Hard of Hearing

A hearing impairment is a degree of hearing loss. It could be full deafness or small enough a degree to make certain aspects of day-to-day living a little more challenging.

Judy’s Story

One night 8 years ago, while in Spain, Judy woke up at 4am to a ‘whooshing’ noise and then suddenly, nothing. She couldn’t hear. She picked up a phone and rang a friend, not knowing if her friend had answered she asked for help, and waited. Luckily her friend came straight away and took her to the local hospital where she was told ‘it’s probably just old age dear’. Back in the UK she discovered that the cochlea in her right ear had lost it’s tiny hairs causing her hearing to go in that ear. Judy had already lost her hearing in the left ear due to nerve damage, and she is now effectively completely deaf.

Her life has drastically improved over the last few year mainly due the technological advances with hearing aids. She is hoping that a cochlea implant may be a option for her in the future but for now she hears through what she describes as her ‘fantastically powerful nuclear station powered hearing aids’. She describes some frustrations surrounding her hearing aids such as them getting blocked, which means she ‘goes off air’ all of a sudden.

Judy discusses how having a disability that isn’t immediately obvious has affected her life over the past decade.

Within her own house life ticks along quite nicely, the problems, frustrations and often fear occurs once she leaves the safety of her own surroundings. Simple things such as walking through town can become a stressful proposition – imagine not knowing just by your sense of hearing if someone is behind you, or perhaps shouting a warning to you of some sort assuming you will hear them. It can be difficult not to withdraw out of society completely, although it helps having friends with her or telling people at places she frequents about her disability.  However, sometimes, even in good company it can be embarrassing to keep asking people to repeat themselves over and over. She describes with humour that often the most frustrating thing of all is she ‘misses all the juicy gossip in a conversation’!

Judy tells how she has been belittled when she held up a flight as she missed the announcement. And how when people can’t immediately see you have a disability they sometimes assume you are been difficult, and has even been asked ‘are you deaf or just stupid?’.

She is now in quite a unique position, within our series on Hidden Disabilities, as she has recently been given new lease of life with her hearing dog. She explains how this helps the public immediately see she has a disability, and how this positively changes the way in which people treat her.

Lorenzo’s Story – The football match

When I was about 10 we had a big football match against our rivals Victoria College of Jersey (for those of you not from Guernsey, the inter-island rivalry is intense!). Subsequently, the crowd was larger than usual, with full families not just the over-zealous fathers spectating. Even my dad made the game with my mum and brother, which was rare due to his responsibilities as a restaurateur and games were often just before lunch.

It’s worth noting, that I had hearing aids then, but the technology at the time tended amplify everything – including the wind when you ran. It is the same noise as when a news reporter is reporting the weather during a hurricane. Made me think I was quick anyhow!

So the game kicked off with much encouragement from the sidelines. In the first half there was a 50:50 challenge just inside our half of the pitch that I went in for with gusto and won… Seeing the ball bounce just in front of me, I surged forward keeping my head down, I skipped past one player (that rarely happened), I skipped past a second player (that never happened) and finally a third player (this was incredible!). I was free on goal and the goalkeeper hesitated before rushing out. I struck the ball and disappointingly put it wide.

After my “heroic” dribble and shot I copied what some of the best premier league/Series A players of the time would do… I slid on my knees, leaning back and with my hands in my hair after making some cringe worthy overly-dramatic cry. (So cringe worthy!) I got up, and turned around expecting a hero’s applause for my efforts. Only, instead I turned around to find my teammates literally on the floor laughing, parents feeling sorry for me (but also laughing) and my coach shaking his head and pointing to the spot where the 50:50 challenge had taken place. I didn’t win the tackle…it was a foul and I hadn’t heard the whistle go! It wasn’t my silky ball skills that got me past three players, they were just puzzled as to what I was doing. The Victoria college players realising what had happened joined in the chuckling, especially the guy I had clattered back in my own half. Well this is awkward, ground…swallow me up now!

