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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Amy Signs: A Mother, Her Deaf Daughter, and Their Stories

Rebecca Willman Gernon
and Amy Willman

Do You Sign?


Mother told me that many people who discover she has a deaf daughter ask, �Does Amy read lips?� Mother asked me what she should tell these people, since I can read some lips.

I said, �You should reply, �Do you know sign?� Duh!�

Do I use lipreading? Sometimes, but I try not to because I may misunderstand the communication. I only use lipreading during a conversation that does not require much communication or does not affect my life. When ordering food, I may use lipreading. If a server asks me, �Do you want cheese?� I can read their lips and reply back, �No.� If the food I order is not accurate, I can remove the item I don�t want from my plate. I can live with wrong lipreading on my food order.

However, if the conversation is about something that will affect my personal life, such as a discussion at the bank for a loan or a visit to a doctor, I do not use lipreading. These conversations are complicated and I don�t want any confusion. I�d rather receive all the information accurately. In these situations, I use an interpreter or paper and pen. An interpreter is better when having a serious conversation. The business or medical office provides an interpreter if I request one. This is not my expense.

There is a law requiring interpreters to be provided the Deaf, but it does not have a very strong emphasis on some small businesses and companies. Businesses are supposed to provide an interpreter if a Deaf person attends or works at their place. The employer is to pay for it because it is their employee or client. Sometimes a Deaf person wanting an interpreter can stir up problems and the matter ends up in court. Or worse, a deaf person might have to quit their job or find a new doctor if they don�t provided any interpreters.

Sometimes I lipread my relatives, but not all the time, as I cannot always understand them. For them I use pen and paper. On special occasions, if Mother is with me, she will hire an interpreter for me. This allows me to talk easily with my family since my relatives do not know sign.

When I meet hearing people for the first time, they often ask me, �Do you lipread?� I usually say, �No.� I ask them to write, as it is easier and less confusing.

Is lipreading hard to learn? Yes. My lipreading ability is based on my knowledge of speech. Since I was sixteen months old, I had speech training and memorized the mouth movements. I can recognize many mouth movements and identify some words, but I can only do this if the hearing person speaks clearly and at a normal pace. Even then, I only recognize some of the words, never the whole sentence. I catch the mouth movements I know, and then try to figure out the possible meaning of the whole sentence. Lipreading involves a lot of guesswork.

If the hearing person speaks too fast, does not move their mouth much, is in a shadow, the sun is in my eyes, or if their mouth is covered by their hand or a thick mustache, I will not be able to lipread their words. I can lipread hearing people that I see often better than I can a stranger. If I have just met someone, I may be able to lipread their mouth movements if they speak normally, but if several people are speaking at the same time, it is impossible for me to follow the conversation. Lipreading really only works on a limited one-to-one conversations.

I prefer not to use lipreading. I think hearing people need to learn how to deal with Deaf people in the community. Why do I have to do lipreading? Why don�t hearing people sign?

I find it funny when a hearing person asks me, �Do you lipread?� When I answer, �No,� they reply, �Okay.� How ironic, I can understand what they just asked and answer properly. That must be confusing to them, so I always have paper and pen to use, which is the best solution.

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