On international day of people with disabilities we want talk about hidden disability. Meet Amy, one of our General Assistants, who was born deaf. Having a hidden disability makes it harder to educate others and can often result in mis-communication and awkward moments. In her role Amy can interact with many people on a day to day basis so it's important we know how best to talk to Amy in a way that makes work easier. Here is Amy's story.
Having a hidden disability is very challenging. Just like any other hidden disability, it makes it harder to educate others and that understandably leads to people having a lack of knowledge and understanding.
I am profoundly deaf and have been since birth. Growing up I've relied heavily on lipreading and BSL (British Sign Language) to communicate with family and friends. It is with thanks to the amazing support from them, especially my mother who has helped me with my speech and supported my attendance at BSL classes to ensure I didn't miss out on communication tools.
At the age of 11, I decided, with the help of my parents that I would get a cochlear implant. Unlike a hearing aid which just makes sounds louder, a cochlear implant provides a sensation of hearing by directly stimulating the auditory nerve using electrical signals - a far more advanced hearing aid. I still use one to this day but it's important to express that having one does not provide a cure. The implant simply helps me to hear. I greatly appreciate all the support from my mum and dad in making this decision as I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t have that. I'm very lucky. Thanks Mum and Dad!
Joining Morton Fraser in 2014 was a great challenge for me. Being deaf isn't just challenging at work, it's a challenge everywhere I go and interact with people. From walking my dogs and meeting other dog owners, to purchasing something in a shop, communicating when not visibly disabled is hard work.
I find that meeting new people, adjusting to their voices/accents and their lip movements can be mentally and physically tiring. But that's not to say that I dislike the challenges I face every day as I'm always learning. And so are the people I'm interacting with. I suffer greatly with migraines, tinnitus and listening fatigue - because deaf people need to be very visual in order to communicate, lipreading gets very exhausting especially if it's a long or group conversation. Interacting takes up a lot of energy and it really drains us! On the positive side of being deaf, I can sleep through fireworks and so on certain days of the year I get more sleep than others! J
The Coronavirus pandemic has made things a lot more difficult than usual for me since people have been using masks and I can't lipread, it gives me a lot of anxiety! Therefore in the office, I try to limit communication to email.
If you work with someone who is deaf then here are some useful tips for approaching them -
- Be patient. You could be speaking from behind/from a distance and then think they're ignoring you (trust me, we’re not!) so please wave or lightly tap them on the shoulder for their attention again.
- Do face the person you are speaking to as they rely on lipreading to understand you. If they don’t understand, then something handy like a pen and piece of paper/your smartphone will be very helpful.
- Speak clearly and a normal pace
- Stand where there is good light on your face - if you are in front of a window with the light behind you, you're basically a silhouette and we can't see your lips!
- Keep your mouth visible. Facial hair/face masks/covered with your hand/pen in your mouth - makes it impossible for us to understand.
- A group conversation is a deaf person's worse nightmare so if you are in one, make sure to make eye contact with them when speaking!
- Make sure you are away from background noise so that it doesn’t interfere with their hearing aids/cochlear implants.
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