This is my response to Ella Mae Lentz’s vlog about the difference between the philosophy of oralism and the mere act of speaking, either by deaf or hearing people. In this video, signed in ASL—PSE (along the continuum), I tell of my experience as an interpreter with oral deaf, English-oriented deaf, and strongly ASL deaf people. In my experience, I have not found oral deaf people to be against signing deaf or condescending toward culturally deaf people who choose to use sign language instead of speaking and lipreading. I share my experience being an oral transliterator for certain deaf people who were able to read almost 100% of what I mouthed, despite the “myth” that oral deaf people understand only 30–40% of what the get from reading lips. I also share my experience of having a deaf boyfriend who was culturally deaf and very strong in ASL, not so strong in English. When his mother came to visit, she insisted that he could read her lips even when she wasn’t facing him. He looked to me for interpretation, and I thought, “Why should I have to interpret for my boyfriend and his mother? Come on, Mom, learn sign!”
My basic message echoes what Ella said in her blog: there is nothing better or worse about signing or talking, as long as people are respectful of other’s communication styles and speaking people don’t look down upon signing people. I add to this that, in my experience and opinion, it should go both ways— that deaf signing people shouldn’t look down upon deaf speaking people, either, and that it is everyone’s responsibility to respect people’s language preferences and meet them where they are, if at all possible. That is, hearing people who wish to communicate with signing people who are not skilled in English or lipreading should learn now to sign. And hearing people who wish to speak with deaf people who speak and read lips should face the person and speak clearly so the person can read their lips.
One thing I must clarify: I didn’t mean that deaf signing people should meet oral deaf people in mouthing and lipreading. For many deaf people, that is not possible. I know that deaf people have a wonderful skill at meeting other deaf people at many levels and styles of communication, but you can only do what you can do. When I spoke of meeting oral and signing deaf people in their language style, I was thinking of hearing people who interact with deaf people.