A NEW scheme to help people with hearing loss communicate more easily is being trialled by Specsavers stores in Kidderminster and Stourport.

The Wyre Forest branches are among 20 stores taking part in the Please Speak Clearly initiative, which is backed by national charity Hearing Dogs for Deaf People.

As well as free Please Speak Clearly badges - designed for people who are hard of hearing so anyone they meet understands that they might be struggling to hear - the store is making changes to the customer journey to ensure that it is an easy and stress-free experience for anyone with hearing loss, especially when communicating with people wearing protective masks.

This includes the introduction of speech to text apps for in-store tablets, so conversations can be clearly displayed on-screen if a customer is struggling to hear or lip-read.

Craig Sadler, audiology director at Kidderminster and Stourport, said: "With stores now able to offer routine testing with new safety measures in place, including PPE and masks, we need to think about how we can effectively communicate with and assist our customers with hearing loss.

"As hearing loss is not always visible, and can happen to anyone at any age, it can be difficult at times to know who may need a bit more help.

"This scheme supports our ongoing work with Hearing Dogs, to help remove the stigma often associated with hearing loss, so it is viewed in the same way as vision loss – it shouldn’t be a hidden issue as it affects one in six people in the UK in some form.

"We hope this trial is a huge success and it becomes something the entire community will support so that we can roll it out to more Specsavers stores throughout the UK."

David Robson, a spokesman for Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, said: "While face coverings are a sensible precaution for reducing the spread of coronavirus, they unfortunately have the unintended consequence of creating a huge barrier for deaf people who rely on lip-reading.

"It is really important for those who lip-read to be able to see other people’s mouths and faces, so with so many people wearing face coverings in places like shops, supermarkets, banks and hospitals, it becomes incredibly difficult for deaf people who rely on lipreading to access the same information as other people, which not only makes life much harder for them but can also pose a safety risk.

"Specsavers’ Please Speak Clearly initiative will help to make life easier for people who rely on lip-reading, and we would encourage anyone who is struggling with the communications barriers associated with face coverings to visit the store to collect their free badge."