The walk to get the ball I’d kicked wide and sheepishly take back to where the foul look place, was so long and so painful with everyone’s eyes on me. It was honestly one of the most embarrassing moments in my life. I was too scared to make another dribble or tackle afterwards and 5 minutes later substituted myself off and covered my head with my tracksuit top hoping it was just a bad dream. It would have been slightly more bearable if I hadn’t tried to copy those Premier League/Series A players. I was mortified. I still cringe looking back.

That day onwards, I did try to learn to dribble looking up to avoid a repeat, or just pass as soon as I get the ball! Today I have hearing aids that go inside the ear and I don’t tend to hear the wind so much, which helps avoid similar situations. Although…I’m not sure if that is the newer hearing aid technology or my distinct lack of speed!

Lorenzo’s Story – Bad wingman

My friend invited me and a couple of girls for jacuzzi, which his dad had recently purchased. He had an interest in one of the girls and needed me to be his wingman. I really wasn’t interested in attending and I believe we had an assignment due in at the end of the week (such a nerd). However, after (a lot) persuasion from my friend I buckled and agreed to accept the role of ‘wingman’.

As they were not waterproof, I knew I wouldn’t be able to wear my hearing aids in the jacuzzi. This was not a concern for me, instead this made me feel more comfortable because having gone to an all-boys school (and rarely speaking to girls), my insecurity told me that girls may also be shallow and not go for a guy who’s opening line is “pardon?” So I felt more confident not wearing hearing aids around girls trying to look “normal”. I also used to tell my friends not to tell girls that I was deaf for fear of them losing interest, such was my insecurity over wearing hearing aids. Pathetic looking back I know.

I had no concerns about not being able to hear properly because I had mastered lip-reading when I faced someone. Therefore I had the cunning plan of if I sat in a corner of the square shaped jacuzzi, I could face everyone and lip-read the conversation – what a little genius I am!

Except, I was not a genius. I had failed to anticipate that the girls were slightly insecure over their bodies and therefore asked to have the light off as they got into the jacuzzi. PANIC: I cannot lip-read in the dark!

Instead of just explaining that I was deaf and could we have the light on or speak louder, I stupidly just rode it out…. When they laughed, I would laugh I thought…! My friend, when he heard my awful fake laugh, knew exactly what was happening and was subsequently laughing even harder at the situation. I can’t even remember what I did when there was an awkward silence after someone asked me a question. I think my friend bailed me out and answered on my behalf.

So if you were to hear just my half of the story that would be it, a very awkward and embarrassing situation and a desperate need to practice my fake laugh. I was an awful wingman. I contributed nothing. However, it doesn’t end there. Apparently, one of the conversations that I was “laughing” along to, was how the girls had seen a deaf guy that day who had done something embarrassing (I cannot recall what it was) and they had in essence been poking fun at the poor fella’s misfortunes. My friend who knew I couldn’t hear this was crying with laughter at the situation. I was laughing at some girls poking fun at a fellow deaf guy and I didn’t hear any of it. Brilliant. Obviously when my friend told the girls later that I was deaf they were mortified. To which my friend said “don’t worry, he didn’t hear!”

Lorenzo’s Story -An ironic speech therapist

Being partially deaf and unable to hear the S’s T’s P’s, R’s etc, my pronunciation of the English language was poor as a child. If someone cannot hear a word properly, naturally they would pronounce the word as they can hear it. Subsequently, this created plethora of embarrassing situations in my youth, mainly for my parents, as I was oblivious to my errors. To give you a taste of just some of the words I couldn’t pronounce properly:

