9 Myths and Misconceptions About Deaf People
Despite popular shows like "Switched at Birth," and the high profile of actresses like Deanna Bray (Sue Thomas, FBI) and Marlee Matlin, many myths and misconceptions persist about people with profound hearing loss. Here are some of the most common myths and stereotypes out there in the hearing world.
Myth # 1 - Most deaf people communicate in sign language
Reality: Approximately 10% of people with hearing loss communicate in sign language as their first language. Some people lose their hearing through illness or other causes after they learned English, and prefer to speak and/or lipread. Many deaf children are now receiving cochlear implants to help them hear and undergo intense speech therapy with speech-language pathologists.
Myth # 2 - Most deaf people are able to read lips
Reality: Lipreading (sometimes called speech reading) is a difficult skill to acquire. Even the best lipreaders can catch only 25% - 30% of what is being said. The percentage may be a little higher if the deaf person knows the speaker well. Deaf people look at the context of the discernible words in the sentence to fill in the words that they did not understand. Many mouth movements appear similar on the lips and may look the same to a deaf person.
Many hard of hearing people also read lips. People who lipread requires intense concentration to understand a speaker and will quickly become tired during the process.
One deaf person's view of lipreading
Myth # 3 - Deaf people can’t talk
Reality: Some deaf people can speak well. This ability depends on many factors such as whether they are prelingually or postlingually deaf and their educational background. Speech pathologists work with some deaf people to help them improve their speech. Many deaf people have the ability to speak and are not physically mute.
Some deaf people may choose not to talk because it is difficult for them to regulate the volume, pitch, or sound of their voices in a a way that most people can understand. Deaf people do not want to be labeled as “deaf-mute” or "deaf and dumb" and reject the terms as inaccurate.
Deaf people do make natural sounds when they sign such as when they are emphasizing a point or expressing intense emotions. Some deaf people use certain sounds to communicate that are understood by their family, friends, or pets. For example, a hearing child who hears a certain loud sound from their parents know that they are in big trouble.
According to the book Deaf Heritage: A Narrative History of Deaf America, by Jack Gannon, the expression “deaf and dumb” was a label used by the Greek philosopher Aristotle. Aristotle felt that deaf people were not able to learn or reason. “Deaf and dumb” has come to mean silent. The deaf, however, are neither “dumb” nor “mute.”
Unfortunately, some hearing people falsely assume that people with hearing loss who do not speak well are not intelligent or have much going for them. There is no relationship between hearing loss and intelligence. Many deaf people lead successful, productive lives in a wide range of professions.
Myth # 4 - Writing notes are adequate means of communication
Reality: For some deaf people, English is a second language. Some only have about a Grade 4 level of English comprehension. Some deaf people struggle to understand written English, especially in highly stressful or emergency situations. A sign language interpreter may be needed to facilitate communication if the deaf person's first language is sign.
Myth # 5 - People with hearing loss will hear if the speaker shouts
Reality: Shouting at a deaf person does not help them to understand a speaker. If a speaker increases the volume when he talks, his face becomes distorted, making his lips more difficult to lipread.
Myth # 6 - All deaf and hard of hearing persons benefit from hearing devices
Reality: Hearing aids amplify sound and may benefit some deaf people. Other people have a hearing loss that distorts sounds, making sounds more difficult to understand. Amplification doesn't help them. Other people don’t benefit from hearing aids at all, particularly if they do not have any residual hearing.
Cochlear implants work best when implanted in young children. Young deaf people who are implanted may not know how to interpret what they are hearing and find the world a bewildering with strange sounds that they cannot identify.
Myth # 7 - Deaf people can be defined as “hearing impaired”
Reality: Many deaf people don’t like to be defined as “hearing impaired” and prefer the word “deaf.” Some want to be identified as members of the deaf community and capitalize the word "Deaf." Some deaf people also object to the word “impaired,” which they feel implies that a person is flawed, deficient or imperfect. “Hearing impaired” is a vague term and lumps people with different levels of hearing loss, communication modes and cultural identities under one definition.
Myth # 8 - Deaf people can’t drive
Reality: Many deaf people do drive cars. Studies have shown that deaf people are better drivers than hearing people. Research has shown that their peripheral vision is more highly developed than in hearing people.
Myth # 9 - Deaf people use Braille
Reality: Braille is an alphabet of raised dots on paper that helps blind and low vision people to read. It is not generally used by deaf people unless they also have vision problems. Deaf actress Marlee Matlin recently told a talk show that she occasionally gets offered Braille menus in restaurants.
What it is like to be deaf - one man's experience
© 2013 Carola Finch