausting.
It’s also communication for me, and it’s how I navigate and interact with the world. I am highly skilled at this, one of the few things that I can lay honest-to-God claim to being a real pro at.
But unlike the girl in “Can You Read My Lips”, I don’t know ASL fluently. ASL is not a freeing form of expression for me because I can’t have a real, deep conversation in ASL. I speak and understand Japanese* better than I can communicate with my own hands in a language that is meant for me and my own.
I am deaf. I am living between two worlds – the world of the hearing and the world of the Deaf**(who communicate primarily through ASL). If I knew ASL fluently, I’d have a place in both worlds and know of the freedom that they speak of with signed communication in “Can You Read My Lips”.
Sometimes I think of us deaf as a silent and forgotten tribe.
We aren’t hearing. We aren’t Deaf. We live in the middle. We don’t know ASL well enough to use it as our language. We lipread and we use captions. Our worlds become silent when we take off our technology – our hearing aids, our implants, but with them, we have sound.
We smile when strangers come up to us, thrilled at the sight of our enormous hearing aids or cochlear implants and sign excitedly and we have NO IDEA what they just said. Or, as is the case with me now, a little stomach-plummet happens when I realize that this hearing person signs better than I do. And yet, even as I want to, I can’t figure out how to learn more ASL right here, right now, at my age and with where I live in mind.
You know, sometimes I feel a little sad about it. I suppose the feeling comes from my Facebook feed that is often brimming with pieces related to Deaf Pride and ASL. When will it ever be really easy for me and other deaf people like me to communicate? Will I ever be able to accept an invitation to a dinner party without wondering if I have the spoons to deal with lipreading 10 people at a time?
Where do I fit in? Where do the others in my deaf tribe fit in? Where is our voice, the voice that lipreads, the voice that uses captions, the voice that stares at ASL with some wonder and much longing?
*Note: I lived in Japan for 5 years
** Note#2: “little d” deaf refers to people who part or total hearing loss but who do NOT use ASL as their primary means of communication. “big D” Deaf refers to the Deaf culture – where ASL is the primary means of communication and it transcends hearing, as CODA (children of Deaf adults) may be hearing but their first language and culture may be Deaf, because of their Deaf parents.
Meriah Nichols is a counselor. Solo mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one on the spectrum). Deaf, and neurodiverse herself, she’s a gardening nerd who loves cats, Star Trek, and takes her coffee hot and black.