Just Say It Again: Frances Brown on lip reading classes, hearing aids, and why raising your voice is unhelpful

Three lip reading classes currently take place in Ayrshire. One in Goldstone in the East, one in Largs in the North, and one in the Ayr Hospital in the South.

Today, we’re talking to a student from South Ayrshire – Frances Brown, a user representative from Sensory Impaired Support Group. She’s also a member of the recently launched Access Panel in South Ayrshire.

How exactly does lip reading work? In short, a particular lip movement corresponds to the sound a person makes as they speak. Seems like a straightforward idea. Is it just as straightforward to learn? What’s the most common challenges you need to expect if you want to start learning the lip reading?

Find out about more from Frances and her experience as a one of the current students.

 

Please tell us a little bit about the lip reading classes. Where do they take place? Who organises them?

It’s called “Lip Reading and Other Strategies.” It focuses not only on lip reading, but also on other ways to make daily life more accessible. We learn how to help people to help us when we need.

The classes that I attend are run by Sensory Impaired Support Group in Ayrshire. Dorothy is their project manager and also runs the lip reading classes.

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(Photo of trainer Dorothy smiling in front of the white board with exercises written in black marker)

Dorothy is a retired audiologist. She has done training in the lip reading in the past, then was employed by Sensory Impaired Support Group with the primary aim of running lip reading classes.

 

What happens during the two hours of the lip reading class? What it consists of?

The class is divided into two parts.

First of all, we do introductions if there’s anyone new and joins the group.

We usually begin with the first exercise focusing on speech movements. You have to forget about spelling because it’s about how the words sound and how faces look.

Some words sound the same, but spelled differently. That can be quite challenging to grasp the context when you’re learning.

Last month, we were looking at words like “bow”, “low”, “hole”, “whole”. The spelling is completely different, but the speech movements are quite the same because of the “o.”

After that, we move on to the next exercise. Dorothy provides us with the worksheet with sentences that contains that specific lip movement in them.

We also take the worksheets home to practise on our families.

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(Photo of Marjorie (on the left) and Martin (on the right) concentrating in the class with worksheets and snack boxes in front of them)

During the second part of the class, teacher Dorothy reads us a really interesting story about a whole range of different things.

First, she reads it without voice, so that you actually try and lip-read it instead of hearing it. She does that three times in different parts of the room. That’s to make sure that the whole group has equally seen and read her speech movements.

Next, she reads it with voice. If students still struggle, she will talk through all the points that they find to be difficult.

It’s interesting how we all can have different interpretations for the same words sometimes. Often, if you get the word wrong, it can take you off on a tangent. You don’t get the rest of the sentence.

 

Frances said that her husband has recently started wearing hearing aids, but she can’t bring him with her to the class. It turns out that lip reading lessons are predominantly attended by women.

 

Do you think there is a reason for the gender disbalance in these classes?

We have about eight to ten women and four men in the group.

I think men generally struggle with groups – particularly mixed ones where they might be seen to be vulnerable. In a way that shows them unable or struggling to do something.

It’s probably about vulnerability. To some people, it’s more challenging to lose their hearing and realise that they have to cope with that. Women find it easier to own their vulnerability compared to men.

At the same time, teacher Dorothy has a 104-year-old participant in her group in Largs. He’s been very active and eager to attend all classes because he really enjoys them.

Women find it easier to own their vulnerability compared to men.

 

What are common challenges among people who learn to read from lips?

Tiredness.

When you need to read lips, you have to really concentrate and focus on the person’s face. That can feel quite intense for both of you. A lot of people find it very uncomfortable.

And, personally, I’m used to looking at the whole face. I find it difficult to remember to watch the lips.

Of course, you get a lot of clues from people’s eyes, their expressions, but it takes a lot of concentration.

Lip reading can even make you sleepy quite early after a long day of talking to people. But on the bright side, it’s very sociable and becomes easier with more practice.

Another challenge is to get people to simply listen to you sometimes. Occasionally, you get somebody who tends to interrupt and talk over you. But that’s more about courtesy and manners.

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(Photo of Margaret and Jennie concentrating in the class)

 

Do you use any additional equipment to help you learn to lip-read?

We always take mirrors with us. You need to see what your face looks like as you speak and pronounce different sounds.

Once you see it on yourself, it’s easier to spot it on somebody else as they speak. Then, you can actually read lips and recognise what the speech movement is that they’re making.

Plus, if you get something wrong, you can see why once you have looked in the mirror. Instead of what you thought it was, it turns out to be something else, and you finally understand where you need to make an improvement.

The other thing that we use is finger spelling. Unlike BSL, which is quite complex, finger spelling is used to communicate letters of the alphabet.

For example, Dorothy will use finger spelling to give you the first letter of a difficult word. Also, if you’re talking to somebody who says a word you don’t understand, they can simply show it to you.

 

What non-disabled people should be aware of when they talk to a deaf or partially deaf person?

If someone can’t hear you, raising your voice at them doesn’t help. When I say: “Sorry, I didn’t catch what you said,” and you begin shouting the same sentence at me, it won’t help.

First of all, shouting changes your lip movements. Also, most hearing aids will shut off at the sound of a loud noise. In other words, I’ll miss the first part of the sentence anyway. It makes the context harder to pick up.

Shouting is never an answer. It’s important to repeat yourself without exaggerating it and keep your mouth area open for others to lip-read.

By the way, the same rule applies to repeating yourself very slowly. Again, it changes your lip movements and makes it harder to work out what you’re saying.

When you speak to someone who is deaf or partially deaf, don’t raise your voice or slow down your speech. Just say it again, making sure that you’ve got the eye contact with the other person.

 

Do you think that the new Access Panel can help to promote these classes?

I’m particularly interested in the Access Panel opening up people’s understanding of hidden disabilities like hearing loss. But there’s more to it than that.

I was in a road accident a long time ago that left me with serious back problems. On a good day, nobody would notice. But on a bad day, I can’t walk very far or get upstairs.

For example, I tried to use a bus to get to the bus station once. It was its next stop and very close, but not close enough for me to walk there comfortably.

When I tried to get on the bus, the young driver said: “What are you doing? The bus station is just around the corner!” For some reason, he thought it was appropriate to make a judgement like that.

I do have a lanyard that says that I have a disability, but I don’t want to be always flashing it in people’s eyes. Especially so when I want to use public transport services like anybody else.

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(Photo of Marian (on the left) and Janet (on the right) smiling during a tea break)

Frances takes a lot out of the lip reading classes and believes that everybody who attends them finds them very beneficial. However, there has been a struggle with funding. There is talk about reducing the lip reading classes.

At the moment, the classes are free. Usually, there’s a collection tin, and everybody puts in £2-3 every class as a gesture of gratitude. They’re very popular and make up the biggest bulk of the donations received.

After the interview, Frances reflected a bit more on her experience and added: “It made me realise how important my learning from the class has been and how much it has helped me cope with my deteriorating hearing.”