“Deaf in a Masked World”

Communication has never been the easier for someone like me – a deaf person. Now in the current COVID 19 climate it has been made much harder due to the use of masks.

Don’t get me wrong the masks are very important in the fight against reducing infection but it’s the design of them which causes issues for folk like me.

Go into your typical supermarket, there’s lots of different noises from the beeping of till scanners, rustling of bags being packed, trolleys squeaking their way around the store, people having conversation, babies crying, clatter of items as people put them into their trolleys, tannoy announcements and so on.

You get to the till and in amongst all this noise you try to catch what the operator says. Not always easy if they don’t look at you, mumble or it’s difficult to make out their speech due to unfamiliar accent or facial hair.

You don’t always hear all the words so you piece together what you think you have heard, and hope it’s right so they don’t then look at you like you’re an idiot if you give them an answer that doesn’t tally with what they have asked.

Now add in a mask, their voice is muffled. The louder they speak the more it is distorted. You pick up from the eyes and frown that they are getting frustrated and that sense of anxiety rises inside you, so you just nod and hand over your card/money hoping that’s what they are asking for.

Or maybe you are stacking the shelves when a customer comes up behind you to ask you something. You don’t hear them. They then manage to get your attention. You struggle to make out what they are saying. They become more frustrated gesturing wildly in the vain hope you might be able to figure out what they are saying. Sometimes they walk off muttering about the assistant that must be deaf as s/he is so stupid because they struggled to help you. Leaving you stood there feeling deflated and frustrated fighting back the tears.

Attend a medical appointment or go to have a COVID 19 swab test, feel totally overwhelmed by the difficulties in hearing and understanding what is being asked of you, or what they are advising.

This is what life is like for the average deaf person. Masks that cover up faces make it so much harder to be a deaf person in a hearing world.

Whilst masks are considered to be essential it is important that folk consider how they can communicate with those who need to see their faces so that they don’t leave them feeling more isolated than ever.

So what can you do?

Buy masks/face covering that are clear to enable others to see your mouth/face for easier communication.

Speak clearly and slowly giving the deaf person time to process what you are saying.

If you are able to write down information then do so.

If there is enough space, remove your mask temporarily to communicate with the person who need you to do this.

Most importantly of all treat the deaf person with respect and understanding just like you would like to be treated yourself should you ever need support.

Unmasking the world…

“Adjust… pause…action!”

It’s a couple of weeks since I upgraded to my latest cochlear implant processor.

It’s taken a little while to adjust controlling the various settings by using my iPhone rather than pressing various buttons on my processor. There is a brief pause in sound as I switch from one setting to another which annoys me slightly particularly when needing to answer a telephone call as have to wait for it to kick in before I can speak to the caller.

It also seem to randomly reset itself to a noise reducing programme whenever I have used the loop. Not sure if the audiologist set it to do this or if it one of those random kinks in the programme settings. This inevitability means I have to faff about changing the settings again whenever I switch the loop off.

Some sounds are still TOO LOUD such as paper rustling. I need to get a sensitivity programme setting put on as the audiologist didn’t add this. I have found out that they can do this from talking to other CI Users online.

Onto the positive stuff… the sound quality is on the whole much sharper and clearer which makes it easier to follow conversations.

I discovered by accident that if I have Bluetooth on, I can listen to a video, play music or have a telephone conversation on my iPhone, via an internal loop which kicks in automatically. It is fab, the sound quality is really clear. It is like having internal headphones as no one else can hear what is being said or played when this internal loop kicks in. The first time this happened I was grinning so much in delight, that the sprogs were looking at me like I had lost the plot!

I have three programmes currently on my processor. Programme 1 is the main one I use. Programme 2 reduces some of the background noise so that what is in front of me is louder. Programme 3 is Forward Focus which cuts out background noise dramatically to a whisper and amplifies the voice of the person whom I am facing. I tested this out today at our church picnic as was struggling to hear above the LOUD music that was being played despite turning the volume right down on my processor. It was impressive how well this worked in supporting me to hear the conversation of those I was talking too, but at the same time a little weird that I couldn’t hear what was going on around me.

I have been using programme two when in the car on my own to listen to the radio as it’s good practice for me to listen to a range of voices. So it’s been a pleasure to actually be able to follow more of what’s been said on the radio rather than guessed what’s been said. This only really works for me if there’s one speaker without background noise or music.

I have solved the annoying wrap around ear hook issue by using the smaller ear hook (not a wrap around one) which came with the aqua kit. Feeling smug that it has stayed put despite the audiologist stating that it wouldn’t stay on for extended periods.

Haven’t yet had the courage to test the aqua kit out as slightly scared that I might not fit it altogether correctly and end up destroying my processor accidentally! I will pluck up the courage at some point I am sure.

I have been really tired the last couple of weeks and suffering from headaches. It took me a few days to twig that it was linked to getting used to my new processor. Hopefully as I get used to it I won’t feel so wiped out by the end of the day to the extent that I am switching my implant off in the evenings just to have some quiet time.

