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Two years ago, while dining at a local restaurant with his family, Christopher Williams had to ask staff to turn down the music.
It wasn’t blaring. But, sitting at a long table with four people on each side in a crowded room, it was too difficult to hear his mother on the other side.
“She was trying to talk to me. I wasn’t getting anything,” the 75-year-old recalled. “She was getting frustrated and I was getting frustrated.”
That’s when Williams realized he had to do something about his gradually worsening hearing, which was linked to age, he said.
He decided to take a lipreading class, through the Newfoundland and Labrador chapter of the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association.
“They train you to see how lips move, the tongue, the jaw,” he said. “You start with vowels and consonants, then words and finally sentences. It’s been a great help for me.”
Anyone from around the world will be able to access lessons from here now.
Williams was one of dozens of people who gathered at the St. John’s Farmers Market Thursday for the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association-Newfoundland and Labrador (CHHA-NL)’s official launch of its new self-paced online learning course, called Read Our Lips.
The innovative social enterprise, supported by Metro Business Opportunities (MBO), is the first of its kind in Canada and consists of online lessons that teach adults how to lipread by learning to identify and watch for important movements of the mouth (lips, jaws, teeth and tongue).
The full Read Our Lips online course was created and produced in Newfoundland and Labrador and will be sold online throughout North America and the world. It’s $49 to register.
CHHA-NL executive director Leon Mills said one in five of the adult population in Canada have hearing loss, and while technology, like hearing aids and cochlear implants, help, it’s not always enough.
“The Read Our Lips online course will be another important tool to help people with hearing loss to understand more speech, have better comprehension, and improve their self-confidence and ability to communicate with confidence,” Mills told the group.
“Communication means feeling connected. When we (understand) what's being said, we feel a part of what's happening.”
Ron Collins, also 75, of Mount Pearl has completed Level 3 of the course and is noticing big improvements in his life.
“Before the course, it was bad. It was bad. I could go anywhere and if more than one person was talking, I was totally lost,” said Collins, who is almost completely deaf in his left ear as a result of Meniere’s disease, and has 60 per cent hearing in his right ear.
“Now, I don’t have any problem (knowing what people say). It takes a bit of practice, but I use (lipreading) all the time now.”
Andrea Augot has profound hearing loss, “which is technically deaf,” she said. She uses Cochlear implants — electronic devices surgically implanted under the skin behind the ear (with an internal receiver and electrode array that’s inserted in the inner ear).
As her hearing progressively got worse, she learned to read lips early in life and is one of the trainers for the CHHA-NL’s course.
“Reading lips helps you fill in the gaps — the things you don’t hear, the things you’re missing,” said Augot, who was set up at a booth at Thursday’s launch to help others practice lipreading.
“We’re going to help so many people.”
Alison Butler, CHHA-NL’s co-ordinator of education and awareness, was instrumental in developing the online course. She said the course could help many groups, including those who work in a noisy environment, seniors and and those who work with seniors.
“Read Our Lips is about removing isolation, about inclusion, about empowerment,” she told the group.
The province’s seniors advocate, Suzanne Blake, who also attended the event, told The Telegram, “Hearing loss is an age-related change. Therefore, seniors often feel like they’re not being heard and they can’t understand. So, being able to read lips is a very simple way for them to be able to be engaged and involved, and continue to be a part of society.”
To learn more about lipreading or to register for the online course, visit www.readourlips.ca to access a free course introduction and lesson preview.