Lipreading – which is more accurately referred to as speech reading – is when a deaf person focuses on the speaker’s face and lips and looks for visual cues to speech. A person who is lipreading may or may not also be able to hear some of the speech. If s/he does, this will support lipreading. Just because a person wears a hearing aid doesn’t mean that s/he can hear speech sounds.
It is important to understand a number of factors about lipreading. They are:
- it is not possible to lipread 100% of a conversation due to similarities in how many English sounds look on the lips (for example, the sounds for “b” and “p” appear the same on the lips and it is what happens inside the mouth that creates the sound distinction – this cannot be seen by a lipreader),
- many of the distinguishing sounds of English occur inside the mouth or in the throat, where they are not visible to a lipreader,
- the popular notion that lipreaders can capture everything and “overhear” conversations from far away is inaccurate,
- in fact, much of lipreading is guesswork utilising a number of strategies (such as visual cues and context) to deduce what is being said; this is why subject changes in a conversation are so difficult to follow,
- visual cues are important to support lipreading,
- knowing the subject or topic greatly supports lipreading ability,
- abrupt changes to the subject or topic make lipreading difficult,
- lipreading requires a great deal of concentration and is very tiring,
- lipreading ability is reduced if the deaf person is tired, stressed or ill or if the environment is unsuitable (e.g. glary sunlight, dim lighting) or if the speaker is unfamiliar and/or has an accent,
- environmental conditions such as background noise, dim or glaring light, etc. will impact upon lipreading ability.