Why do I choose lipspeakers at work?
Deaf since early adulthood, I have been using lipspeakers at work for over a decade. Lipspeaking has changed my life and supported me in a career which I would never had thought possible when I first became deaf.
I choose to use a version of lipspeaking with some elements of British Sign Language added. I would call this ‘sign-supported lipspeaking’. I had not formally learned any BSL when I started to use this type of support; I just found that a second track of visual signals helped reduce the ambiguity of lipreading- many English sounds look similar to each other – and made it much less tiring to follow. I went on to learn BSL to be able to communicate better.
It’s not what you say, it’s the way that you say it
I choose lipspeaking for one main reason: 70% of meaning is conveyed by the way someone speaks and only about 30% by what they say. At first when I became deaf I used note-takers. This form of support is excellent, particularly because it provides a record of a meeting and proceedings which you can take away and re-read. So I still find this support great for formal settings such as conferences or some very well-structured meetings. But for spontaneous conversations and discussions, note-taking is a little slow, normally and also you lose ‘the 70%’ – the manner in which a person speaks, their use of tone, humour, irony and the way they show emotions. Qualified lipspeakers relay, as far as possible, every word a person says. And when someone speaks extremely fast they are trained to ‘pare down’ and relay what is said even at a very fast pace. But crucially, they also give expression- they will demonstrate the way in which a person is speaking.
One of the main chapters of my career so far was in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Negotiation was a major part of the job, including a 4-year posting abroad, so having the right support in place was crucial. I think it is a mark of the skill of the wonderful team of lipspeakers I worked with, that I could carry out my job to my full ability. The service they provided was seamless- almost simultaneously relaying what was said and how it was said.
A year ago I started my own social enterprise, Getting Equal, involving unpredictable and varied work including coaching, public speaking and voluntary governance work. In the current environment this can be demanding, tough work, but with lipspeaking support in place, I feel that at least I can give of my best.
If you have never tried this type of support and are interested, I would encourage you to organise a trial session. This text is written down so I cannot convey my tone- but if a lipspeaker were relaying this it would be backed by an optimistic tone and a supportive smile!