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Homepage / If only… A snapshot of life with hearing loss

If only… A snapshot of life with hearing loss


If only…

My day starts with being shaken awake by my vibrating alarm clock. Being deaf means that a normal alarm clock has no effect. After showering and dressing I put in my hearing aid so that I can access the world of sound. I only have one hearing aid as my second ear has so little hearing a hearing aid is useless.

I make my breakfast conscious of the possible noise I’m making which may disturb others – the microwave pinging more than once, setting the dishwasher or washing machine to work I am aware can be heard by others.

If only appliances were quiet or were labelled with their decibel rating.

I move to my desk and log on reading emails that have come in since I left the desk yesterday. I love reading emails and taking the actions. I am always sure of what has been said, what is expected of me and what I should do. I work my way through the never-ending to-do list and my screen flashes ‘meeting in 15 minutes’. Time to read through the appropriate notes and decide what needs to be covered. I then log on to the Teams meeting early, find the three buttons on the menu ribbon, click, scroll down to CC closed captions and click. I carry out a quick test talking to myself to ensure the captions are working.

My student appears on screen and our meeting is underway. All starts well with me following the captions and keeping an eye on their facial expressions to reinforce what I think I have heard and what the captions are telling me. I giggle as the captions inform me that the ‘apprenticeship shooter’ (should be apprenticeship tutor) has done whatever.

If only captions were accurate, and people spoke clearly.

Things carry on, but then the captions stall, my student is explaining something or asking a question in quite some detail and the captions still haven’t caught up. Then suddenly, the last few minutes’ worth of captions whiz by at a speed that would challenge Superman to read. I apologise and ask the student to repeat what they have just said. With a roll of their eyes a quick precis is delivered with less enthusiasm than they had initially. I work hard to pick up their question and offer suitable options in response.

If only captions were consistent.

Things gradually get back into the normal swing and before we close we start the dance of arranging the next meeting. Switching to the calendar screen means I lose the captions, I struggle to hear the suggested date and time, switch back to Teams screen only to see the captions disappear as the student has spoken further words, to be polite filling the silence whilst I am fumbling through the computer screens. After a few minutes of toing and froing, we finally establish the details of the next meeting and I send the invitation.

If only we all took time to wait for others to catch up.

My student goes away happy with the work plan until we meet again. I close the meeting and take a few moments to relax, the intense concentration of actively listening, watching for facial expressions and other visual clues has taken its’ toll. I also reflect on how I could improve the experience for the student, what could I have done to understand what they wanted more easily or quickly. I curse the inadequacy of the captions, but equally am grateful for them; despite their inefficiency, without them I couldn’t work.

If only captions worked efficiently.

Next, I move to a team meeting, fortunately online again using Teams. I get to see everyone – so long as they turn their camera on and can follow some of what is going on. I prepare by reading up on the notes from the last meeting, checking the agenda, having both papers open on a different screen so that I can refer to them.

If only I could manage to read three documents at once.

The meeting starts with a trickle of people with chit chat which I follow reasonably well. We then move to the agenda, or a version of the agenda where some notes are read and there is general cross talk amongst the participants. Some of the words come up on captions, but I am struggling to keep up with the topic and what has finally been agreed.

If only the meeting leader would announce which item on the agenda, we are looking at.

If only the meeting leader summarised what has been agreed.

I listen hard, I watch the screen looking for who is highlighted as the speaker and try to read the captions at the same time. I blink and the captions stall, the discussion moves on, I begin to panic, ‘Is this important? Is it something I should be acting on?’

If only I could lip read several people at once.

Then the captions reappear and shoot up the screen again with such speed there is no chance of reading them.

If only I were a champion speed reader.

At last, there is a topic I can contribute to and ‘raise my hand’. I wait patiently to be asked to speak, meanwhile the discussion continues. I am then noticed, and someone asks what I want to say, I feel caught out, I have forgotten or become tongue tied unable to get any sense to leave my mouth. I recover and make my contribution and retreat to listening following the captions avidly.

If only I felt surer of what has already been said and agreed.

After an hour or so the meeting ends, and I breathe a sigh of relief and consider what I learned from being in the meeting.

If only people would be courteous and raise their hand when they wish to speak and the meeting leader could take comments in turn, one at a time.

Meeting note-takers are often busy people, and it can take a long time before the notes are written up and distributed to the attendees. This can leave me in a vulnerable position. I may not have heard the general instruction or direction for everyone to carry out a new or different procedure. I must rely on meeting one to one with another team member later to ensure there is nothing important that I have missed.

If only the notes could be distributed sooner.

Another day the meeting is on campus, great, I get to meet real people but know that there are no captions to follow. I go into hyper-alert watching for things to begin. The room is laid out classroom style, the only person I can see clearly is the person at the front.

If only the room was laid out in a circle.

I watch intently as the leader begins the meeting. Someone asks a question. Who was it? I turn around to trace the source of the speech I heard; too late, the question is already being answered, I spin back to catch the end of the answer.

If only answers to questions were put into context.

The formal meeting ends and there is general chit chat across the room, I check my emails on my phone only to find someone has tried to call me and has left a voicemail message.

If only I could hear the message, if only the caller remembered that I am deaf.

Andrea Malyon

Written By: James Hill

Andrea Malyon is an Apprenticeship Tutor in the School of Management at Cranfield University.

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