Friday, 29 January 2016

Deafinitely Girly 'hears' a fire alarm

It's Friday. I'm thankful. Mainly because it's Friday. But also because I've discovered something rather marvellous about the place I'm working at the moment....

Earlier in the week, the fire alarm went off. It was a planned test. I knew about it in advance. But the strangest thing happened.

You see, I can't hear things like fire alarms. Not even with my posh Phonak Nathos hearing aids in. Not even, if I stand right under the alarm. I hear nothing. But today, in the small office where I am working, where there's a radio playing that's loud enough for me to hear, I did notice that the fire alarm was going off.

How? Everything else got quieter. Namely the radio. While the alarm rang for 30 seconds (I'd been warned this was how long it would ring for) everything else sounded like it had been put on mute. Muffled. Like I'd turned off my hearing aids but left them in my ears.

OK, I reasoned, so things like the general hum of conversation would die down during the alarm as people struggled to hear over it, but the radio? The voice of the person sat right by me? That was more unexpected.

And I think it's great. You see, what I've started realising over the last few years of wearing hearing aids is that it's not about getting 'conventional' hearing back. It's about getting anything back.

It's so different to my ultra short-sightedness. I mean, if I left the optician with mediocre vision that sometimes meant I could see things I had never seen before, I'd march straight back in and demand they did something about it. But it's different with my ears.

I know that I will never have perfect hearing. That no matter what I do, I will never be able to make out conversation without lipreading, listen to the radio and catch more than the odd word and hear things like babies crying at a distance, phones ringing and indeed, fire alarms ringing.

But if my ears can give me a clue that this is happening. If I know that when the office sounds muted, then the fire alarm is going off, then that is most definitely better than nothing.

And that makes today a very thankful Friday.

Have a good one peeps.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Deaf Girly's working it out

I've been thinking about a lot about what happened last week with the whole 'your deafness means you can't do this job' rejection email.

I've been thinking about it in a way that took me back to when I first moved to London and was struggling to work out how to explain my deafness to new employers. Back then, I made it seem like it was nothing. I tried my hardest to use the phone. I was terrified that if I didn't, I wouldn't do well. I wonder now if I was basically right.

Back then, I never relaxed. I was always on edge about being deaf. Ready to spring into action to hide any evidence that I was struggling. This meant most nights I went home exhausted and miserable from pretending to be someone I could never be.

Maturity and a need to be less exhausted, meant that I grew out of that habit and relaxed more about my deafness at work. I tried to hide it less. I asked for more help. I acknowledged my limits but offered my employers my ways of working around them to get the same results as hearing people. I dropped my guard.

Until last week. Until dropping my guard meant getting overlooked for some work I should have been given a fair shot at.

The thing is though, deep down, I know that someone with hearing who can pick up the phone and communicate effortlessly and instantly with people at the other end, is technically a more attractive candidate that me. OK, so I can offer alternatives, but as someone once said to me, as she picked up the phone and dialled the number of the person I was waiting for an email from, 'Things are so much quicker by phone' as she smugly trumped me to get the much-needed information, leaving me red-faced and humiliated.

Since last week, my head has been full of questions. Things like: What makes me better than the person with the perfect hearing? How can I demonstrate that on my CV and in person? Is this going to happen again? How can I stop it happening again?

I've began wondering whether I should be 'trying harder' with the phone. But I'm not sure how to.  I've tried amplifiers in the past and the t-loop hooks for my hearing aids, but they don't really help. I still don't get that clarity of speech. Without lipreading, I get nothing but noise. Without lipreading, I feel like I am the least attractive person in the CV line-up for work.

'So what are you going to do about it?' a nagging voice has been saying in my head all week.

And honestly, right now, I don't know. But I'm on the case. Whether it's finding a new bit of technology that magically makes using the phone easier (all suggestions welcome) or working out a new way of explaining that I don't use the phone without it sounding like a massive negative, I will work it out.

Because I am determined not to let this happen again. I am determined to show that I am as good as that person with the identical CV who can use the phone. That I am worthy of the jobs I am more than qualified to do.

Happy Monday peeps.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Deaf Girly's employment issue

This year, it will be thirteen years since I stepped out of my post graduate course and into the big bad world of work. Thirteen years of working my up, in and around a career I had dreamt of doing since I could talk.

