"Have you ever been underwater when someone talks to you? It sounds muffled and distorted and echoes all around. Increasingly, that is what my hearing became like a few years ago." Out with friends in a busy pub amongst the overwhelming hubbub of background noise I couldn’t pick out what people were saying or follow conversations and would come home feeling I’d lost the plot, looked a chump and shattered beyond words. Frustrated I didn’t bother to go out anymore and avoided noisy situations. I have my own business that depends on me socialising and more importantly exhibiting at large noisy venues such as the NEC. It knocks your confidence when you repeatedly get customer’s details wrong, have to keep saying pardon and perpetually have a headache.
Referral from my GP to a hearing therapist was quick and she recommended the ‘basic lip reading’ course run by the Workers Educational Association. The lip reading course is funded by the Audiology Department and taught by Tom Kane.
What a lifeline…to meet other people who experienced the same problems. 1 in 7 people have a hearing impairment, so whether or not this is you it will certainly be someone around you. Try counting every seventh person you meet and you’ll realise how common this problem is. It may even be that as you age your hearing will deteriorate to the point you need a bit of help, after all how many of us start wearing glasses as we get older?
The course is fun and friendly. The other ‘students’ on my course varied from a teenager to a very elderly lady. A mixed bunch, many of us were hearing impaired others were carers or partners and we even had the odd professional join us keen to learn about communicating effectively. Run for two hours per week over 10 weeks we learnt a wide variety of self help techniques. I went along initially thinking I would learn to lip read fluently in a matter of weeks and had visions of being able to ‘see’ conversations from a distance like any good blockbuster movie scene. Whilst we learnt the basic lip reading letter names which start all words we also learnt how to create the best hearing environments. The old adages of ‘don’t talk with food in your mouth’ and ‘look at me when you’re speaking’ are so true! How to ask questions so that I would understand people’s answers first time was an invaluable tool I learnt. Likewise I discovered that there are loads of ways to get people to repeat what they have just said without being obvious and saying ’pardon’! Half way through the course I had a major exhibition and with Tom’s help explained the different scenarios I found difficult to the rest of the class. Their suggestions and solutions were so easy and obvious in hindsight, e.g. why was I struggling to listen and fill in order forms when my customers could do most of it themselves?
Explaining to people that I have trouble hearing them but more importantly giving them the solution to help me has totally changed how I interact with those around me. I am confident again and tackling the hearing challenges in life. I have shared my new skills with those around me, although they are not hearing impaired, making them better communicators in turn. The key thing I have left to conquer are business networking groups and so I will be signing up for the next lip reading improver’s course with Tom in the autumn."WEA Learner, Julie Shropshire