One of the ways that many deaf people learn to communicate with non-deaf people is to learn to read lips. Reading lips allows deaf people to understand more of what is going on around them, particularly if there is not an interpreter nearby; however, many people who are deeply involved in deaf culture think that focusing on lip reading can be detrimental to the culture in general. Additionally, lip reading, also known as speech reading, can be difficult, since many words look the same even though they sound different.
If people are hard of hearing they may use lip reading to help them understand the words that are difficult to hear. People who develop deafness later in life may be more like to use rely on lip-reading instead of learning sign language. Many deaf education programs work with their students to teach lip reading to help their deaf students communicate better with the rest of the hearing world. The deaf community will work to include deaf people who come from mainly hearing families by teaching them about deaf culture, but these people also need to learn how to lip read so they can be a part of their hearing families.
Once deafness has been diagnosed in a child, the parents must make a choice about the deaf education program they will pursue. One program choice is mainstreaming the student with hearing students. This student will still receive intensive speech therapy and take classes in lip reading, but will spend the majority of the day with hearing children. Often this makes learning lip reading more important so the child can fit in. The other option is to send the student to a deaf school where the entire school is made up of deaf children. They will have the same speech therapy and lip reading classes, but they will also interact mainly through sign language at school.
Proponents of deaf culture think that a separate school deaf education is best because it promotes the culture and creates a deaf community where it is easier for the child to fit in. However it can be difficult for hearing parents to choose this option. Lip reading is essential no matter which choice you make because it is necessary for deaf people to communicate with hearing people.
If you need to speak to someone who is lip reading, it is important to show common courtesy. First you should look at the person you are talking to, and make sure that you speak clearly. Be careful not to cover your mouth or to turn away from someone. You may want to try lip-reading yourself to see how difficult it is to do without any sound cues. The deaf community tries to educate hearing people about the rules surrounding lip reading, because they want people to be treated the same. Deafness is just one obstacle that many people need to overcome. Lip-reading can make it easier to communicate with everyone.