This week is Invisible Disabilities Week. Here, Director of Finance, Dave Wragg, shares his story.
I live with deafness. This has become more and more profound over the years. In my late teens, I became conscious that I could hear less well than other people: I was OK in small group conversations; larger venues or areas with a lot of background noise were difficult. By my mid-forties, I was hearing so poorly, even with hearing aids and electronic listening devices, that I was heavily dependent on lip reading, and catching up after meetings to see if there were any vital points I had missed. It took away my ability to use the telephone, to listen to music or watch TV or cinema that did not have subtitles. Without my cochlear implant, of which more later, I can literally hear nothing.
When you are deaf, you get on much better working in environments without background noise, in smaller rooms, that are well lit (if you need to see people’s lips to lip read) and with decent acoustics. Most of all though, you need people to understand that you are deaf or hard of hearing, and may need to have things repeated to you, or rephrased. This means that you have to ask for help, which many people don’t find that easy. On the whole, people are pretty good at helping you out, and it’s rare you find people who simply don’t value your contribution enough to make the effort to include you, though you will come across them, sadly. The other thing is that being deaf is hard work – it requires effort and focus to listen and lip read, and can be tiring, and it is easy sometimes to switch off and not make the effort to participate. To work with people who want to draw you into the conversation or the team is a really positive experience.
I have not found many upsides to being deaf, and have always preferred strategies that don’t involve sign language. I have not found other senses compensating. Technology has been a defining feature in improving my life – the smartphone, email, texting have all made work and social life much easier than it might have been twenty years ago. Making the technology work for you when you are deaf is a really important part of staying and participating in the hearing world.
Hearing aid technology is improving rapidly. I had a cochlear implant fitted in 2016, which puts a tiny implant in the inner ear and is linked to a hearing processor that sits on my left ear. It has given me a massive improvement in hearing, particularly of speech and also allows me to attach a cable (or Bluetooth) from it to a telephone or mobile, so I can make phone calls again (albeit from a very quiet room only). I can also link up to a mobile or a computer to listen to music, which is a really positive change.
I feel really privileged and lucky about the implant, both in that I have the kind of deafness that it works with, and also in that the NHS has provided me with around £40,000 worth of technology that almost anywhere else in the world I would have had to fund personally.