Question about deaf people and communication

Has anyone been following the news about the Gallaudet University students protesting the choice of a new university president? The whole thing is pretty convoluted, but after reading an article today in the Washington Post about the president-elect, Jane Fernandes, I have a question…

She was born deaf but didn’t learn sign language until she was 23. Her mom and brother are also deaf.

She said:

So my question is, how does a deaf person get by in the world without sign language? How do you suppose she communicated with her mom and brother, or anyone else, or got through school? I know some deaf people can read lips, but how do you learn to talk well enough to get by in the hearing world when you can’t hear? Can anyone offer any insight into this? Thanks!

While I can’t answer most of your questions, I will point out that reading and writing can be an effective way of communicating in many situations.

I’m not a 'spert, but there’s an educational system called the oral system for deaf people, in which the emphasis is placed on lipreading, using partial hearing (if applicable), and learning to speak clearly. It’s supposed to help the person integrate into the hearing world. However, it is very controversial among deaf people because it de-emphasizes signing and may have only middling results, which may leave the person linguistically impaired.

My oldest sister speaks pretty clearly and can lip-read very well. When she was born (over 30 years ago) there was a movement in Deaf education that shied away from using sign, most doctors said Deaf kids should learn to lip-read and speak instead of using gestures. This created a lot of frustration, for both parents and children.

The tide has turned, many Deaf schools have courses on Deaf culture and of course sign language is taught and encouraged. For a while things went the other way (at least in our Deaf community) that said that the Hearing world should learn to communicate with them and a refusal of some Deaf people to use speech, lip-read or even use hearing aids.

I think it is much more of a middle of the road approach now…

Somewhat tangential side question:

In a classroom, the teacher faces one direction, facing the students, and the students all sit facing the teacher. If a student in a deaf classroom asks a question, presumably none of the other students will be able to hear what she’s saying OR see her signing (or read her lips). What is the protocol in such a case? Does the teacher repeat the student’s question to the class?

Even when everyone in the room is hearing, it’s often hard for students to hear questions asked by other students, so the teacher will often repeat a question. I can’t imagine it would be any different in a deaf classroom.

Daily speechreading therapy. Drove me batshit. Basically, it’s 1:1 with the teacher reading paragraphs out of a book (without letting you see the book) and you have to parrot along what you think the teacher is saying. It’s brutal, but it helped increase my skills. Although I still do a lot of nodding and smiling and filling in the blanks based on the ‘key’ words that I get from the people I’m talking to.

Speech therapy with a therapist experienced in working with the deaf. This requires a lot of hands on content. For example, one hand on the cheek, one hand on the throat to help with the residual hearing. Also, tongue depressors to help with tongue positioning in the mouth as that’s often not possible to see with some phonemes.

And in my classes, the number was very low. Say five or six students in a semicircle with the teacher in the middle. That way, we could see everyone else and try to follow the discussion.

For the record, I went to an oral communication-based boarding school in the last 20 years, and attended for about a total of 4 years.

I have sorta-decent lipreading and communication skills, but I’ll never be mistaken for a hearing person. I also prefer to rely on sign language and/or writing on a daily basis as they allow for far more flexibility and far less “What? Say again?”