• Louise Deaf Awareness

A chat with Lesley Weatherson – Owner of Lipspeaker UK

Hi Lesley! Thank you for taking the time to speak to me, as I know you are a very busy lady! It is an absolute pleasure to be speaking with you.

Always a pleasure to be speaking to you and about raising awareness about deaf people, deaf culture, and deaf issues. Firstly, could you tell me a bit about yourself?

I am a qualified British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter, qualified Lipspeaker and am currently studying to be an interpreter for deafblind people. I used to be a nurse and midwife until I changed careers in my thirties. I have three children who are all following in my footsteps. Linzi is a trainee BSL interpreter and qualified Lipspeaker and my son Jay is a qualified Lipspeaker and has just passed his BSL Level 3 exams. My other son Taylor is studying for his BSL Level 1 exams. My husband is deafened and wears two hearing aids and together we own and manage a communications agency called Lipspeaker UK.

How did you get into Lipspeaking?

My previous careers were in nursing and midwifery. Both professional jobs were all about people, communications and doing something different everyday within a highly challenging domain. A back injury in the mid 1990’s meant I had to retire from the job I loved, midwifery. However, one lady who I was asked to look after was deaf and her first language was BSL. I had to establish a rapport with her to gain trust and understanding in the most precious time of her life and in a very short time before looking after her in labour; quite a challenge as she could not hear me, and I could not sign.

We agreed some haptic signs of ‘tap tap’ to push and one long ‘tap’ to stop and somehow muddled through. It was the best we could do at the time, but it inspired me to lean sign language.

Whilst on my level one BSL course I met a Lipspeaker at work and was fascinated by her skills. I got chatting to her and she suggested I became a Lipspeaker as I had a clear lip pattern. A few enquiries later and I was on the now defunct Level 2 Lipspeaking course. I seemed to have an aptitude for Lipspeaking and soon passed level 2 and then 3. I feel lucky that my path crossed with the Lipspeaker as this started my new career and passion; working for deaf people. Tell me how Lipspeaker UK came about?

I was soon working full time as a Lipspeaker with various clients and realised I was having to turn jobs down as I was fully booked. One client, who has been my guide in many ways suggested that I should find a replacement Lipspeaker and be the go-between. The idea of an agency took off and very soon we became the ‘go-to’ agency for Lipspeakers as we were and still are the only specialist agency for Lipspeakers. Deaf and hard of hearing people who lipread know exactly where to go to book communication support.

It was not long before deaf people who use BSL were asking to book interpreters and then Speech-to-text Reporters, notetakers and deaf awareness training. Why? Because we tailor a bespoke service to each client. Our charges are very reasonable with only a 10-15% charge on top of our freelancers fees so most affordable to all. What exactly is a Lipspeaker?

A Lipspeaker is a hearing person who has been professionally trained to be easy to lipread. Lipspeakers clearly reproduce the shapes of the words and the natural rhythm and stress used by the speaker. They also use facial expression, gesture and, if requested, finger spelling, to aid the lipreader’s understanding. Some Lipspeakers are skilled in BSL and can offer Lipspeaking with signs to support the meaning. Sometimes we use our voice to support the voice of a deaf person if requested.

We work in many different domains and work with deaf and hard of hearing people who lipread. Some of us have dual professional roles and work as sign language interpreters and Lipspeakers but not at the same time.

What services do you offer at Lipspeaker UK?

A variety of services are now offered including:

  • BSL/English interpreting

  • Lipspeaking

  • Electronic and manual Notetaking

  • Speech-to-text Reporting (Verbatim)

  • Expert Lipreading

  • Coaching

  • Deaf Awareness and Disability Awareness Training

From 1st June 2021 the first ever Lipspeaking on demand service, in the UK to allow deaf lipreaders to make calls independently. I am excited to share this news with you as it’s taken months of research and testing to trial the service. We still do not know if there will be a demand for such a service. There are many video relay services businesses in the UK and worldwide, but these work well for those who use BSL but not for lipreaders. Let us hope that companies and public sector services sign up for the service to make themselves accessible to deaf and hard of hearing people.

Lipspeaker UK have the contract for supplying language professionals to Hampshire Constabulary and it has been a huge success since we started in Oct. 2020. Other forces use a national framework, but Hampshire have moved away from this to use a specialist company that understand the communication preferences of deaf people.

I noticed two different Lipspeaker associations on Twitter. Could you explain the difference between them both?

Yes, we have the Association of Lipspeakers with Additional Sign (ALAS) that I created in 2016 in a response to requests from deaf lipreaders who could not always find registered professionals who were skilled in BSL as well as being a qualified Lipspeaker. I had been the Chair of the Association of Lipspeakers (ALS) and on their committee for 15 years and when I stepped down as Chair, I had the time to create ALAS. I consulted with like-minded professionals, both deaf and hard of hearing and ALAS was founded.

We produce a quarterly newsletter to keep members informed about any news from the Lipspeaking or associated professions and since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, have provided weekly online webinars for members to check in on their mental health, matters arising from working from home, continued professional development for working on Zoom, Teams as well as workshops on working in the legal domain, tax affairs and coworking hints and tips. It has been our way of ensuring Lipspeakers feel supported even if face to face work has stopped. I now know my colleagues far more than I ever did before the pandemic. It is not all work and study though-we have gin nights too! If I wanted to find out more about Lipspeakers, and perhaps have a trial session, how do I go about this?

Go to the website for more information (fully accessible website) We are always happy to do a trial as many deaf and hard of hearing people have never used a Lipspeaker before. Is there anything you would like to add, which you think is important for potential future clients to be aware of?

Always ask the language service professional to show their NRCPD badge as proof of their qualification. This affords the deaf person protection from unregistered and unregulated people who pose as professionals. If you have a concern of complaint against the person supporting, you and they are registered you can be supported in raising any issues. We are all bound by confidentiality and work to a strict code of conduct, so registration is important.

What does DAW mean to you? Are you doing anything this week?

I am delighted to support deaf awareness week. We have asked police link officers for deaf people (PLOD) to sign their names and job roles and, I’ve lip spoken a video about pub signs! Watch this space!

Thank you for your time Lesley! It has been a pleasure to chat to you as usual.

Social media links:

Twitter: @LesleyCFMum and @LipspeakerUK


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