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American Annals of the Deaf

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Through Deaf Eyes: A Photographic History of an American Community

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are less likely to learn to sign or to identify with Deaf culture; however, signers and nonsigners share many experiences, face similar struggles, and work together on many issues. Their combined efforts have contributed to the development of new technologies such as the teletypewriter (TTY) and television closed captioning, and civil rights legislation such as the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“You are at a store purchasing something. The clerk says $3.30 when you think she says $3.13; $3.40 when you think she says $3.14; $3.60 when you think she says $3.16 and any one of the numbers vice versa as well as a thousand and one more confusing words look-alike speechreading words.”

“You get dizzy at a meeting trying to locate who is talking and when you finally locate the speaker, he has finished and someone else has started and you must begin your game of ‘hide and seek’ all over again.”

“You drink Manhattans instead of other drinks and you smoke certain brands of cigarettes because your favorites are often difficult to pronounce.”

          Roy Holcomb, Hazards of Deafness, quoted in
       Jack R. Gannon,
Deaf Heritage: A Narrative
       History of Deaf America (Silver Spring, MD:
National Association of the Deaf, 1981), 210, 216

Watch yourself in a mirror while you say the following words: bat, bad, ban, mat, mad, man, pat, pad, pan. Most hearing people are surprised to find that every one of these words looks exactly like the others. The cat in the hat may just as well be the hat in the cat. Only 30 to 40 percent of English is unambiguously visible on the lips under ideal circumstances. What would make circumstances less than ideal? Mustaches. Beards. Distance. A speaker who moves around, such as a lecturer. A group discussion. Dim lighting or glare. An old joke about three elderly and hard-of-hearing men on a train points to the difficulties: as they pull into a station, one says, “Ah, it’s Weston.” The second replies, “I thought it was Thursday.” The third: “Me too, let’s get a drink.”

The challenge of oral communication is to learn to form words and modulate speech patterns with a voice that can be heard only imperfectly or not at all, and to learn to distinguish the words that others form on their lips. Since many words look alike, the lipreader depends also upon body language, context, and other cues to follow a speaker. It is, at best, an imperfect art.

Since I was a child, some of my misunderstandings have brought gales of laughter I couldn’t help joining in with. A few have become oft-told family anecdotes. Some years ago, for example, during the flu season, I sat one afternoon in the living room reading a book while suffering from a

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