  • “Dord” – I was a huge “He-Man” fan and therefore requested a “Dord” not a ‘Sword’ so I could kill my imaginary Skeletor.
  • “Dink” – When I was thirsty, I would often request a “dink” from my mother not a ‘drink’.
  • “Dick” – As with any young kid, when we went out to the park it was all about finding the biggest stick/broken branch, waving it around as a new ‘dord’ or spear. However as I couldn’t hear the “St” I would shout across the park to my mum for all to hear, “MUUUUMMMM look, I found a dick!” to much amusement/horror to those around the park and my poor mother. (There were likely many other combinations of words which sound so much worse, but I thought I’d keep it relatively clean for the blog!)
  • Eileen/Island – For those of you who grew up in Guernsey, you will recall a little chain of grocery shops called “Island Wide.” Well to my ears, ‘Island’ and ‘Eileen’ sounded exactly the same, so imagine the look of horror on my mum’s face when her friend Eileen came round for a cup of tea once and my mum asked me if I knew who this person was “Yes mum…it’s Island Wide – Hi!!” with a smug know-it-all look, before (probably) running off to kill Skeletor with my “dord.” Luckily Eileen saw the funny side and saw it was a genuine, innocent mistake.

You can imagine and understand why my parents were keen to take me to a speech therapist to try and arrest these awkward situations.

I cannot stress enough how much I hated speech therapy. Hated with a passion. A capital H. It was simply the most patronising experience anyone could have. I know they mean well, but it is like they are speaking to you like you are a newborn child. Say cheese “ch, ch, ch, ch-eeee sssssssssssse, remember the sssssssss! Go on, you can do it” (with a patronising smile). The amount of dirty-looks I must have given that therapist and also anyone else who caught onto the fact I was having therapy and wanted to “help.”

Hopefully I have landed with you just how much I detested speech therapy. However in hindsight, I cannot blame my speech therapist, it was just a horrible experience as a child. How else can somebody teach a child to speak properly without over-exaggerating your mouth movements and repeat “ch, ch, ch”? You just feel very stupid, especially after you see the errors that you have made and learn what a “dick” is and you get that horrible sinking feeling when you realise just why everyone at the park was laughing. They weren’t envious of your stick…they were laughing at you. If only time-machines were real eh? From then on, if ever anyone looked or smiled at me, I immediately assumed I had just done something embarrassing. Panic would overwhelm me and I did my best to avoid being centre of attention, preferring to blend into the background.

I was ordinarily a well-behaved and obedient child, yet it took all of my mum’s motivational skills (and probably a new “dord”) to get me to attend the sessions and do the tedious homework. I say my mum motivated me and not my dad on purpose. I loved my dad to bits. He was truly awesome. But he was also Italian, with a very strong Italian accent. (Looking back this is hilarious and definitely one of my favourite memories). So my dad, with only the very best interests at heart, used to try and get me to practice my speech therapy with him. But to put this into perspective, as is common with Italians speaking the English language, instead of saying “this” they say “dis.” But the funniest thing for me, was my dad could say “apple” perfectly, but ask him to say “pineapple” and he would say “pine-ape-all.” He just couldn’t say it. As an impatient child with knocked confidence, I hated having lessons from someone who was, in my opinion, just as bad as me at pronunciation. My mum did well to diffuse the situation(s) as best she could. We all love a trier, but at the time my Dad and I clashed on the topic of speech.

Didn’t hearing aids help?

You could say that hearing aids should have made me be able to hear the S’s, T’s, Ps, etc but actually way back then the hearing aid technology was just a microphone. It made everything louder, so rather than highlighting the sounds I couldn’t hear to balance out the combination of sounds, it just made everything the same just very loud. My current hearing aids only increase the volume of these high pitch tones, so I can hear the S’s T’s Ps better. The technology is very clever.

It is worth noting that when I was doing speech therapy, I always felt that they were over-emphasising the use of S’s T’s P’s and that “no one really spoke like that.” So when I got hearing aids with newer technology and realised that actually people do emphasise the S’s, T’s P’s etc – that was a game-changer for me. I was no longer too embarrassed to do it myself.

