Our History

The History Of Lipspeaking

60 Years of Lipspeaking

The Early Years

Lipspeaking in England began sixty years ago. It was created as a ‘platform skill’ by Bill Snowden and Muriel Shepherd as their communication tactic for including everyone at the meetings of their local hard of hearing Club up in Darlington, in the North East, in 1948. Because of the success of their invention, news spread. Regional rallies of clubs of the British Association of the Hard of Hearing (BAHOH) saw lipspeaking in action and took it back to their members and so it slowly blossomed.

The Pioneers

The common thread, of course, was the vision and determination of a handful of individuals to see this so useful tool developed to meet an ever expanding need and to raise awareness of the benefits much further afield than the confines of the clubs.

Muriel Shepherd and Bill Snowden in the North East; Douglas Maxwell from the North West, who was also chair of the BAHOH Education Committee at an important time for this development; Jesse Gibbs, the moving force in the south organising the Southern Rally in the Eastbourne/Worthing area for many years; Vera Roberts and Louisa Neate; Eric Amon and Bill Shield. These individuals knew first hand, or through living with deafened relatives, what improvements to the quality of life lipreading and the use of lipspeakers could bring.

This was true not only in the hard of hearing clubs but also in the hospitals. In Oxford, in 1949, the ENT consultant Gavin Livingstone, with his wife Felicity, encouraged the setting up of the Oxford Club and were fortunate in having the first hearing therapist in the country. Kathleen Jagger introduced both group and individual lipreading classes in the ENT department.

Clubs held lipreading classes and competitions, the competitions developed into regional and national events culminating in the annual National Finals Competition. Lipreading teachers, several of whom were also lipspeakers, were involved in these from an early stage.

Charles Mardell, Secretary-General of Hearing Concern for 22 years, who, though totally deaf, found he could easily follow the lipspeaking of Glenda Bateman, who later founded the Association of Lipspeakers, and championed the development of the skill.

All this at a time before the great strides in technical aids that we take for granted today. Lipreading was an essential skill that allowed the use of lipspeakers to enable members to fully participate in the life of their clubs and enjoy the range of social activities to the full. Lipspeakers were usually a family member of the deaf, deafened or hard of hearing club member.

Development and Training

In the 1960s it was realised that many more lipspeakers were needed and that a more formal selection and training programme should be put in place. Significant in the history of lipspeaking were the training courses held at Burton Manor and taught by Gwen Cairns. Ruth Waddle well remembers her training there in October 1966 during which the news was brought to participants of the Aberfan disaster.

Clubs offered sponsorship to lipspeakers on their training courses at Burton Manor. The Midland Rally was an important group of clubs offering both sponsorship and practice opportunities, invaluable support and constructive feedback to those lipspeakers wanting to improve their skills.

In the 1970s Birdie Warshaw took on the role of lead tutor and courses were held at Easthampstead Park, a Berkshire County Council training centre near Wokingham. Birdie had the professional background to select, organise and teach people who were thought to be lipspeaker material. She was able to call on the lipreading skills of BAHOH members, who used their skills at work as well as outside, to act as co-tutors and examiners, all of whom worked hard, with few resources and surprisingly little support, to develop curricula and examining schemes, recruit and train suitable volunteers and to produce the higher Level 2 curriculum, teaching skills that could be used in more and more situations outside the club environment.

From the 1980s BAHOH courses were well supported by Christine Chubb at the University of Bristol and by Anita Clokie at Manchester Metropolitan University.

In the 1990s CACDP employed a part-time Lipspeaking Development Officer and the curriculum and examination process developed further, in line with national qualifications.

In 2008, a new curriculum and examination structure was introduced by CACDP and lipspeaking units will be offered by Manchester Metropolitan University and the RNID, with tutors from the Association of Lipspeakers being involved in both courses.

Government Recognition

While BAHOH was developing its pool of lipspeakers and using them locally and nationally for their own events, the Royal Association for the Deaf and Dumb (RADD) were trying hard to get better recognition of their sign language interpreters. They and the RNID were using their influence to persuade government to provide interpreter training and the use of qualified interpreters in the public service.

In 1974 CACDP was born with an initial two-year grant from the Department of Health. Through their work many more sign language classes became available and a structured professional training pathway was developed for sign language interpreters.

