Speech - My Event to London Worshipful Livery Companies
This was written for a presentation to a group from the City of London Livery Companies, Hearing Loss Charities and the City Lit - February 2019
My Lady Mayoress, Ladies and Gentlemen. There are so many people here today that if I tried to mention all of you, with all the right titles, in the right order, there would not be any time left for any music! So I hope you will forgive me for not mentioning you all by name and not introducing you all to each other. I will leave you to do that for yourselves a little later on, over tea. It’s enough to say that we have representatives from the City of London, City Livery Companies, CityLit Centre for the Deaf, Hearing Link, Deafax, the charity Decibels, lipreading experts, Hearing Help Essex and many more.
I am so pleased to welcome you here today and for the opportunity to speak to you about something that has become a passion in my life – hearing loss and deaf awareness! I’m also delighted to see that the important area of inclusivity is a focus for the Lord Mayor’s Charity Appeal this year.
Any disability brings many challenges and when you look for them- achievements to celebrate! This is particularly true, I think, of the hidden disabilities such as mental problems and hearing loss. Communication is central to our life and when you are unable to communicate effectively, it makes a great difference.
This afternoon you will hear about different aspects of hearing loss. Ruth Montgomery, Eloise Garland and I have different backgrounds and different areas of interest, but we are all working with hard of hearing or Deaf people and know the importance of being deaf aware.
Although my background is primary education, I now teach lipreading to adults. Why? I have personal experience of what it is like to lose your hearing in later life and of the difficulties faced by having a hearing loss when you are living and working in the hearing world. I have always admired Helen Keller, the deaf blind authoress, political activist and lecturer but when I lost most of my hearing, my admiration for her increased. How on earth did she achieve all that she did, without sight or hearing? My other great hero is Jack Ashley who was the MP for Stoke on Trent South. He lost his hearing and was set to resign but was persuaded to stay on. He was advised to learn sign language by his consultant but unless everybody that you know signs, this is not very helpful. He set about learning to lipread! He became a champion for all those with disabilities.
Lipreading is not precise, many sounds and words look similar, so it is very open to misinterpretation. Even with a mild hearing loss, sounds are lost or distorted. Not only is speech difficult to understand but all the everyday sounds which give you a sense of yourself and your place in your world are diminished too. This is probably why hearing loss can frequently lead to feelings of depression and isolation and there can be a loss confidence and possibly some independence. At first, we often think that other people are mumbling and sometimes it can take 10 years for a person to accept that they have a hearing loss. Coming to terms with wearing hearing aids can be difficult too.
It is hard to imagine having a hearing loss. I suppose you may be able to experience this, if you wear ear defenders, or watch the TV with no sound or if I turn my voice off and carry on talking to you. Those of you at the front may be able to lipread a little of what I am saying but for people at the back it is mission impossible. Sorry – I’ll say that again with voice (repeat)!! “if I turn my voice off and carry on talking to you. Those of you at the front may be able to lipread a little of what I am saying but for people at the back it is mission impossible”.
When you can’t hear you are often left lost in a conversation and may feel insecure and isolated. You have no idea what is going on and are unable to join in the banter and jokes or any other conversation. I don’t know how you felt when my voice was silent but possibly a bit confused. For those of us with hearing loss this is a common experience and in large group situations we can often be seen wearing the lipreaders’ smile which is a bit like that of the Mona Lisa – it can mean whatever you want it to mean – very non-committal.
Lipreading is more difficult in large group situations because we may receive mixed messages. I’m sure you’ve experienced this yourself - where you are listening to one conversation but can hear snippets of other conversations around you. Helen Keller said that “blindness cuts you off from things BUT deafness cuts you off from people”. Let’s face it - she should know.
We are living in a great technological age and hearing aids and other amplification devices are very good. But they cannot replace the ear completely. Hearing aids help because they give you back, to some extent, the awareness of sound around you – depending upon your hearing loss of course. The advice is to wear hearing aids because they stimulate the ear and give you some awareness of sounds, even if you have a profound hearing loss. The introduction of the loop systems for meetings, theatres etc help to enable us to be much more included in society. Also, the use of sign interpreters and speech to text helps to make Deaf people more included. Cochlear implants have developed greatly, and I can tell you that my experience has been amazing!
There are three things that I have benefitted from, over my thirty plus years of having a hearing loss. The improvement of hearing aids and amplifiers; learning to lipread and interacting with others at the classes; and for just over a year, hearing with the aid of my cochlear implants. All of them require the user to work hard to make the most of their benefits, but oh what a difference they make! Unfortunately for a variety of reasons they don’t work for everybody which means that there are still people with hearing loss that need more help.
