Andrea Boyland, a CCS Central Government Account Manager, writes about her experiences of hearing loss as part of Invisible Disabilities Week.

When Julius Caesar said ‘lend me your ears’ I would probably have heard an instruction to ‘send me more beers’.

My severe hearing loss means that I often mishear what has been said, sometimes with rather humorous results; other times, less so.

Crown Commercial Service teams are marking Invisible Disabilities Awareness Week’, which aims to educate and bring awareness of invisible disabilities – in my case, hearing loss.

Hearing loss is more common than people may realise: there are over 12 million people (1 in 5) in the UK with some degree of hearing loss, which means that most of us will encounter someone in this position in our daily lives. 

Most of my immediate colleagues are aware that I have severe hearing loss – in fact I have over 70% loss of hearing in both ears. This is something which has got progressively worse as time has gone on, to the point where, just over 2 years ago, I was seriously questioning whether I could continue in my current role.

My watershed moment

The watershed moment for me was sitting in an external meeting of very senior commercial directors at which I struggled to hear any of what was said.

This left me feeling incredibly distressed: I wanted to perform effectively in my role and I knew I could, if only I could hear what was being said. I can recall all too clearly the humiliation of not being able to answer questions simply because I couldn’t follow the conversation and the feeling that I was letting CCS and myself down. 

What was more frustrating was that I had let the meeting organiser know that I had hearing difficulties, yet no adjustments were made.

Sadly, my experience is all too common but, with the right support and awareness, the outlook can, and should, be so much better.

A problem compounded

Deaf people can be around twice as likely to suffer from psychological problems such as depression and anxiety, with research suggesting that this stems from feelings of isolation.

Social and work situations can be both exhausting and daunting for anyone with hearing loss, as they struggle to try to follow conversations which are often in a noisy setting and all too often simply give up.

We see the exasperation on the faces of those around us as we struggle to hear, and they don’t know how to be heard.

People who are hearing-impaired face considerable challenges. They experience and navigate the world differently from those with perfect hearing. To gain an understanding of the difficulties they may face, here are some day-to-day situations that become more challenging when little or nothing is audible.

  1. Public announcements

Remember the last time you were at the airport and, over a loudspeaker, you were told boarding was in progress, or that the flight was delayed? Public address systems notify us of what’s going on all the time, but a hearing-impaired individual probably won’t get the message or, just as bad, might misunderstand the message.

  1. Slow talkers

When someone realises they’re interacting with a hearing-impaired person, they often switch to a slower form of speech. While it’s done with the best intentions, it can actually hinder lip reading. Over time, many hearing-impaired people have learned to understand words spoken naturally, so slowing it down can result in miscommunication.

  1. Being in the dark

Whether it’s a dimly-lit room or a noisy, dark club, the absence of light makes it difficult for the hearing-impaired to engage with others. They generally rely on visual clues and stimuli, such as lip-reading or sign language, so darkness poses a challenge.

Taking action

Fast forward two years and the situation for me is very different.

This is very much due to the strong support from a line manager who, recognising that I was struggling, set about seeing what support CCS could offer. I am fortunate too that I am part of a team who are willing to make the effort to understand how best to communicate with me.

These days, now that my team are aware of my hearing difficulties (and thanks to whizzy new bionic ears!) active participation in conversations and meetings is much easier. Social settings are improved too and, for the first time in over 20 years, I can hear films without subjecting my very patient husband to me asking ‘what did they say?’ every 5 minutes.

I would urge anyone who is struggling with any degree of hearing loss to seek help. It can’t be made perfect (the technology does not yet exist to restore hearing) but it can, with the right support and awareness which I have been fortunate to receive, be so much better.

Thankfully, there is a great deal of information available to support those with hearing loss and those who live and work with them. If you can take maybe 10 minutes to read through some of the tips for communicating with the hard of hearing, you could make all the difference to how they interact with you and how they feel about themselves.

Useful resources

Action Hearing Loss offers some helpful information for the hearing-impaired and those who support them.

The Invisible Disabilities Week website carries lots more information about seminars and events for Invisible Disabilities Week.