What’s been lovely is how my workplace has been really supportive in meeting my needs and providing training in deaf awareness to those that I work with so that they are more aware of the issues I face and what they can do to support me. My work colleagues are a lovely bunch and pretty on the ball anyway recognising when I need to have five minutes away from it all, providing a brew or some snacks to re-energise me or making sure that I am included in conversations. It might not seem a big deal to the average person but for someone like me it makes such a difference knowing that I am supported to be part of the team, rather than on the fringe desperately trying to make sense of it all.

So it’s been an interesting couple of weeks adjusting to my new processor and there are a couple of little kinks to sort out but overall I’m impressed with it. Technology moves so very fast that it’s hard to imagine what the next upgrade will involved but for now I shall enjoy the advancements made in the last few years to get me to where I am now.

“The Next Step…”

Early in the morning I awoke,

And snuck into the bedroom to watch him sleep.

He stirred in his sleep,

Opening his eyes,

And smiled sleepily whilst beckoning me over for a cuddle.

I snuggled up close,

As he wrapped his little arms around me,

And rested his head in the nook of my neck.

We laid there breathing in unity together,

As I stroked his head gently.

In what seemed like no time at all,

The day arrived,

And he skipped merrily on ahead,

To the next stage of his life.

The one where I would no longer be the centre of his universe.

The one where his ears and eyes would be opened wider by the world around him.

The one where I cannot protect him in an instant as I am not by his side.

This is the world where he has to stand on his own two feet.

This is the world where he grows in knowledge.

This is the world that I have been slowly preparing him for over the last few years,

And now it is time to let him take that next step in his life,

For this is what parenting is about,

Giving our children wings to fly.

“Still Breastfeeding?!”

When you first have a baby and breastfeed, most people are very encouraging, saying things like “what a lovely natural thing you are doing feeding your baby.” 

Then as they get older, people start giving their opinion on why baby should not be breastfed. Such as “He’ll never learn to sleep through if you don’t wean him off the breast at night.” or the classic “You’ll be having to feed her through the school gates if you’re not careful!” Actually this is a load of rot! No two child is alike in their nocturnal sleep habits, as all of my children have proven, regardless of whether I ceased feeding at night or allowed them to do it naturally. I’ve not yet had to feed one through the school gates, nor have I heard of anyone else doing this! 

Natural term weaning is viewed as being “a bit out there” by a number of people. Usually emitting “bitty!” jokes, or looks of horror when it becomes clear that you are still feeding past 6 months. 

It is the recommendation of health organisations such as the World Health Organisation that breastfeeding should continue up to two years of age or beyond. So it isn’t helpful when faced with a health professional who takes a dim view on feeding past what is seen as the social norm of 6 months.  In fact this can leave the breastfeeding mother feeling uncomfortable, or upset about not being supported in their choice.  

So what is the natural weaning age? From the information I have read, it appears to be around 6 to 7 years of age, when children start losing their milk teeth, as once the adult teeth comes in, children loses the natural ability to breastfeed.

So why am I still breastfeeding my youngest child, I hear you ask.  Well it’s not to provide his main source of nutrition, more a way to supplement it, and to provide him with a source of comfort. Breast milk also provide him with vitamins, and strengthens his immunity system. If he does get ill, nursing is one of the few things he takes comfort in.

When he is hurt, or upset offering him the breast instantly soothes and calms him right down. Trust me I would rather deal with a wriggly toddler twiddling my hair, poking at my moles, attempting strange nursing positions than a screaming full on melt down toddler tantrum!

Breastfeeding also has health benefits for me, it reduces the risk of various types of cancer such as breast cancer, reduces risk of rheumatoid arthritis and cardiovascular disease, protects against osteoporosis and impacts on other health factors too. Pretty impressive really when you think about it, what breastfeeding does for both baby and mother.

I’ve been told that breastfeeding will make my child clingy. Obviously they’ve not spent time with any of my children as they are all fiercely independent, and have been from a young age!

“But the teeth?! Surely that must hurt?!” is another question asked with a look of horror. Actually no it doesn’t, because the breastfed child learns how to feed without chomping down. Initially it can be uncomfortable as each new tooth comes in, but they soon learn to adjust their latch. 

My breastfeeding days will come to an end at some point, but I can’t answer when yet as I simply don’t know. All I know is that both my child and I are still benefitting from it right now, and that’s what matters.

Creative Learning

Today my children along with many others all over the country took part in the “Let Kids Be Kids” campaign. A protest against the current education system which insists on testing them until all of the creativity spark is stamped out of them.

Nicky Morgan (Education Secretary) claims that it would be damaging for children to be out of school, even for one day. Well let me tell you something, today didn’t damage my children. They didn’t miss out on learning, as they did this through creative activities and play.

My oldest child learnt about nature, as took part in a nature trail.  My middle child learnt today how to create photosensitive images using leafs he found in the park.   They did a number of other activities too.

Today when I returned from work I wasn’t met by tired pale faced tearful dejected children. I was met by happy smiling children babbling excitedly about their day, keen to share what they had learnt with me.

For the first time in weeks on a school night my eldest child has gone to bed, full of confidence in herself. She’s not cried tonight either. Tomorrow may well be another story as she’ll be back in school doing those mock SATS test papers.

So tell me again Nicky Morgan how  is spending the day doing SATS preparation less damaging for my children, than going out and learning through creative play?