Recently, I decided to go self employed to enable me to pursue my own stuff – writing mainly. I've written a book you know, it's not perfect yet, but it's coming and maybe one day, someone will publish it and yay, that'll be great.

In my thirteen years of work, I've been pretty lucky. I can count on one hand the number of times I've felt that I probably missed out on a job because of my deafness. And until today, I could count on one finger the times I definitely knew.

But today, the second time occurred and I was totally unprepared for it.

You see, I'm lucky enough to get most of my work from one amazing company. A company that has always supported me and my deafness. Who makes no issue of it. Who knows that I can do my job with or without ears. But I thought I should probably put myself out there a bit more to ensure all the days of the month were filled with paid work. Or as many as possible.

So today, in response to me sending in my CV for work, a company contacted me and requested a short phone call pre-interview stage after noting I had all the skills they were looking for. I had scrutinised the job advert for any mention of needing to use the phone and there were none. So I wrote a quick, polite reply explaining that I was 'hard of hearing' – I felt less likely to scare them than 'deaf' – and could we do it over email.

'It'll be fine,' I thought confidently. 'This is 2016. People don't discriminate against hearing loss when the job description makes no mention of phone use.'

'It'll be fine,' I thought less confidently some time later, when I'd had no reply.

'Maybe it won't be fine,' I thought sadly, as I realised that someone somewhere was working out how to get out of telling me I fitted the requirements of the role.

And then a few moments later I was put out of in to my misery.

It wasn't fine. I wasn't suitable for the role.

But the thing is, how – from the description of 'Hard of Hearing' I gave can that person who has never met me know that I am not suitable for the role? How, without asking how I've very successfully made a career over the last thirteen years – all visible on my CV – can that person possibly judge my efficiency of communicating without the conventional telephone call?

I would understand it if I'd applied for something massively outside of my 'hearing' limits. If I'd applied to work as a receptionist, PA, call centre person, or any of the other roles where hearing is kind of essential.

I mean, I would secretly love to be a personal assistant. If I had hearing, it'd be the job I'd do for fun. Organising, sorting, making things happen. But I would NEVER apply to be one as a deaf person because I just don't think without hearing I'd make a very good one.

That is however irrelevant because I chose a career where hearing shouldn't be an issue. With careful guidance from an amazing person early on, I chose a section of my industry where I would face the least discrimination. And until today it's worked marvellously.

Earlier, as I was having a cry in the toilets, I realised how lucky I am to have got this far and faced so little discrimination. How lucky I am to have had amazing support from amazing employers. And how lucky I am that I won't have to work for the people who today deemed me not acceptable for a role I could have definitely made work. If they'd just given me a chance.

Sometimes that things that aren't meant to be are definitely for the best because they leave us free to pursue our proper dreams and the things that are true to who we actually are, rather than just earn us money.

Happy hump-day peeps


Monday, 18 January 2016

Deaf Girly and the noisy car

Well, I had a marvellous weekend visiting Penfold by the seaside – missing out on the snow but definitely not missing out on an excellent selection of gin, conversation, food and shopping.

However, on setting out for London last night, I realised that one of my headlights wasn't working. It was not yet dark. I had one hour of daylight left. The journey was more than one hour.

This put me on edge. Not least because driving with one headlight in the rain and twilight is less than fun, but also because it brought one of my biggest 'Things I can't hear' worries to the forefront of my mind.

My car.

Yep, my car has always been something that I can't hear. Sure I can hear the engine, but I can't hear the revs that well, which has resulted in me driving on the motorway for considerable distances in fourth gear, before my rapidly decreasing petrol gauge alerts me to this.

And I can't hear beeps or any of the strange noises that people say they hear their cars making shortly before they break down. I have never been privy to the sound that a tyre makes when it's going down or flat and the only thing I did hear in my old car was when the exhaust fell off, in the middle and started grinding along the road until I could pull over.

So last night, I was on edge. And, I decided that rather than just driving straight into London on the road I was coming up from the seaside on, I took the M25 to drive around to the road I wanted. I don't often do this. In fact, I don't think I have ever driven on this stretch of M25 in my car.

It's that weird orange/brown colour instead of black tarmac, which I know can be noisier than traditional road surfaces but as I pulled on and accelerated, my ears almost had a heart attack.

'Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang,' came the noise from my tyres.

