Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Deaf Girly's world of employment

This morning, I read the latest report from the brilliant charity Scope about 'Why we need to see changes in support for disabled people in work' and it really struck a chord for me.

I am disabled. I lie awake at night worrying about my job prospects and where my career is going. About my earning potential and the restrictions my disability places on my ability to do jobs.

I know – I was told in an email – that my deafness has cost me an interview for some work. You can read about that here. And I know that this damaged my confidence in a way that it had never been damaged before.

The Scope report states that 58% of disabled people have felt at risk of losing their job because of their impairment. While I have never felt this, I have felt the sick fear of how I will get another job if I lose the one I am in – and as my industry is precarious at the best of times, this feeling never really goes away. It's a 24-hour, 7-day, 52-week low-level nausea. It's a bit exhausting.

I am lucky too in that I am not one of the 18% who was refused support by their employer. All my employees have striven to meet my needs. Things like amplified phones – which it turned out didn't help – and vibrating pagers for the fire alarm.

But still I get that low level nausea about work and my disability.

The 53% who experienced bullying? Sadly yes, I fall into this category. Although not in the last eight years... but just remembering it? Yep, that nausea is back.

And what about the 13% who don't disclose their disability to their employer? Yep, I've been there too. I don't just apply for jobs on a whim. I research the companies, I look at the role, I do all the thinking about whether my deafness would prevent me from doing the job. And then I apply.

I don't ever apply for jobs via agencies because they always call you, and then I would have to disclose my deafness at the very start, which means I don't stand a chance of making it into the potential employer's office to make a different impression.

And that's the exact reason I don't disclose my deafness. I have hope that if they meet me beforehand, the idea of my disability will be easier to understand. Easier to see around. And whether you can do the job will become the important thing, not whether your disability prevents you from doing so. Seeing as I will have already taken all that into account beforehand.

But that sick feeling? It's there, from the very start of the application process right through to the rejection letter or even the acceptance letter. Either way, it's hard not to feel anxious that at some point that disability is going to put up a barrier that wouldn't otherwise be there.

And the most shocking thing about this? To me, I feel like my disability is simply a part of who I am. Heck, it's given me this blog. It's made me Deafinitely Girly. And it inspired my first novel. And that if I lost out on a job, it would be the same as someone losing out on a job because they had brown hair, or were too tall, or had a lisp.

I have had 27 years to come to terms with my deafness, slowing working out how to live my life in a way I want to live it. Yes, I am profoundly deaf, but I have thirteen years' of experience in my chosen field under my belt. To a senior level. And sometimes I feel like that counts for nothing.

I look at the findings of Scope's survey and wonder how horrific the day-to-day lives of some of the respondents are. How tough they've had it. Whether they too have the same low-level nausea or something much worse.

Right now, I have a job. It's not full time, or permanent, but it's with a company I know and trust. A company that has been supportive of my disability. With people who know my ability. Who don't see me first as a deaf person, but instead as a colleague with 13 years' experience in her field.

But I am aware I have many years left to work. And truth be told I am slightly terrified. Terrified of the fact the job market is getting smaller and the fact that people who aren't deaf on the surface are more employable than me.

I hope that Scope's findings reach the souls of the people who have turned me and others down for work. I hope that they open the eyes of employers who 'choose the easy path' and employ the ones with the straightforward CVs. And I hope that things change. Because I don't want to live with 30 more years of employment nausea. I don't ever want to receive another email telling me that my deafness means I am unsuitable for a job. And I don't want to live a life half lived.

Happy Valentine's Day peeps!


Friday, 27 January 2017

Deaf Girly and Jose Gonzalez

One of the highlights of this week – apart from a very lovely dinner with Fab Friend last night – was seeing José Gonzalez play live at the Royal Festival Hall with The Goteborg String Theory.

I've loved José Gonzalez since I first saw him perform live in the mid 2000s – there's something about the richness of his voice, the lightness of his touch on the guitar. In the years since, I've seen him perform twice more. It's spellbinding. And this concert was just that, once again.

One of the things I feel incredibly lucky about regarding my deafness, is that, while I've lost most clarity of speech and indeed, all of my higher frequencies, I seem to be able to really enjoy and hear music. Yes, I only have hearing to an octave and half above middle C, but that still gives me an amazingly rich experience. And what's more, I also seem to have some sort of musical memory – just like when I am lipreading and my brain fills in the word gaps, when I listen to music, my brain fills in the music gaps.

I first noticed this when I was practising for my Grade 8 flute – the two years before had seen my hearing spectacularly nosedive and I was struggling with the pace and emotion in my exam pieces. So I learnt them on the piano – two octaves lower, imprinting the tune and the story behind the music on my mind. This meant that when I played them on my flute and the music missed my ears, I still had it in my head.

Rather helpfully, this concert was brilliantly visual. It started with carrier bags being scrunched and crinkled. I couldn't hear this but I could see it, and my brain filled in the sound effects. The large group of musicians were all clearly visible to me, and I sought each one of them out and worked out what I could and couldn't make out in the amazing music. 

The brass and bass guitar rang clear, the cellos too. And then there was José's guitar playing. When he plays it's like there are multiple people producing the amazing music that my ears can make out. I watched his fingers and while the overriding 'melody' I had was the bass line, I was also able to imagine what was going on out of my frequency. And it was awesome.

Music more than anything else, is incredibly evocative for me. I think it's because whenever I hear something amazing, I am reminded that I must never take that sound for granted. Never take what I am hearing for granted or the fact that, even though I am deaf, it still sounds amazing. I am lucky.

There were moments during this concert where I felt myself welling up. When José played some of his older stuff – it took me right back to the first time I heard it. 

I feel so lucky to have my audio memory – it's like my ears grab on to what they can and my brain stores it away just in case I never get to hear that sound again.

It's so much more than just music for me. José Gonzalez is proof to me that my hearing, while not perfect, is still bloody brilliant. And while I can't hear the radio, or conversations in the office, or the TV without subtitles, or what people are saying in the car or in the dark, I can hear music. Or at least my version of it. And because I don't know what I am missing sound wise, to me it sounds perfect. Or in the case of Mozart chamber music or handbell ringing... completely and utterly silent.

Happy Friday peeps.