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How do D/deaf people communicate?

D/deaf people have two main ways of communicating: lip reading and sign language.


Many D/deaf people in the United States communicate using American Sign Language. ASL is a visual language of movements of the hands, face and body. Like spoken language, it’s different from sign languages in other countries. And like other languages, ASL has its own grammar structure. ASL uses a fingerspelling alphabet for uncommon words and proper nouns. Just as people use facial expressions, body language, context and sounds to facilitate spoken communications, the hand signs and facial expressions of ASL are vital to communication when you’re communicating with someone who is D/deaf.


Lip reading is a technique that interprets movements of the lips and tongue, facial expression and body language to understand speech. Lip readers also use their knowledge of language, clues from their surroundings and the topic of the conversation to aid understanding, coupled with any hearing they may have. Lip reading is not and should not act as a replacement for interpreting services.


Lip reading can be used by D/deaf people who do not sign, particularly those who were born hearing who gradually or suddenly lost their hearing. Some people who sign use a combination of lip reading and sign language to enrich communications.


English is a complex language, with words that have different meanings sometimes using the same lip patterns (like “which” and “witch” or mad/ban/mat). That’s why only about 30 percent of spoken English can be accurately lip read by even the best lip readers. Because lip reading is so challenging, American Sign Language – or ASL – is an important communication tool for the majority of D/deaf people.

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