Captioning, not lip-reading Doctor Sacks

January 1, 2011 § 7 Comments

As much  as we admire and enjoy reading Oliver Sacks articles, this one in today’s newspaper is, unfortunately, quite misleading. Not exactly wrong, not really mistaken, yet it perpetuates a myth that needs to be shattered: lip reading does not replace hearing.

Most reports state that lip reading, at best, gives a person 35 to 40% of understanding of the spoken word when they learn to lip read (some folks cannot). It is essential for communication, no doubt about it, yet please Dr. Sacks, explain the full picture, and talk to us in the CCAC for information about real time speech to text – captions – that’s what millions of us need.

Here is part of the article in today’s New York Times:

This Year, Change Your Mind

“New Year’s resolutions often have to do with eating more healthfully, going to the gym more, giving up sweets, losing weight — all admirable goals aimed at improving one’s physical health. Most people, though, do not realize that they can strengthen their brains in a similar way.
While some areas of the brain are hard-wired from birth or early childhood, other areas — especially in the cerebral cortex, which is central to higher cognitive powers like language and thought, as well as sensory and motor functions — can be, to a remarkable extent, rewired as we grow older. In fact, the brain has an astonishing ability to rebound from damage — even from something as devastating as the loss of sight or hearing. As a physician who treats patients with neurological conditions, I see this happen all the time.

For example, one patient of mine who had been deafened by scarlet fever at the age of 9, was so adept at lip-reading that it was easy to forget she was deaf. Once, without thinking, I turned away from her as I was speaking. “I can no longer hear you,” she said sharply.

“You mean you can no longer see me,” I said.

“You may call it seeing,” she answered, “but I experience it as hearing.”

Lip-reading, seeing mouth movements, was immediately transformed for this patient into “hearing” the sounds of speech in her mind. Her brain was converting one mode of sensation into another…..”


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§ 7 Responses to Captioning, not lip-reading Doctor Sacks

  • Julie Bishop says:

    As a late deafened adult, I have never experienced anything close to understanding speech via lip reading. However, when I experience real time closed captioning, I feel like I am actually hearing what is being said. I often say that if I had real time close captioning available to me at all times, I wouldn’t feel like I was hearing impaired at all. Perhaps only those who have never experienced the sound of voices and speech can feel like they are hearing with lip reading. Maybe their brains were re-wired at a critical time. For late deafened adults, I dont think lip reading will ever come close to the benefit we get from CC.

  • ccacblog says:

    Julie- thanks for your quick comment, and very well said.

    How did you find our blog so quickly, if you can say? it’s still new, and we are trying to figure out how to boost traffic here!


  • Dianrez says:

    While I consider myself a good lipreader, I would never, ever, give the impression that it replaces hearing. If a hearing person asks me, “do you lipread?” I will usually answer “not well.” Reason: they are too quick to jump to conclusions and start talking a mile a minute. The need to avoid the reality of deaf life is very strong in the hearing.

  • ccacblog says:

    Exactly! So many times, too many times, when I explain that I am deafened in any new communication situation, people keep talking, and when I say again – please understand I am deaf (the only word they understand) – they then look annoyed, even angry at me, and many times say – but don’t you lip read?

    I try to explain that lip-reading gives me about a third of what they are saying only, not enough. And there are many aspects of acquired hearing loss that the world does not understand.

    We do not use sign language, most of us, and we “look” normal, we “sound” normal (no different speech or accent), and we seem quite independent also (though as an aside, I laugh when I’m able, instead of getting offended, when some situations ask me if I need a wheelchair due to my hearing loss! – anyone who is “disabled” is mobility-disabled they assume.


  • MM says:

    If only lip-reading was taught a lot better and a lot earlier, it would be more use to those with hearing loss. Late deafened particularly endorse LR because they want to retain their ‘hearing roots’ a lot more than they want to accept they are deaf. Unless you have been there you won’t understand this. Obviously this means a large number of deaf people are endorsing the myth it makes you look hearing.

    Captions/subtitles I too fully endorse, as I do all text access forms, however, text access is so efficient it can lead to less sign use, less interactions, and lack of interest in lip-reading, especially as LR is so difficult to learn anyway. Put it this way, and it doesn’t matter WHICH sector you aspire to.

    A TV program is on, it is captioned, it is signed, and there is a clear lip-speaker, which would you use to access that program ? I asked 23 deaf people at my local club, and they ALL but 2, said captions. So sign language AND LR is suffering from captioning, that is why we see areas where signers refuse to caption, they understand that sign would be ignored if they did, as far as lip-speaking is concerned is there ANY program on TV that can facilitate that or wants to ? Even signing deaf have opposed lip-speakers on TV, if there is to be access they want captions or sign.

    • ccacblog says:

      Thanks for your interest and comment MM. My impression is that in the UK, lip speaking is much more widely used, mentioned, and suggested than it is in the USA (others reading from other countries here?). In the States, there are lip speakers too, yet as you say also, captioning is the first choice (for many, not for all). Or, for those who are Deaf, ASL is the first choice among most (not all).

      The reason for advocacy for inclusion of quality captioning (the mission of the CCAC) is the thousands or millions, globally, who have acquired hearing loss, serious loss, and as you say, live among family, friends, and co-workers in the hearing world; they may identify and support “deaf” things also, yet they, all of them, are never going to become fluent sign language users. Their first identity is their own culture/country, whatever that is. Also, in the States, there was a huge decline in lip reading instruction many years ago, when deafhood and ASL was argued to be the best and primary goal, and rightly achieved some major inclusion for sign language.

      Always choices! Having all communication options survive is the goal, and for the CCAC, the focus is inclusion of captioning – absent all over the place.

  • MM says:

    I’ve long held the belief sign, lip-reading or whatever means are advocated, are meaningless both in cultural terms or in preferential terms, everything depends on personal ABILITY. I’m better at sign language and speech than lip-reading but, DEPEND on lip-reading to get by, go figure ! It’s not a case of preference or even choice. Being the only signer in the area is no benefit at all. So again environment can determine to a great extent. I Know it’s a not a popular view but I ignore cultural and other influences, all that would concern me and most I think is the easiest way to communicate and understand others. As the late deafened are the majority NOT The cultural deaf, then lip-reading has a greater following. There should be a loner system of learning lip-reading, I don’t know about the USA, here in Britain its a few hours a week with 12 other for a few months a year with people mostly NOT yet deaf, I’m not surprised a lot find it hard going to learn, I attack British systems because I think the system as it stands means lip-reading will be dead as an option in 10 years here. Brit systems have a ‘class system’ attached to them, in that lip-reading tuition is available ONLY to those with still extant hearing. So the deaf by default have no option but sign or text, but will find if they DON’T live in a deaf environment, it is no use to them. No deaf community, no use using sign…. I lobbied for BSL and Lip-reading to be scrapped and a new system based on whatever helps you to communicate is set up. Be it LR or sign or whatever, without culture , all amalgamated and without deaf politics as this is how late deafened view the whole thing, we just WANT to be able to communicate Late deafened will not adopt deaf culture, unless if it is of practical use, not as a lifestyle. LD’s are quite mercenary, when the needs must, we will wear any mask.

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