Did you know that there are 11million people with hearing loss in the UK? That’s I in 6 and its set to rise to 1 in 5 by 20.35 – 15.6million people. We all know someone with a hearing loss, I’m sure. Many of these people will use technology to help them BUT even with technology there is still the person opposite with whom they are speaking! This is especially true if using lipreading. I don’t know about you, but I hear better when I’ve got my glasses on and this is because I’m lipreading and I think that we all do, to some extent.
Sometimes those of us with hearing loss seem to be aloof, arrogant, rude, stupid or worse because we haven’t heard what was said. This is especially so if people speak to us from behind. We can’t lipread. When shopping in Boots, I have blocked an isle looking for something and been totally unaware that a lady with a pushchair was asking me to move. When I apologised and explained that I was deaf – she then started apologising to me!! Similarly, when in a social group conversation, the conversation changes direction and I haven’t!! Suppose we start talking about the weather and then the conversation moves on to winter holidays with snow, ice and skiing. I could still be skiing down the icy slopes while everybody else is putting ice in their gin and tonics. It can be very embarrassing. It is only quite recently that I have started telling people about my hearing loss BUT if others don’t know, they can’t help.
What can we do to help those with hearing loss feel more included in our company? There are many things and some already described do cost money but could be very cost effective. Deaf awareness on all our parts is so important. Those of us with hearing loss need to be deaf aware for our colleagues and friends too.
So, what is deaf awareness? If you are deaf aware you will recognise the signs that someone may have a hearing loss or is DEAF and you will know how to help them. Signs can include
- People are withdrawn and don’t speak much in groups
- They don’t respond when spoken too or may interrupt not realising someone is speaking
- They may speak very loudly or softly and have the TV playing more loudly than usual
- They may frequently ask you to repeat things
- Sometimes they have a voice that sounds a bit different to normal voices but not always
- They may use more gestures than people usually do
- They may not realise there is traffic or people behind them
- You may even spot their hearing aids or cochlear implants
If you are deaf aware you will be able to communicate better with hard of hearing friends, relations, colleagues and customers. You will need to have patience and understanding. It is easy to become frustrated and irritated because we have difficulty hearing and much needs to be repeated. There are many ways to help but here are some communication tips that my hard of hearing friends and I have found to be most useful: Please don’t worry about remembering them now, there is a sheet in your information pack
- Find a quiet, well-lit place to have your conversation. Soft furnishings, carpets and curtains help to absorb background noise.
- Make sure that we can see your face – (we can’t lipread otherwise). Please don’t cover your mouth or keep moving about - again we won’t be able to lipread!
- Please gain our attention before you speak -You could call our name or tap us on the shoulder, and if possible, tell us what you are talking about. (Knowing the CONTEXT helps us to lipread more easily).
- Please remember that it’s uncomfortable for hearing aid wearers if people shout. Speak a little more loudly and slower than normal but with your usual rhythm, lip movements and facial expressions. Don’t speak too slowly because if you speak like this we lose the natural rhythm. So much can be gained from rhythm. Can you lipread this well-known greeting – Hello, how are you? Repeat “Hello, how are you?” I expect people at the front found that very easy.
These are the kind of strategies as well as lipreading skills, that can be learned at lipreading classes. I went to lipreading classes when I retired, and it was like a lifeline. Eventually I began to teach lipreading. For the last 12 years I have taught lipreading to adults. It has been so wonderful to see how the group members develop their lipreading skills and confidence to speak in a group. For all of us it is a safe place to practise our skills and if we make a mistake, we can laugh WITH not AT each other. We all understand!! Even with cochlear implants, we can use our lipreading skills to complement them.
My lipreading classes only reach a few people but I have produced a website called lipreadingpractice. It’s a free resource for anyone who wishes to practise lipreading. No registration or log on is needed, just open the website and use it. Its success has staggered me. It is being used internationally which is wonderful. It is also being used by people who have had strokes, to learn to speak again; and by people with cochlear implants to learn to recognise speech sounds and practise hearing again.
Like people with other disabilities, those of us with hearing loss must keep on trying to overcome our difficulties. We must never give up! People with hearing loss can do everything that hearing people can do - except hear. Many hard of hearing people have very valuable skills but these are sometimes lost to the community because of communication barriers. What we need from other people is understanding and support to enable us to overcome the barriers and contribute to society. If we get this right for hard of hearing people, we get it right for many people with other disabilities.
We could also use support for our campaigns. Finding a lipreading class is a post code lottery, as is the cost of the lessons. Much more needs to be done to provide support. Currently, City Lit has a campaign for better provision of lipreading classes across the country. Support for this campaign “Hear My Lips” is very important. As Helen Keller said, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much”. Please help me, to spread the word that deaf awareness matters and to help in any in any other way that you feel able.
Thank you very much for listening to me.
I am now delighted to introduce Ruth Montgomery and Eloise Garland who are going to play for you and talk about their music and work. They have both worked so hard to achieve their success with their music and I think they are role models for the pupils they teach. Please welcome Ruth and Eloise.
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