Archive for March 9th, 2013

“Would you graawl blub blub vhoom mwarr hreet twizzolt, please?”

Saturday, March 9th, 2013
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A winner

We’ve all had the experience.  You go to a foreign country, and through a combination of simplified English, a scattering foreign words, and vigorous hand signals, you try to get the waiter to understand that you want two scrambled eggs on toast.

The deaf have it the other way around.  The outward communication is fine.  It’s incoming sound that causes problems.

According to Rachel Kolb, deaf since birth, lip-readers catch only 30 percent of the words they see.  They guess and interpolate what they can of the rest.  They miss a lot.  Especially when people mumble, speak quickly, laugh a lot, or have heavy accents – people say something that looks to them like, “Would you graawl blub blub vhoom mwarr hreet twizzolt, please?”

“How does one have a meaningful conversation at 30 percent? It is like functioning at 30 percent of normal oxygen, or eating 30 percent of recommended calories—possible to subsist, but difficult to feel at your best and all but impossible to excel,” she asks in an article, “Seeing at the Speed of Sound,” over in Stanford Magazine this month.

Kolb, a 2013 Rhodes scholar, finds an odd sort of relief in darkness:

The world of the deaf.

Everyone has an Achilles heel, something that exposes her weaknesses. Mine is darkness. When it is dark, my appearance of communicative normalcy no longer stands. No speaker, no understanding can reach me. There is no way for me to penetrate any mind but my own, or to grasp whatever words other minds might exchange.

That sounds bleak, but it isn’t really. With utter darkness comes resignation, a kind of peace. When it is completely dark, the responsibility for communication is no longer mine. Lipreading, writing, seeing: There is nothing more that I can do. I am free to retreat into the solace of my thoughts—which, in the end, is where I can feel most comfortable.

It’s dim lighting, or bad visual aesthetics, that is a torment. When there is even the slightest sliver of light, there is still a chance. When lighting conditions are impractical or when I cannot squarely see the person who is talking, I still try. More often than not, I frustrate myself in the effort.

 Read the rest here.