Lipreading tutor Judy Perry

PUBLISHED: 16:10 11 May 2017 | UPDATED: 16:10 11 May 2017

Judy Perry knew by her 20s that her hearing had greatly deteriorated following middle ear infections, but didn’t want to admit to the problem

Judy Perry knew by her 20s that her hearing had greatly deteriorated following middle ear infections, but didn’t want to admit to the problem

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Sandra Smith meets lipreading tutor Judy Perry and discovers how those with hearing loss can still appreciate everything from birdsong to laughs with friends and family

Half an hour into our conversation, I start to wonder whether Judy Perry became a lipreading tutor out of interest or altruism rather than any personal gain. After all, she hasn’t asked me to repeat a question or misunderstood a comment. In fact, we’re talking so seamlessly it’s tempting to assume her hearing is at least as sound, if not better, than that of most people over 60.

I’m surprised, therefore, when this gently spoken woman reveals she has severe hearing loss in her right ear, while being profoundly deaf in her left.

“The categories range from mild to moderate, severe and profound,” she smiles. “As a child I suffered repeated middle ear infections. I can remember in my Twenties not hearing properly, but I didn’t like to admit I had a problem. We moved to Buckinghamshire 17 years ago, just as Boots started to offer hearing tests. At my appointment the audiologist told me she didn’t have a hearing aid powerful enough. I went home in floods of tears.”

Despite such distressing news, seeking help provided the nudge which rebuilt Judy’s self belief and reinvented her career.

“I hadn’t heard birds singing for years until I wore hearing aids prescribed by my doctor. When I drove onto our gravel drive I wondered what the noise was and the rustle of crisp packets or running taps hurt my ears to begin with. Even flushing the loo sounded like Niagara Falls! You have a sort of startle reflex while your brain retrains itself.”

Buoyed by a new sense of freedom, Judy tried lipreading classes before deciding to take advantage of her deafness by training as a teacher. The year long course included lipreading techniques, knowledge of equipment designed to help those with hearing impairment and a physiological understanding of how the ear works.

“Then I decided to set up my own classes. In Gerrards Cross and Wendover I offer hour-long taster sessions as well as courses, giving people the opportunity to see that lipreading is a skill which can be learned. Groups are small and friendly and when we mishear, we laugh. I recently told everyone a classic example which happened to me. I was upstairs in my house. My other half, who was downstairs, called to me: ‘I’ve put some cords out to be washed.’ When I went into the kitchen I asked him where his cords were. ‘What cords?’ he asked, ‘I said, I’ve put some prawns out to defrost!’

“Lipreading is also about awareness of facial appearance and body language. For instance, saying ‘I found a dead mouse on the bus’ looks comparable to ‘I found £10 on the bus.’ But your expression will differ. Some consonants – P, B and M – appear the same when spoken. Also Sh, Ch and J, whereas C is an invisible shape. SometImes I do a whole lesson on one subject such as the body; hair, head, hands and heart are similar mouth shapes.”

At her classes, where men and women vary in age from their fifties to nineties, Judy’s other tips cover more than watching someone’s lips move. Lipreading, you see, encompasses an holistic approach which includes recognising the subject, knowing the structure of language, assessing the situation, context and rhythm. The knock on effect of developing these skills goes beyond mere conversation.

“When my children were growing up I would have liked to help more at school. I didn’t go to social events. Once I joined a book club but left after three weeks because I couldn’t join the discussions. Through my courses I give people confidence in themselves.”

Facing her own hearing problem was the point at which Judy’s self assurance started to evolve. Nowadays she is unfazed by wearing hearing aids and thinks nothing of keeping her hair short. Asking people to repeat something need not be an issue, she insists: “When you make a booking in a restaurant, tell them you need a quiet corner. In a group it is easier to hear other people if you’re sitting at a round table rather than a long one. Theatres offer captioned performances. Recently I saw Gaslight at Aylesbury’s Waterside Theatre. So I go out and do normal things. There are also sub titles at some cinemas and www.YourLocalCinema.com provides information about local venues such as Gerrards Cross.”

Assistance also extends to airports. It’s just a question of flagging up your hearing loss in advance. While some people might be self conscious wearing a coloured lanyard walking through Gatwick, Judy insists the benefits outweigh any embarrassment, and urges the hard of hearing to be brave.

The amount of facilities on the market, a subject she covers during her classes, is extensive. For instance, Judy shows me a gadget she wears around her neck. The ComPilot is paired to her hearing aids and mobile phone, which she wouldn’t otherwise hear. Sound bars for flat screen televisions aid clarity of speech and, for those who travel by train, she advises that a disabled railcard offers more discounts than a senior railcard. Meanwhile, she stresses the importance of facing the person to whom you’re talking and never sitting with your back to the door in an office environment.

Two things in particular strike me about Judy. That I wouldn’t be aware of her hearing problem is clear from the moment we first meet. But it isn’t only her communication skills that are so enlightening. Having decided hearing loss would not interfere with her day to day routine, she engages with life with all the vigour of someone a decade or two younger. She utilises the technology that is available and is never afraid to ask someone to repeat something she hasn’t quite grasped.

“Hearing aids aren’t such a big deal and the best thing is to learn to lipread as soon as you feel your hearing is affected, before you really need it.”

That’s sound advice ringing in my ears. Can you hear it?

Find out more

www.atlalipreading.org.uk | www.yourlocalcinema.com | Deaf Awareness Week runs from 15-21 May 2017

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