If someone says “read my lips,” in reality, that’s a huge challenge. Just try watching TV with the sound off and you’ll get the idea.
That’s why the Olathe Public Library has offered a four-session free lip-reading class at its downtown branch.
You don’t have to be deaf or hard of hearing to benefit from lip-reading. Actually, it helps to be able to hear at least a little bit, according to instructor Shanna Groves.
“The biggest misconception about lip reading is that a person can understand 100 percent of what you say just by looking at their face, without any audio,” Groves said. “With lip reading, you need to see the speaker’s face. You need their hands and physical gestures. You need to be able to hear the tone of the voice — that conveys the emotion.”
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Groves has taught lip reading classes at retirement centers and at the Deaf Cultural Center in Olathe, but this is the first time the library has offered classes, according to Amy Eiben, adult programming librarian.
“This falls in line with the type of programming I’m hoping to bring to the library… things that help people in our community to be able to better function in their own lives and connect with the community,” Eiben said.
Coincidentally, the library is less than half a mile away from the Kansas School for the Deaf.
When she’s not teaching lip reading, Groves teaches special education for early childhood education classes in Shawnee Mission.
“The most challenging part is that people speak too fast, and they need to slow down. When we slow down our rate of speech, we’re more likely to enunciate, and we can catch each individual word better,” Groves said.
Many of the participants were frustrated at being told to just pay more attention or just to sit closer to a speaker when they had trouble understanding what people were saying. Another pet peeve is for them is when others stop trying to communicate and tell them, “Never mind.”
One particular challenge is that not every sound is visible when a person speaks.
“With lip reading, what you can see visually is 30 to 40 percent of spoken English. P, C, M — those are very visually sounds. D and G are back of the throat, and you cannot see those sounds,” Groves said.
Being well-rested and not stressed out can help people focus more and be able to read lips better.
“You’ve got to practice it for it work, either speaking with another person or speaking to yourself with a mirror,” Groves said.
The class at the library drew a mix of ages and genders across its six participants. If there’s a demand for it, the library may arrange for more classes, Eiben said.
“I have progressive hearing loss and thought (the class) could be helpful in everyday life,” said Lenexa resident Robin Simpson. “I think it will help me and people around me communicate better.”
Although everyone in the class had a personal hearing loss, Groves also welcomes people whose hearing is just fine.
“They’re there to learn about other people’s experiences,” Groves said. “They are just so receptive to do what they can to communicate with those of us who have a hearing loss.”
Groves, who has dealt with a personal hearing loss most of her life, encourages people to wear hearing aids or get cochlear implants — whichever is appropriate to their situation. She spent several years reluctant to wear hearing aids, so she understands the impulse not to embrace the available technology.
Many insurance carriers do not cover hearing aids or pay very little toward them. Simpson said she’s been advocating for better coverage; her own hearing aids cost about $6,000.