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Lipspeaker

Each issue, a different professional shares their expert advice and gives information to help you support your child. This time Kirsty Last, a lipspeaker, shares her insights.

What is a lipspeaker?

A lipspeaker is a hearing person who’s professionally trained to be easy to lip-read. They reproduce what a speaker is saying clearly, using facial expressions, gestures and fingerspelling to aid understanding. The lipspeaker doesn’t usually use their own voice when relaying the spoken words. Some lipspeakers can offer lipspeaking with sign support.

Why might a deaf child or young person want to use a lipspeaker?

Many deaf people rely on lip-reading for communication, but not everyone is easy to lip-read. If a deaf person’s first language is English rather than sign language, they might prefer to use a lipspeaker rather than another type of communication support, such as interpreters or palantypists.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I work in lots of different settings, including classrooms, offices and hospitals. I sit opposite the deaf person, away from visual distractions such as busy backgrounds or windows. When the meeting starts, I relay speech to the lip-reader, who looks at me rather than the person who’s speaking. For long meetings or assignments, I may work with another lipspeaker so that we can take it in turns. Lipspeaking and lip-reading can be tiring, so we try to have breaks every 20 minutes.

How can a family or young person access a lipspeaker?

People can book lipspeakers either through an agency or by contacting the lipspeaker directly. Make sure your lipspeaker is qualified and registered on the National Registers of Communication Professionals working with Deaf and Deafblind People (NRCPD) website. Lipspeakers can be provided through communication support packages in education or employment, such as in an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan or through Access to Work.

What attracted you to working as a lipspeaker?

My best friend, Lesley, has been a lipspeaker for about 20 years and she
introduced me to deaf friends who said I had clear lip patterns. I was a police officer for 22 years, but Lesley encouraged me to change careers and become a lipspeaker. It’s the best thing I’ve done. I qualified last year and love it!

What qualifications do you need to work as a lipspeaker?

All registered lipspeakers have a Level 3 qualification in lipspeaking and can fingerspell. I also have a Level 2 certificate in British Sign Language and am working towards Level 3. Not all lipspeakers can sign, so make sure your lipspeaker has the qualifications they need to support you.

What are the most rewarding and challenging parts of the job?

The most rewarding is being able to give deaf people equal access to effective communication. I get to meet and support some lovely people. I’m humbled by what they achieve. The most challenging part is working with really fast speakers! People can only lip-read effectively around 110 words per minute, so if speech is faster than that, it's hard to relay everything that's said.