My Deaf Story: Oliver Richardson

Hi, I’m Oliver Richardson, I currently work as a Drinking Water Process Scientist for one of the largest Water companies in the UK. My role involves ensuring that we provide wholesome drinking water to our customers 24/7, supporting our operational colleagues with any issues that may impact drinking water quality.

Deafness means exactly that; being unable to hear. Deafness comes in many forms from mild through to profound hearing loss. I sit in the profound range meaning that without hearing aids I can only hear things >100DB (sound at this level is a whisper, depending on the tone without hearing aids!).

I was born deaf and was brought up ‘orally’, meaning that I was taught to speak and lipread. Introduction to sign language came along much later. I went to mainstream primary school before moving to a specialist boarding school for the deaf based in Newbury. Being in a specialist school meant I was able to nurture my academic talent. At this time, I was also introduced to canoeing and kayaking with a local club who used the school pool in the winter months. I still kayak, including on Whitewater and also coach kayaking 20 years on!

Deaf people may sign, deaf people may lipread, some may make use of residual hearing or a mixture, including use of hearing aids, cochlear implants, and bone anchored hearing aids.

It was only when I started working at Thames Water that I was introduced to the concept of Lipspeaking with added sign as a communication support method. 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, fingerspelling, to aid the lipreader’s understanding. Straight away I thought, ‘amazing, how come I have never heard of it up until this point?’ Prior to this I had always been pointed in the direction of Signing Supported English (SSE)/British Sign Language (BSL) or speech to text reporters (STTR). Since my introduction to Lipspeaking, it has become my preferred method of communication support.

Nowadays my support is usually made up of 3 main methods:

  1. Lipspeakers with added sign – primary used for on-site meetings or more informal sessions
  2. Speech to Text Reporters (STTR) who provide a live verbatim text – like subtitles – Formal meetings / training sessions
  3. Video Relay – For making phone calls on a day-to-day basis – utilising an interpreter who can relay what is being said to me whilst allowing myself to use my natural voice to speak back at normal conversational speed. It has only been in the last 2 years that Video Relay Service has become a 24/7 and reliable enough to be able to use it both during normal working hours and out of hours to provide support to operational colleagues

My top tips for people working with deaf colleagues:

  1. Be prepared to slow down or repeat if needed
  2. Ensure you are facing your colleague – Maybe move away from noise if needed
  3. Positioning – I struggle to read lips if sunlight or window is behind you
  4. Preparation – providing agendas or slide decks in advance of meetings means my Communication Support can prepare themselves best to support me
  5. Check questions – I may use check questions to check professionals
  6. Consider booking communication professionals for support but always ask the deaf person what they preferred method as we are all different and this may vary depending on circumstances.
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