The Manpower Services Commission was set up and offered a free, structured one-year Communicator training programme, hosted by several colleges throughout England and Wales. The course taught deaf awareness, sign language to Level 2, notetaking for deaf people and, as an optional unit, Level 1 lipspeaking. The successful students would become Communicators working alongside deaf young people in colleges of further education.

This was the first time lipspeaker training was nationally available outside the BAHOH umbrella. However, the tutors and examiners for the lipspeaking unit were all recruited by the BAHOH lipspeaker training team, now being led by Glenda Bateman. During the 1980s this team was employed by the Manpower Services Commission and for the first time lipspeaker training tutors and examiners were paid for their expertise and teaching skills. This team worked throughout England, in Wales and Northern Ireland and successfully trained over 100 lipspeakers to Level 1. The majority of these went on to become registered sign language interpreters, working in every sphere of public life.

Lipspeaking certification was awarded jointly by Hearing Concern and CACDP. The curriculum and examination development was still taking place within Hearing Concern, while Bill Tate was Chairman of the Education Committee.

Universal Awareness

The introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), the BBC weekly television programme See Hear, the televising of Chris Martin’s course, Lipreading and the work of Rosemary McCall, including her book, A Word in your Eye all brought to the public notice the very real unmet needs of lipreaders.

Hearing Concern hugely increased public awareness with the nationwide introduction of their Sympathetic Hearing Scheme and the ‘listening ear’ logo, along with loop systems, and these are still to be seen in banks and building societies, shops, tourist attractions, rail stations, supermarkets and many other places.

In 1992, the findings of the Commission of Enquiry into Human Aids to Communication recognised that the lipspeaking curriculum and examination process needed to be further developed in a similar way to sign language interpreting. This was outside the scope of the HC Education Committee and the work passed to CACDP. The report also highlighted the need for funding for development and training as well as service provision.

During the 1990s Hearing Concern, under the guidance of Marwood Braund and with the professional expertise of Richard Gray, published the HC Register of Lipspeakers, available to all. This made lipspeaking services accessible to a very wide public. The registration process meant that standards of contracting and service delivery became much higher and more uniform.

The Association of Lipspeakers (ALS)

At the same time, Glenda Bateman realised a long held desire and established the Association of Lipspeakers (ALS). This professional organisation is now celebrating its 20th anniversary. A great deal has happened in those 20 years.

hearing aid

Digital hearing aids, technical aids and the almost universal use of the computer and its many spin offs has made life much easier and more enjoyable for very many hard of hearing people. Cochlear implants have given back hearing to many people who were deafened through illness. But these aids are not always quite enough in every situation and there remains a significant number of deaf and deafened people who rely entirely on lipreading.

For them, using a lipspeaker means independence, while staying in touch with other people and events as they unfold. It means being able to access higher education, work alongside colleagues as equals, obtain access to justice, enjoy lifelong learning within student groups, participate fully in many leisure activities previously inaccessible (eg art gallery talks), assured privacy and understanding at hospital and GP visits, with dentist, solicitor or Citizens Advice Bureaux, and at job interviews. It means experiencing first-hand the joys and sorrows of christenings, weddings, funerals and thanksgiving services. The list is endless.

There is now a Directory of Lipspeakers on the ALS website. Every region of the UK has lipspeakers, although some have very few. We are trying to encourage more people to train. We also have an information stand that we take to conferences and other events to advertise our services. You can look at the website or contact our information office if you want to find your nearest lipspeaker.

The training and skills of lipspeakers today means that they can use their voice if you are uncertain of your lipreading skills on a particular day; they can relay (speak) your message for you if you feel your voice is not clear enough for the occasion; they will use gesture and facial expression to get the message across to lipreaders who like extra visual clues. They will tailor-make their service to meet your preferred style.

The cost of these services is mostly met from government funding in one way or another. Even private arts venues, such as the Royal Academy of Art, provide lipspoken gallery talks to support their exhibitions, without extra cost to the lipreader. The amount of funding is reviewed regularly. To make sure that these services remain available, they should be well advertised, fully used and carefully audited by organisations of users, such as Hearing Concern.

The current position of lipspeaking, its recognition as a registered form of communication by central government, the police and Courts, employers and arts organisations ensures continuing enrichment of the lives of very many deafened and hard of hearing people around the UK.

Lynne Dubin MRL
NRCPD Registered Level 3 Lipspeaker
Oxford