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Although most people would probably say they would rather be deaf than blind, studies show that deaf people represent the most isolated group of disabled individuals. Their ability to communicate is hindered by the fact that few hearing people know and understand sign language. Ideally, deaf students should have someone with them to interpret lecture material as it is spoken, and notetakers to record lecture material for future reference.

Let's explore a few myths:

Myth: All deaf people lack the ability to speak.

Fact: Many deaf people have learned to use their voices in speech classes. They cannot, however, automatically control the tone and volume of their voices, because they cannot hear themselves. Deaf individuals may have speech which is difficult to understand at first. Some deaf people are shy about speaking in public, because of the negative reactions they have received.

Myth: All hearing-impaired people can read lips.

Fact: To some extent all of us rely on lip reading to understand language. Even a practiced deaf listener can only understand 30-40% of spoken sounds by watching the lips of a speaker.  Words such as "bump" and pump" look the same on the lips, but have totally different meanings. The ability to read lips varies among individuals. Although the most accurate mode of communication with deaf people is sign language, pencil and paper are appropriate substitutes. Keep in mind that your body language and facial expressions say a lot too.

Myth: Deaf people are not very bright, because they have not learned to talk or use grammar properly.

Fact: Because the basic form of communication with the deaf community is sign language, many deaf people have not mastered the grammatical fine points of their "second" language - English.  This certainly does not indicate a lack of intelligence.  Most deaf individuals do learn English and do have speech training, but they may find it easier to communicate in their primary language.

Myth: Deaf people cannot appreciate the arts, because they cannot hear music, movie dialogue, etc.

Fact: Anyone who has ever had the privilege of seeing a performance by the National Theatre of the Deaf will realize the error in this myth. Throughout history, deaf people have participated in and contributed to the performing arts (Beethoven, for example). As long as there is rhythm and visual image, those with residual hearing and even those who are totally deaf can be valued patrons and performers of the arts.

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