Hi all. My name is Hannah, and I work in the Programme and Change Management Team. In light of Deaf Awareness Week (6-12 May 2019), I have been asked to share my own experiences as a deaf individual.
I was born with a ‘severe-to-profound’ hearing impairment, with around 90 per cent hearing loss. To communicate I rely on lip reading and a hearing aid. I consider myself very lucky, as I have always had a great support system – from peripatetic teachers to great friends and, most of all, my brilliant parents/family. But, being ‘deaf in a hearing world’ does have its challenges and, despite the availability of different equipment and support, I’ve always found the thing that makes the biggest difference is whether or not somebody is ‘deaf aware’.
Deafness is an invisible disability, and this is a challenge in itself. Just because a deaf individual ‘talks OK’ or ‘seems like they know what’s happening’, doesn’t mean they do. In my own experience, lip reading is very energy consuming, especially in group and work environments. This means a lot of information can be lost on me. Workwise this doesn’t just apply to meetings, but also socially – things like ‘office banter’ or small talk.
Having had conversations with other deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals, I know this is a common occurrence. Quite often people have been labelled as ‘rude’, ‘disengaged’ or ‘incompetent’, simply because they have been quiet and not contributed to a discussion, or have said something wrong/totally unrelated. In reality, it’s usually because they haven’t heard what’s going on and may feel too embarrassed to say anything – or feel it’s ‘easier’ not to. Someone being ‘deaf aware’ and having the necessary knowledge and understanding makes a real difference – particularly in terms of making a deaf or hard-of-hearing individual feel more comfortable and confident!
I think this week is also a perfect opportunity to start the conversation about how we can help deaf people in terms of their healthcare. Did you know that the deaf community has a lower life expectancy, due to inaccessibility of healthcare services? Why in a world where technology is such a big part of our lives and advancements are made every day, are so many services still without the appropriate equipment and support to aid the deaf community?
Did you know, for instance, that due to a lack of appropriate communication methods in place, many deaf people often have to travel in person to their GP surgery, simply to make an appointment in person? Once there, they also have the added challenge of communicating their concerns and requirements to the people who work there.
Have you considered that English may not be a deaf/BSL user’s first language? That reading and writing is more difficult for them, and that they may not understand online information or that which is sent to them? Why are professional BSL interpreters not used enough? Are you aware that there is a big difference between having a friend/family member interpreting and having a professional interpreter in place? Deaf individuals too often miss out on crucial information about their health because the support isn’t in place and, shockingly, handwritten notes are still being used too often. Don’t members of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community deserve to receive information fully and in the same compassionate way as others? We can make a difference!
To conclude, I can’t speak for every deaf or hard-of-hearing person, and that’s really important to remember, because deafness is so varied. Please just take the time to find out what works for that particular person. There’s also a lot of information out there, so try and utilise Gloucestershire Deaf Association’s presence at EJC this week.
Additionally, I’m always happy to talk, so if you have any questions or would just like to chat, please do come and see me. And remember to take care of your own ears!