Lip reading an aid to those with hearing loss

09/23/2013 1:53 PM

09/23/2013 1:53 PM

Shanna Groves bared her teeth. Wrinkled her nose. Pursed her lips.

Observing her carefully, with straight faces, was a handful of fascinated senior citizens sitting at a conference table.

Some wrote down notes, while others took mental notes.

It was just another day in lip reading class at Claridge Court in Prairie Village.

Groves, of Olathe, started teaching the lip reading class at the senior living center back in May.

Lip-reading is a passion for the 39-year-old mom. She didn’t just learn the trick for the sake of learning it. She spent years learning it the hard way, because she had to.

Growing up, the hard-of-hearing Groves was never diagnosed with a hearing condition, which made life frustrating. She had to work extra hard in school. In class, she struggled to keep up by instinctively focusing on her teachers’ mouth movements, facial expressions and body language.

“Believe it or not, my first job out of college was in phone sales,” said Groves. “I was so stressed, I lost 10 pounds. I was so unhappy and had no idea why.”

In 2001, however, a huge weight was lifted off her shoulders. She was officially diagnosed with a hearing loss while pregnant with her first child.

It led her on a journey of self-discovery and a passion for helping others help themselves.

She wrote two books, one tracing her family’s history of hearing loss and the other, focusing on her own journey.

When Claridge Court asked her to teach a lip reading class to its residents, Groves jumped at the opportunity.

“This is such a social place, where people want to be involved in activities and make friends,” Groves said. “But if you have a hearing loss, as many older people do, life can be incredibly difficult.”

Using flash cards, wild facial expressions and elaborate hand gestures, she tries her best to keep the lip-reading class entertaining and easy to understand.

“Lip reading isn’t just about lips,” she told her students. “It’s about the forehead, nostrils, teeth, tongue, ears, eyes and throat.”

Her excitement does not go unappreciated.

“Shanna is really interesting and she’s fun to watch,” said Sydney Backstrom, of Mission Hills, with a smile. “She really shows you that lip-reading is much harder than you thought. It takes a lot of practice.”

Backstrom signed up for the class because several of her friends are hard of hearing. She wanted to learn how she could help them.

“I wish more people would take a class like this one, because learning to lip read really shows you how to enunciate properly and communicate more effectively with people who can’t hear very well,” she said. “It’s important for people to realize there are things you can do to make people understand you better.”

Her fellow classmates, Shirl and Bob Cunningham, took the class because they wanted to learn how to understand each other better.

“Both of us are hard of hearing, which is frustrating,” Shirl admitted. “We’ve learned a lot in this class, especially how to enunciate better and face each other while talking.”

Sitting at the end of the table, Claridge Court resident Frank Louk said he took the class because sometimes people were incredibly difficult to understand, even without a hearing loss.

“Most women talk fast and they also talk low, so I only catch half of what they’re saying,” he said. ‘I just want to be able to have a conversation with them at the dinner table.”

As word about Groves’ class spreads, she finds herself more and more in demand.

In October, she will be teaching a four-week introduction to lip reading class at the Deaf Cultural Center in Olathe. She also provides classes via Skype.

She hopes every class helps.

“Having a hearing loss at any age can be exhausting and frustrating,” Groves said. “It all comes down to how we communicate with each other. Good communication is central to human understanding and without it, we have no understanding.”

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