The 15–21st of May is deafness awareness week, a campaign that aims to raise awareness of hearing loss in the UK and the impact it has on people’s lives.
I am not deaf, I have moderate hearing loss and now wear hearing aids in both ears, but I live with the daily frustrations of always feeling like I’m missing about a third of what’s going on. So, in support of deafness awareness week, this blog is to help those with good hearing gain a little insight as to what life is like for those of us who live in a quieter world. My hearing didn’t start to go until I was in my early 20s. I’d had no problems at school or uni, but by the time I was starting my PhD it was becoming noticeable that there was a problem. I received my first hearing aid when I was 24.
When you first start wearing hearing aids it takes time for your brain to adjust. Sounds that you normally pay no attention to, like a tap running, make you jump out of your skin. There are beeps and buzzes everywhere, and you sometimes wonder if you’re being stalked by R2D2. But things do settle down and gradually you do get used to hearing what you’re able to through a microphone.
Insights I wanted to share
So, what are the things I want more people to be more aware of? First there are the frustrating everyday things..
- So many public places say they have loop systems, so few have them turned on. If you work in a building that has a hearing loop, please make sure it’s switched on!
- People don’t look at me when they’re talking to me. Having eye contact and being able to see the speaker’s mouth makes things so much easier. Many people with hearing difficulties lip read, whether they realise they’re doing it or not
- If I don’t hear something, and ask someone to repeat themselves, I often get the reply ‘it doesn’t matter’. Actually, it matters to me! Don’t leave me wondering what I missed out on, please, repeat yourself
- When I’m eating and wearing my hearing aids, the loudest thing I can hear is myself chewing. Particularly if it’s something crunchy, like a Crunchie. Now, I’m not saying I’m the world’s most elegant chewer, but I’ve never been asked to leave anywhere because of it. Big round-table dinners can be incredibly isolating when you’re unable to follow the conversation. Next time you’re sat next to someone with a hearing impediment at dinner, spark up a little one-on-one conversation. They’ll thank you for it
- Subtitles on live TV shows are written to confuse. Just this week I was watching a BBC news piece on volcanoes, where each time the word ‘volcano’ was spoken the subtitles read ‘Michael Caine’. ‘Michael Caine produces some of the world’s most extraordinary landscapes’. Fantastic! Is there no end to the man’s talents?! As for Prince Charles, to me, he is now known as ‘Purple Rain Charles’, and the purpose of football is to score as many ‘goats’ as you can. Who knew football was such a filthy and kinky sport…
Then there are the things that I really worry about, and find it more difficult to make a joke of
- No one can tell me why my hearing is going, and no one can tell me how fast it will decline. All I know is that it’s getting worse and there’s nothing that can be done to stop that
- I worry how I would cope as a mother. Will I be able to hear a baby cry? Will it wake me when I’m asleep and don’t have my hearing aids in?
- I don’t like talking on the phone. Ever. But it’s unavoidable at times. Knowing I have to make a phone call to someone I don’t know can fill me with dread. I always explain, and some people cope really well. Others have no concept of slowing their speech and increasing their volume, which makes it more and more awkward for all concerned
Some people just get it
From my personal experience, hearing loss has a big impact. But it’s also something you just have to get on with. Therefore, helping others to gain a better understanding of the impacts it can have in society, the workplace and in family life is something I fully support.
My husband is a great example of someone who just ‘gets it’. From the moment we first met, my hearing problems were no big deal and he just adjusted his behaviour slightly. Not once has he ever told me ‘it doesn’t matter’ when I’ve asked him to repeat himself for the fifth time. Instead, he automatically puts the subtitles on, patiently explains that Michael Caine is not a volcano, and doesn’t shout for me from the other end of the house. These are just small things, but the fact he just knew right from the beginning to do them is one of the reasons I fell in love with him. If others had the same awareness that he has, and were able to modify their behaviour a tiny bit, it could have a big impact on the everyday lives of people with hearing loss.