Sara Scanlon lives in Berkshire and she has been a lipspeaker for over 15 years. She is interested in working with others to promote access to communication for deaf people and she is currently the Treasurer of the Association of Lipspeakers. Her most memorable professional experience so far has been lipspeaking for a deaf person who was swimming with dolphins!
So what exactly does it take to be a lipspeaker? Read on to find out more.
“You must be really good at lipreading”. This is what many people say to me when I tell them that I am a lipspeaker. At that point I need to explain to them that the deaf person is doing the lipreading; my job is to make spoken language as visible as possible. How do I do this? Well, I have been trained to be easy to lipread.
This means that I know that someone who is lipreading me needs me to keep eye contact with them, to form my words clearly but without over-emphasis and to slow my pace slightly but maintain the natural rhythm of my speech. My facial expression and gestures will also give the lipreader vital clues to help them understand what I am saying.
(Top tip – a slight shake of the head when saying something negative can really support the meaning; if you don't believe me try looking in the mirror and notice how difficult it is to distinguish the word 'possible' from the word 'impossible' on the lips alone.)
So what exactly do I do? I provide communication support for deaf people who communicate by using spoken language and lipreading. To do this I will sit opposite the deaf person and silently repeat what a speaker is saying in a clearly lipreadable way. This means that the lipreader is looking at me but 'listening' to the speaker and my job is to make sure that the speaker's message is passed on in full.
However, if the speaker is talking very quickly I may need to 'pare down' so I will be thinking about how I can omit any redundant language so that I can lipspeak at a lipreadable pace and still pass on the message. If the lipreader asks me to, I will also fingerspell the initial letter of any words that I know are particularly difficult to lipread. Sometimes, if a deaf person is used to supplementing their lipreading by relying on their residual hearing, I may be asked to use my voice to relay to them what the speaker is saying.
Lipspeakers work in a range of situations in which a deaf person might find it difficult to lipread the speaker directly, for example in workplace meetings or on training courses, or for medical consultations or court appearances. Sometimes we need to provide communication support because the speaker is not present, so we will lipspeak a client's workplace telephone calls or the recorded instructions delivered through headphones in a driving theory hazard perception test. We also work with students in further and higher education. Lipspeakers are fully qualified and registered with the National Registers of Communication Professionals working with Deaf and Deafblind People (NRCPD).
I thoroughly enjoy using my lipspeaking skills to facilitate the communication process between deaf and hearing people. You do not have to be an expert lipreader to be able to use a lipspeaker so if you, or someone you know, might benefit from using a lipspeaker, why not give it a try?