My wife Joanna and I woke up early last Saturday morning to drive up to Nottingham for the Ear Foundation’s ‘Sound Advice Day’ and lipreading workshop. We were also going to their fundraising ‘Curry Night’ that evening, which looked good fun, and had decided to stay the night in Nottingham.
I was really looking forward to the day, especially because I had really enjoyed taking part in their last ‘Sound Advice Day’ in May. Lorraine Braggins from the City Lit in London had been invited to run the workshop there that day, so I was looking forward to seeing her. Lorraine is a Senior Teacher Coordinator for people with acquired hearing loss at the Deaf Education Centre of the City Lit and has twenty-six years experience of teaching lipreading. I know Lorraine from my lipreading classes at the City Lit.
We managed to drive up to Nottingham in just over two hours, so we arrived in time for the start of the workshop. Sue Hamrouge, who I know quite well, introduced Lorraine, who told us that she had never been to the Ear Foundation before, and she was really looking forward to the day. Lorraine’s sessions were very informative, as well as being fun and interactive.
The first exercise we did was like ‘Chinese Whispers’, whereby people in a line had to pass on a message to their neighbour without using their voice, so their neighbour had to lipread them. The message was passed all the way down the line, with the last person having to tell the class what they thought it was. Lorraine then told us what the original message had been and we all had a good laugh about how different the final message was to the original one. In some cases it had altered the meaning completely, whereas in other cases, it had only slightly changed.
Lorraine explained why lipreading was so difficult, as only about 35-40% of words can be seen at the front of the mouth and the shape of many sounds look similar to each other. This makes it really easy to misinterpret the meaning of what is being said. For example, “What am I going to do?” could very easily be misinterpreted as “It’s a lovely view”.
I know from my own experience how difficult it is to lipread and I still don’t think I’m much good at it. It’s like a crossword puzzle where we understand some words and then have to quickly try and fill in the gaps. We discussed in groups what makes lipreading easier, such as making sure the speaker is in the best light, facing you and speaking slowly but clearly, whereas lipreading someone who walks away from you while speaking, or looks away or waffles without getting to the point, can make it much more difficult. If the speaker has good deaf awareness and focuses on you directly, this makes it a lot easier to lipread them.
Many similar themes came from the different group discussions, such as how we use the context of what the speaker is talking about, how our brain works out the logic and processes the information, and we also use our eyes and the speaker’s body language to work out the meaning. For instance, “I’ve left the butcher in the bath” looks identical to “I’ve left the pushchair on the path”. However, if my sister was visiting me with her baby at the time, it would be more likely that it would have the second meaning rather than the first. I have used the context of this situation to work this out.
Joanna told me that as a hearing person she found lipreading people that day really difficult and tiring. She’s not used to it and she thought it was much more difficult than she had realised. I’m sure you get better at it with practice, but it is still like a crossword puzzle to me. After a while it is incredibly tiring concentrating hard on lipreading people and working out what they’re saying.
Despite this, we both really enjoyed the day as Lorraine made it fun and entertaining. At the end of the afternoon we played a lipreading bingo game, and when she called out (or at least mouthed the numbers without using her voice), we had to guess the number she called out and cross it off if we had the same number written down on our bingo card. The first person to cross off all their numbers would win. This time we guessed all the numbers correctly but the problem was that none of us had the same numbers to cross out. In fact, the game was taking so long that I wondered if we were going to be there all evening too! Eventually Lorraine called a draw between two people who had the most numbers. I think she was relieved too as she had a train to catch back to London.
I think we all came out of the workshop having learned something new. I made some new friends there too. I was also glad that Joanna had enjoyed it and had begun to appreciate how difficult lipreading really is.
The curry night was great fun too. There were about fifty people there at the Indian restaurant, including the Chief Executive Dr. Sue Archibold, the mayor, staff and volunteers from the Ear Foundation as well as users of their services. We sat at a great table and met some old friends, as well as making some new ones. The atmosphere was friendly and relaxed, and we all mixed together and had a great time.
Sue Archibold gave a welcome speech before the buffet and told us that after twenty-five years, the Ear Foundation had reached capacity and outgrown its current premises, so they were raising funds to build new, bigger and more modern facilities to help more deaf people and their families, which they hoped to have raised enough funds for to begin construction early next year.
There were many people there with varying degrees of hearing loss – some were profoundly or severely deaf, some were cochlear implant users and some had hearing aids. Some people used BSL, while others used their voices and lipread people.
At first Joanna and I were a bit worried that our basic BSL skills would not be good enough to communicate very well, but we were soon put at our ease. The other people there were really friendly and warm and just wanted to talk to us. It was wonderful watching everyone at my table enjoying themselves, chatting away and breaking down the barriers to communication. I practised a bit of BSL, and found that it was starting to get a bit better as the evening progressed and I relaxed more. It inspired me to want to learn it again and improve my knowledge of BSL.
The next morning I wanted to head quickly back to London to be hack home in time for the Manchester City/United derby as I am a passionate Manchester City fan. Last time I was at the Ear Foundation, I rushed back to watch my beloved City in the FA Cup Final, but I probably shouldn’t have bothered as they had a shock defeat by the lowly Wigan. This time, thankfully, they demolished United with a 4-1 win, so I was over the blue moon. I had had such a perfect day and we had met some wonderful new friends in Nottingham. I now cannot wait for their next event, so roll on the Ear Foundation’s Christmas party!