Barrie Wickens from Andover in Hampshire has been a lipreading tutor for the past four years and about to begin his fifth year leading the Andover Lipreaders. He is also founder of the stories for lipreading website.
We asked Barrie to tell us more about the skill of lipreading and why it is such an important tool for people with hearing loss.
What is lipreading?
Lipreading is a combination of watching facial expressions and movements made by lips, tongue, jaw and muscles as people talk. Overall body language also provides many clues and if one has any residual hearing that also helps.
Who is it suitable for?
Lipreading is suitable for anyone with a hearing loss.
Why is lipreading an important skill for people with hearing loss?
Communication is vital to life in a fast-moving hearing world and even the ‘best’ hearing aids can provide only so much information that needs interpretation by our brain. Visual awareness enables discrimination between sounds that look alike.
How do you find a lipreading class?
Visit the website of the Association of Teachers of Lipreading to Adults (ATLA), ask your audiologist, community Adult Education Centre, the local library or contact Hearing Link’s Helpdesk for further information. Many classes are commonly known as ‘Lipreading and Managing Hearing Loss classes’. More information is available at: www.deafstrategies.org.
How many people usually attend and is it suitable for family members too?
Since key elements of successful lipreading include being reasonably close to the person speaking, and seeing their face in a good light; most classes have no more than 12 members who sit in a horseshoe shape facing the teacher. Some caring partners/spouses do attend classes in support and we encourage this where possible.
What happens during a class? Do you learn more than lipreading?
There is no national curriculum for the teaching of lipreading. Most classes last for two hours (with a break for tea/coffee) and are held in an empathetic environment with relaxed chatting. We study some specific phonetic lip shapes – say pbm – by simply looking and then move into almost any subject that incorporates the use of words and phrases that utilise that lip shape among others. In other words we practice seeing normal speech while recognising particular shapes. This is important because we can learn how to distinguish sounds that look alike – such as pat bat mat. We learn how to manage our hearing loss in a hearing world and build self-confidence.
What benefits do people with hearing loss get from attending?
Sharing experiences enable us to understand how best to listen and look for all the clues to get the gist of a conversation. By grasping good communication strategies and tactics, and by developing mental flexibility; we boost confidence and that helps to reduce social isolation.
As its National Lipreading Awareness Week, what would you say to someone considering joining a lipreading class?
Go for it! You’ll not regret joining with others who share the same challenges. By visiting the ATLA website you can find events and free taster sessions taking place all around the country during this Lipreading Awareness Week.
It’s about meeting like-minded people
Shona Hudson found out about lipreading classes after attending Hearing Link’s Self Management Programme and was eager to give it a try.
She was nervous about asking bosses for time away from work to attend, but following an Access to Work assessment she found the courage to ask. A search of the internet found a lipreading group near her home in Warwickshire and Shona hasn’t looked back since.
She said: ‘After being to the programme and feeling the benefit of meeting other people who could not hear, I knew I needed to keep that going. I found Jo (lipreading teacher) was very inspiring; building my confidence and lipreading skills and just so encouraging. The class made me realise that I might already be good at lipreading, but there was always more to learn and if nothing else it boosted your confidence to learn how much you already knew – it was great for my self confidence.
‘I have also learnt stuff I never knew before about how to hold a phone better so I can hear better whilst using a hearing aid, advocacy and most importantly how to have fun! I have met wonderful people who have shared hobbies, knowledge and experiences and now have a new band of friends.
‘I would encourage anyone living with hearing loss not to miss out on this essential skill and give it a try for Lipreading Awareness Week. It’s not just about recognising lip shapes, which is an interesting dinner party subject on its own; its about meeting like-minded people who all have their own experiences of coping with a hearing loss. You will meet people from all walks of life and you take these steps together and discover so much. Best bit is there are no exams at the end!’
We all learned so much
Leslie Williams picked up a leaflet in his local audiology department in Northern Ireland which suggested that everyone with hearing loss should have access to a lipreading class.
He was eager to attend one, but was disappointed to learn soon afterwards that there were no classes available in his local area of Rathfriland. Not deterred, Leslie took matters into his own hands and decided he would start his own class in Banbridge with his wife Ramona.
With the support of Hearing Link, they ran a 6-week taster course earlier this year in the community space of a local Tesco’s, supported by lipreading teacher Anne Madill.
Leslie said ‘It was a delight to see this course up and running. We are grateful to Anne for her excellent input to the classes and her fun exercises with the group. We all learned so much and will now have to put it all into practice.’
The class now hopes to reconvene and welcome back members who attended the introduction course. It is hoped in the future that similar groups can rolled out across the area.
Leslie added ‘We hope this class can meet up again later in the year and we can maybe even start a new group for others who would like to take part.’
To find out more and support the group’s activities, visit https://www.justgiving.com/banbridgelipreading.