Deaf Awareness Week 20235th May 2023
Deaf Awareness Week aims to promote the positive aspects of deafness, promote social inclusion and raise awareness of the huge range of local organisations that support deaf people and their family and friends.
One of our staff members has been kind enough to share her own story, detailing the challenges that she faces each day with a view to raising awareness and understanding.
As you may know, Deaf Awareness Week takes place in the first full week of May. I have read lots of stories encouraging people with disabilities to talk about the challenges in their life. I thought I would say something too!
I thought I might be able to help some of you who have not come across deafness or who have someone in your circle of friends or family who has become hard of hearing understand the problems. I don’t normally talk about it because no one asks, but here I go!
Just a little bit about my kind of deafness. I was born profoundly deaf so unlike people who have become deaf later in life, I have never heard sound as you do, nor do I have an inbuilt speech pattern. Hearing aids amplify sounds but do not give normal hearing. I also had a cleft palate and impaired sight. There was no obvious reason for any of these things and in fact I passed the usual hearing test at 7 months – I was very visually aware – even though my Mum had told the ‘experts’ she had doubts about my hearing. To cut a long story short, I was eventually fitted with hearing aids at two and a half years old when I had to learn that sounds had names and until I started nursery school, I had speech therapy at home.
I started to speak at three years of age and would say that like any child with a disability, I did not feel any different to the other children until quite a bit older. For someone like me, learning to speak is like learning a foreign language in that hearing and understanding are very different things – you may hear a word say, in Russian, but until you know what it means you cannot understand it! Learning grammar is just as hard too. Are many of you fluent in Russian?! Enough about me – now I will move on to the more common difficulties experienced by all hard of hearing people.
Most people when they start to lose their hearing also start to lip read – with anyone with a hearing loss it is vital that they look at the face of the person who is speaking to them. Looking not only at mouth patterns of words but also the facial expressions. Many words have the same mouth pattern unfortunately – “I live in a cottage” could be lip read as “I live in a sausage” and the beautiful “rhododendron” was lip read by me as “roads are dangerous” and “rosy dragon”!!! P and a B are indistinguishable. For this reason it is really important to let the person who is doing the lip reading know the subject matter before you start speaking. For example if you were asking someone what they wanted for supper say “Supper – I was thinking of cooking lasagne” – putting the subject first lets the person know the vocabulary they are likely to encounter. If someone stands with a window behind them it is virtually impossible to lipread as the face is in shadow so a good light is necessary. Try to be near the person when you speak (especially for me!!) Lip reading is exhausting for everyone concerned!
When someone loses their hearing they do not lose all levels of sounds at once – for some strange reason when men start to lose their hearing they seem to be unable to hear their wives’ voices – this could be selective hearing! The sounds we need to hear consonants often go first which is why it is hard to hear speech. Although I am profoundly deaf and my hearing aid helps, it is an amplifier and does not let me hear speech as you do and that is why my speech sounds different. I can recognise some familiar words by hearing without lip-reading.
In the office I can hear footsteps, doors slamming, telephone ringing, laughing and chatting, rain on the ceiling windows, the photocopier, the franking machine and binding clamping! When you speak to me I hear your voice but that does not mean I always know what you are saying! I have to combine what I hear with lip reading – not always easy!
At home I hear the radiators clanking, the boiler roar, helicopters, washing machine, my IPad beeps with the train horn, microwave pings and the television (watched with subtitles). I have a problem with high pitched sounds. I hate the sounds of seagulls, pigeons and the radio!
Restaurants for hearing impaired people are also very hard work as hard flooring makes it more difficult to hear as do the surrounding noises in the background which are also amplified. Being in a group of people all talking at once is just a nightmare!!!
Deaf and hard of hearing people usually wear one or a pair of hearing aids, but this doesn't mean we can always make out what people are saying, like at concert or at rally. The aids are just helping people to hear more. Personally, I can hear the sound of voices but not emotions/feelings in their voices, unless they are shouting or screaming. Their face shows me different expressions to show me how they feel. Which is why expressions are so important when they are talking.
British Sign Language and finger spelling are of course a wonderful help – there has been a focus recently on these in films released – charades and miming are no problem to me! Hopefully BSL will be taught in schools one day – most children love to learn it – I have met hearing people in the shops in Poole who can sign and it makes things easier.
Technology in the 21st century has helped massively with texting, e mails, etc. compared to years ago. Of course, all deaf people cope in different ways - some sign and do not speak and vice versa. I am lucky to be able to talk and am always trying to speak as perfectly as you!
Deafness can be a frustrating and upsetting disability and it also takes a great deal of patience on everyone’s part to understand. Thank you for trying.
You can find further information on the RNID website.