I teach a speechreading class at different senior centers through my work with the state. Every time I teach the class I learn a thing or two. It might be lip shapes of certain letters clicking in my brain at long last. It might be something I need to work on such as saying ‘zero’ instead of ‘oh’ when working with numbers. In life outside the classroom it was rephrasing which I brought back to my students. This last fall I learned how much gestures aid communication.

It’s a lesson in our book which I helped edit a year or so ago. The lesson is in there but I hadn’t given it credit until I watched my seniors struggle to learn lipreading. The more we relax, the easier lipreading gets but my students weren’t able to relax. They stared intently, not able to pick up the words in ‘lip speak’ (no voice). With the younger crowd I taught everyone the ASL alphabet and we used finger spelling for hints but my seniors weren’t picking up that up either. I sensed frustration so I encouraged them to use gestures if they saw the puzzled looks.

At first they felt awkward, but after a few lessons of using gestures they became more comfortable with the idea. Then they started picking up the words faster, so fast I was amazed. Soon it became common practice with us and it introduced laughter. What happens when a speechreading class becomes fun? They relax. We still focus on the lips but gestures are now a habit for us.

My husband didn’t want to learn sign so much, although he learned the ASL alphabet to help me with words and names I was stuck on which was valuable to our communication. (Thank you Ken!) All along Ken also used gestures when I was stuck. I laugh at his creativity but it works! And if I laugh the strain on my end disappears. I hadn’t given his gestures proper credit before teaching my class last fall and now I value it. I encourage it in all my classes and will be including it in my presentations too.

This takes me back to my first HLAA convention in Rhode Island. I went to lunch with several women. One used sign as she talked. Another used a PockeTalker pointing a microphone at whoever was talking without fear. Another lady had a hearing dog beside her. Facial expressions seemed more animated and I remember a few gestures thrown in too. At the end of the lunch, one of them told me something like, “Use everything, why not? If it helps, do it.” That lunch in 2012 left a big impression on me. (Thanks Nini!)

Communication is easier with gestures.  Let’s all get animated in our conversations and encourage those in our life to use them as well. Perhaps if we use them ourselves others might too. People pick that kind of thing up uncousciously, plus it’s fun! Gestures are helpful in communicating with the hard of hearing, it deserves more credit.


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