There is a fantastic charity called “Scope”, I’ve only just heard about (pun intended), who have some great content on educating people about disability and how to “end the awkward.” Take a look if you have 5mins:

http://www.scope.org.uk/awkward?gclid=CKCDserC074CFYLnwgodsDcAAw

Lorenzo’s Story – Hockey tour

I was and still am a keen hockey player. Back at College, when I was in the Upper Sixth (year 13) I had made it into the first team squad to visit Taunton for a tournament. Our first team squad was comprised of members of the Fifth Form, Lower Sixth and Upper Sixth year students and so was the “crème de la crème” of College hockey. Being in the Upper Sixth, it was our last year and we liked to think we “ran the show.” We liked to think we had the best wit and “put-downs” to keep any overly-confident younger students in their place. If you couldn’t there was always the beauty of being a prefect and distributing “lines.” “It is incumbent upon me to refrain from…” 250 times was not a fun chore for anyone.

Back to the tour…

Upon arriving at our destination, I recall this being the biggest school I had ever visited and incredibly posh. They had (nice) school dinners, flamboyantly high ceilings and immaculate uniforms – unlike our scruffy grey blazers (which smelt of burnt hair whenever they got wet).

We soon learned that we would be staying in the girls’ dorms as they had gone home for the weekend. As we settled into our rooms, a good three stories high, and unpacked, the coaches called us into the hallway for a debriefing.

Due to my hearing disability, I always used to sit near the front of the class at school so that I could lip-read the teachers and hear everything OK. At this debriefing it was a small room where I was stuck at the back, and let’s face it, I am not the tallest individual. To cut a long story short (pun intended) I couldn’t lip-read as there were many taller teammates in front of me. As a seasoned hockey player with seven years of touring experience under my belt, as far as I was concerned, the coaches were probably just reminding us of the 11pm curfew, what time we had to be up and ready in the morning and basically to behave. Same old tour rules.

As a deaf person, you “assume” a lot, otherwise you would be saying “pardon, what, eh?” a lot…you may only hear seven words out of a ten word sentence so you tend to fill in the gaps. “Meet” “outside” “here.” I didn’t catch the time of the meet and the body language of the coach was very relaxed, so it couldn’t have been too important. At least, that’s what I thought; like I said, I assumed it was for tomorrow morning before our tournament.

The next thing I know, everyone is sprinting off to their rooms and running around like headless chickens. I tried and failed to corner one of my teammates to see what was going on. My roommate got changed and got into his towel and I figured that he was rushing so he could get the first shower and not run the risk of hot water running out. Incorrect assumption number two.

OK great. Figuring that all the available showers would now be full I just pottered around before looking for another friend to chat to. Except no one was there. Nobody. Where were they? Or rather just how many showers were there? It was a good 10-15 minutes before I went back into my room wondering what to do. When I got to my room, I heard laughing coming from the window. When I looked out everyone was looking at me from outside and laughing. (OK..so I have messed up here somehow!)

The debriefing had been to say that there would be a practice fire drill “in five minutes” and to “meet outside on the lawn” for “a registration” hence why everyone had run out of the building in a mad rush. There was no fire bell ringing, just my coach shouting “go!” at the bottom of the three story building (or so I am told). My roommate was still looking to jump into the shower first…just after we had the fire drill. When I ran outside everyone was cheering and laughing and any prior “street cred” I may have had was immediately lost with the Fifth and Lower Sixth formers. I had no counter “putdown” or lines for that matter. Nice to know my roommate would leave me in a fire in preference of a warm shower! (We are still very good friends, but he may have got a few aggressive shots fired at him during the warm-up).

Even though it was a small and simple mistake, it was very embarrassing and as any team sportsman will tell you, dressing room banter is ruthless and I had absolutely no comeback. Only a hat trick might save me some flak and given my previous dribbling attempt (recall my footballing exploits if you will) that was unlikely to happen anytime soon. I just had to take it on the chin and squirm through the embarrassment.

The serious bit
I guess the key message here is that if you are deaf you tend to assume a lot as you worry that you will annoy/agitate someone by asking them to repeat themselves all the time. How does anyone in customer services roles address that? I never got taught how to lip-read. I think we all do it subconsciously, particularly when we are struggling to hear someone. Therefore making sure you face customers is critical (as well as just basic manners). It may also be worth writing down anything critical so if they are struggling to hear they can at least read what they need to know. Finally, I think it is important to just be aware of the fact that they might be assuming things, so just ask and check that they understand OK.