How lip reading can help the one in six of us with hearing loss
- Credit: Supplied
Mask wearing can be tough for those with hearing loss says lip-reading teacher Cora Newell.
Many of the estimated 11 million UK citizens who are hard of hearing subconsciously rely on watching lips to keep up with a conversation.
"People realise they are struggling to hear now they can no longer rely on their subconscious lip reading," she added.
And the former solicitor, who qualified as a lip reading teacher last summer, says lockdown has heightened the social isolation for some of her students.
Since September she has been teaching both privately and for a deaf charity via Zoom and says for some students the classes are "one of their weekly highlights."
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"Not many people know about 'lipreading', they don't understand it or appreciate how useful a skill it is for day-to-day life and following conversations - the normal daily exchanges which are important to us," she says.
Cora started learning to lip read when she personally experienced mild hearing loss, then signed up for the year-long training after discovering there was a national shortage of lipreading teachers.
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In addition to giving students a solid foundation in lip shapes and consonant groups, she helps them to manage living with hearing loss - from communication tips to the latest technological developments such as speech to text transcribing apps.
"It's a very useful skill that you can teach through zoom or social media platforms and particularly relevant in lockdown," she says adding that a recent success came when a student went for a drive in Covid test.
"She wasn't allowed to roll down her window, the person speaking to her was trying to give instructions, but she couldn't understand. When she explained she was hard of hearing they went to the front of car, spoke clearly and she was able to lip read how to do a swab."
Another student who was hospitalised with pneumonia as a result of Covid-19 said she had "never felt so lonely in her life"
"Although the medical treatment she received was excellent the social isolation she experienced in hospital was terrible. Despite showing her 'I have hearing loss' lanyard to the staff who treated her, no-one ever asked her if she had a better side for them to stand when speaking to her - hearing loss isn't always bilateral - or made an effort to check she understood what they were saying."
Hearing loss is a less visible disability says the Muswell Hill resident. People can be affected for various reasons from being born with an impairment to acquiring it after a bout of chemotherapy or meningitis.
"It's not easy to realise that someone is hearing impaired and people can be less empathetic, they get frustrated and shout loudly or repeat the same thing. But it's a disability that leads to social isolation. People can't follow conversations and begin to withdraw from family and social occasions. Hearing aids are extremely useful but can only take you so far. In a noisy pub they amplify all the background noise which is where lip reading helps."
Mild hearing loss is common as we age, typically developing problems with high frequency sounds.
"You lose the consonants in the English language it impacts your ability to follow conversations. But learning to recognise lip shapes will help to manage that. Try not to get hung up on every word but strive to get the jist - context is key," she advises.
She is enthusiastic about her craft: "I really love it and feel I am making a difference to my students."
Some lip readers work with Police on cases but Cora isn't keen "there is so much at stake on what they may have said and if you don't have the context you can't be 100 percent certain."
However staring across the room at a gathering she can sometimes discern interesting snippets "people aren't expecting you to be lip reading them!"
"So many people have hearing loss and to a greater or lesser degree it can impact on the quality of your life. Lip reading is a useful challenging and fun skill you can learn and improve in lockdown. So go for it."'
Cora Newell teaches weekly lipreading classes over zoom designed for all levels of learners, beginners, improvers and advanced. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.