I recognize the "fingerspelling" in the headline for Anne Guignon's article on hearing loss in the dental profession.

June 18, 2016
What really matters, though, is how fast you spell a word to me.

What really matters, though, is how fast you spell a word to me. The headline in Anne's article is perfectly stationary. So take your time in understanding H-E-A-R. There are websites where you can practice interpreting what someone is fingerspelling, as well as signing (American sign language). After months of practice, I can understand fingerspelling at a moderate speed. But I shake my head in despair at the thought of interpreting a word that is fingerspelled by a deaf person. They are so fast. In my opinion, it is much easier to interpret the concepts of complete words in sign language. In the case of Anne's headline, you just tap your ear twice with the forefinger. Listening is basically the gesture that we all use when we want someone to repeat something that is said, cupping the palm of the hand at back of the ear. A person who hears is indicated by using your forefinger in a circular motion in front of the lips.

I hope many of you feel inspired to learn sign language to communicate with the deaf. But I certainly hope you don't have to learn sign language because you lost your hearing. That's what Anne's article is all about, protecting your sense of hearing from the deafening noise in a dental office.

Something I didn't know until fairly recently is that the deaf community generally resents categorizing deafness. You are either a hearing person (using the sign above), hard of hearing (the "h" sign moved twice in succession in front of the body), or deaf (touching the cheek near the ear and moving the finger to beside the mouth). I blame the medical community when I reveal my category-severely hearing impaired-after a question such as "How deaf are you?" comes up. You've heard about those health-care professionals, right? They like to write "Class I," Class II," "Class III," etc., down in their notes about conditions they observe in patients. I sure wish I could insert a teasing emoticon here.

I have been, uh, severely hearing impaired since age 2. My parents opted for me to go "mainstream" rather than be a part of the deaf community (remember that we're talking about the 1950s here). I have no regrets about their decision. However, in my mind, one downside is that English is my only language. I'm sure some of you who know me well wonder if I can even speak English coherently. I never had to study a foreign language during my school years, since deafness exempted me from that requirement.

As an older adult, though, my curiosity about learning another language wouldn't fade away. So I have taken some classes on American sign language, wondering if I'll ever be able to understand a deaf person's lightning-fast fingerspelling.

I've spent enough time recently going back and forth between the hearing world and the deaf community to tell you this: Protect your hearing, OK? It's a gift to be able to H-E-A-R the sounds of life.

Mark Hartley

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