by Chelle Wyatt
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 last fall learning to lipread. The more we relax, the easier lipreading gets but my seniors weren’t weren’t relaxing. 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. (Facial expressions are another lesson in our book. Lipreading is a holistic practice, taking in my many things at once.)
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. All along he 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.
Gestures are often used at our SWC conventions and gatherings also. When we are within our tribe, we tend to get more animated which means things get knocked over. Or we might accidentally whack someone beside us but no one minds much and laughter/smiles follow here too.
Gestures make communication easier for those with hearing loss. Let’s all get animated in our conversations to encourage those in our life to use them as well. People pick that kind of thing up unconsciously, plus it’s fun! Next time you’re stuck, ask for a gesture.