Lip reading helps late-deafened adults cope with hearing loss
Nicole Lacombe suddenly lost the hearing in her right ear just before she turned 50. Six years later, she experienced severe loss in her other ear. Doctors were never able to determine the cause.
Cathy McMaster began losing her hearing as a teenager, which worsened as she got older. The cochlear implant she had last September helps, but she is still hearing impaired. George Voger, who had normal hearing for most of his life, noticed he was losing his hearing as he aged, and by 1984 he could no longer function without his two hearing aids.
Aside from their varying levels of deafness, these people share something else: They are all taking lip-reading classes at the Mackay Centre, given by an organization called Communicaid for Hearing Impaired Persons (CHIP).
Once a week, the group sits for two hours with other adults who are late-deafened to learn to lip read. Lacombe’s husband, Jean Charles Léveillée, attends to provide moral support. Lacombe, who wears two hearing aids, goes because the classes have helped her to better understand when people speak to her. But she also goes because she likes being surrounded by people who understand what it is like to be deaf.
“This is the place I feel most comfortable.”
Joyce Kramer lost her hearing 10 years ago because of a viral infection. It came on suddenly one night, and when it was gone, it left her with a moderate to severe hearing loss, which has since become worse. It took her a long time to come to terms with the loss, and the lip-reading classes helped her deal with her situation and move forward, she said. She is so passionate about the positive effects of being able to read lips that she teaches it to others.
“It’s an amazing and rewarding opportunity,” Kramer said. “It motivates me and gives me strength to deal with what I have.”
Statistics on how many Canadians suffer from a progressive hearing loss are difficult to pin down. The Canadian Association for the Deaf website issues strong disclaimers when it cites numbers, insisting that the hearing impaired are part of an invisible group that is not adequately tracked.
“We continue to follow the standard comparison model between Canada and the United States, which assumes that statistics for Canada will be one-10th of statistics for the U.S., based on Canada having one-10th the population of the U.S.,” the association says. “By this measure, Canada in the year 2006 would have roughly 3.1 million people with some degree of hearing loss.”
Both of Eva Basch’s children were born with some degree of hearing loss.
“When they were young, I took a course in oral interpreting because I thought it would help me communicate better with my children,” Basch said. “At the time, it was given at McGill by a deaf professor and his wife, an audiologist.”
In 2001, Basch was contacted by CHIP and asked to give the speech-reading course because the teacher was leaving. Over the years, she has refined and developed the program.
What used to be 10 sessions in the fall and in the spring has expanded to include 14 weeks in each session, with four classes of two hours each: beginners, intermediate, advanced and advanced II.
“For most people with hearing loss, there’s a stigma, shame and embarrassment, and they are reluctant to admit it. It takes, from the time someone’s hearing loss is recognized until that person goes for help and wears a hearing aid, 11 years. So what happens is, we try to get the word out,” Basch said.
The lip-reading classes are free with a $10 yearly CHIP membership, and are held at the Mackay Centre, 3500 Décarie. A session began March 6, but people are welcome to start later.
Info: 514-488-5552, ext. 4500, hearhear.orgTips on communicating with a person with hearing loss
Yelling at a deaf person will not make them understand you any better. In fact, it can do more harm than good. “Yelling distorts the shape of the lips, which makes it difficult to lip read,” said Eva Basch, who teaches the advanced lip reading classes at the Mackay Centre.
Teacher Joyce Kramer offers these tips on how to communicate with a person with hearing loss.
If a person doesn’t get a particular word, don’t keep repeating it. Try to say it another way.
If they don’t understand something, don’t ask if they are wearing their hearing aids. These are just ‘aids,’ they are not a cure-all.
Don’t accuse a person of having selective hearing; the size of the room, if the floors are hard or carpeted and the pitch of voices can contribute to them not being able to understand what you are saying.
When they sit at a dinner table at home or at a restaurant, ask where at the table they will be best able to follow the conversation.
When asked to repeat something, don’t say “never mind” or “it wasn’t important.” This makes a hearing-impaired person feel badly. All conversation keeps them in the loop and up to speed on the context.
Do not speak with your back turned.
Don’t shout. Speak slowly and clearly.
Look at the person when talking to them.
- Marlene Eisner