A PENSIONER who started losing his hearing 14 years ago now offers a vital service to others who are deaf or partially deaf in Andover.

Last week marked National Deaf Awareness Week, and Barrie Wickens knows only too well the difficulties faced by those with hearing problems.

The Andover resident, who is in his 70s, started losing his hearing while working, in 2005.

He said: “It became obvious when sat in meetings with up to 20 other people. I developed strategies such as always sitting opposite the chair of the meeting – if it wasn’t me. Other empathetic work colleagues used to relay what was said at the far end of the table, but it became increasingly difficult and I was glad to retire.”

Barrie visited his doctor and was referred to audiology where his hearing was tested, and in 2006 he was provided with two NHS digital hearing aids and diagnosed with mild to moderate hearing loss.

Now, Barrie has moderate to severe hearing loss and relies on lip-reading to communicate.

He went to his first lipreading class in Andover in 2010, and was asked by the teacher if he had considered teaching it himself.

Three months later Barrie was registered at the CityLit College in London on the teacher training course, before beginning his own classes in Andover in October 2011.

He is now a qualified teacher of lipreading to adults following further training for 18 months.

Explaining the methods of teaching lipreading, he said: “We study some specific lip shapes – say p b m – by simply looking phonetically and then move into almost any subject that incorporates the use of words and phrases that utilise that particular lip shape among them. In other words, we practice seeing normal speech while recognising particular shapes. This is important because we can learn how to distinguish sounds that look alike, such as pat, bat or mat. We learn how to manage our hearing loss in a hearing world and build self-confidence.”

He added: “Most of us, when we begin to lose hearing ability, instinctively start to lipread. And support from longer-term learners definitely helps newcomers.”

Barrie said the classes are open to all abilities, and said they offer vital support, explaining: “Probably the most important benefit you can derive from attending a Lipreading and Managing Hearing Loss class is the confidence to overcome the social isolation that it is so easy to fall into.”

He added: “The combination of lipreading skills, communication coping strategies and information does bring back lost confidence. That can be life-changing to someone with a hearing loss, because it enables them to overcome social isolation.”

Barrie said learning to lipread enables those with hearing problems to dramatically improve the amount of conversation they understand, adding: “Lipreading can fill the gaps in noisy social situations with friends and family. It can give you more confidence at work, in education, or in making use of public services.

“Lipreading classes provide the opportunity to practice social skills so one gains the confidence to face the hearing world. Classes provide a means of exchanging ideas, information and experiences that provide the ideal support from others who share similar experiences.”

To find out more go to lipreading.net or email lipreadbarrie@gmail.com.