'What the heck is that?' I panicked, slowing and pulling over in to the slow lane. The banging continued. It echoed through my little car. I opened the window, it didn't get worse. I checked the balance of my steering (as much as you can on a largely straight section of road with cars whizzing past in all directions) and whether the breaks worked evenly – hoping that all this would indicate whether I had a flat tyre.

But nothing except the banging seemed to indicate anything was wrong.

For the next 8 miles I barely breathed. I gripped the steering wheel. I considered pulling over to check everything – but I didn't want to die and the hard shoulder on the M25 is not exactly a safe haven. So instead, I muted my 'volume 58 on the car stereo' music and I strained my ears to try and decipher this sound I had never heard before.

And then the road went back to black. And the noise vanished. And as my ears searched in vain to hear any clue of something being wrong with car, there was nothing.

It was simply the road surface. A road surface that made my car so unbelievably noisy that I thought it was broken.

In complete disbelief I checked my car on arriving home and found all four tyres alive and well.

Still, at least now I know what this road surface sounds like in my little car. At least next time I find myself on an orange road, I won't panic and wonder if my car is about to fall apart like the ones in the cartoons.

Happy Monday peeps


Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Things Deaf Girly can't hear

So, last week I wrote a blog post about things I can't hear, which the launched a discussion on Twitter about all the things that made a noise that I couldn't hear and that others couldn't hear.

It was a revelation! So many things beep, whistle and chime that I never knew about before. Things like contactless payments in shops and Oyster barriers. The latter was my absolute favourite discovery. The fact that if there's no money on your Oyster, the barrier beeps more angrily rather than just beeping you through.

Since I went a lot deafer in my teens, I've retained a kind of audio memory bank, so that when I know a noise is happening, I can imagine it. I use this a lot when listening to familiar classical music that I once heard more of. I simply imagine the violins, flutes, oboes and other such high-frequency instruments and add them along to the bass that I can hear.

This is not always successful with music I don't know though. FJM remarked the other day that I will often sing a completely different tune to what is playing on the TV, but that works perfectly with the bass – I kind of do an accidental vocal mash up on TV theme tunes.

This also translates weirdly across lots of music. I will often think that two completely different songs sound alike because of their similar bass or beat. It's like my head is a DJ mixing desk – a deaf one, that can't sing in tune and that isn't privy to about two thirds of useful sound.

So anyway, like I was saying, I've got quite good at imagining sound – so now that I know that Oyster card barriers beep when you pass through them, I've started imagining it in my head. And when my card didn't work and I barged through the barrier without realising the other day, much to the embarrassment of FJM, I imagined an indignant beep.

This morning however, I was reminded that there is just some things that you cannot imagine. Such as an announcement on my bus that I couldn't hear. I tried to work out if the bus driver was telling people to move down inside the bus, or not stand on the top deck, but none of the sounds sounded familiar.

'Oh well,' I thought, 'No one is running from the bus screaming so it can't be that urgent. What's the worst that can happen?' and settled back into reading FJM's Economist that I nicked for my journey this morning – it's very interesting and nice change from my terrible guilty pleasure that is The Daily Mail. Ten minutes later I looked up from an article about North Korea and realised that the worst that could happen was that the bus driver was announcing a diversion and driving in completely the wrong direction to the one that I needed.

But what I don't understand is why the driver didn't press the computerised announcement for this that sets of the scrolling subtitles. I know there's one that goes 'This bus is on diversion, please listen for further announcements' because I've read it hundreds of times. If he'd just put it on this morning, I wouldn't have been the crazy woman running in heels, bobble hat bobbing to get to her desk on time.

I did however cheer myself up on arrival to work by imagining the lift pinging as it arrived on the ground floor and pinging again as it deposited me on the right floor.

So thank you for getting involved and letting me know all about the things that make a sound.

It's made my week.


Friday, 8 January 2016

Deaf Girly and the train doors

I have gone through a large part of my life not realising that certain things make a noise.

When I was first told about my deafness, I discovered that green men beeped when you crossed the road at crossings and that birds – other than pigeons – sang. I found out that people could actually hear whispers and it wasn't about guessing what was being said.

But even after 25 years, there's still things I am finding out make a noise. For example,  the LED lamp that I use for my gel nail manicures apparently beeps when the light goes on and off. There was I thinking I'd chosen something quiet to do while FJM snoozed on the sofa.

Then at last year, NellyMac told me that supermarkets played music. Actual music. Who knew?! I certainly didn't.

Another of the things I really didn't realise when I first moved to London almost thirteen years ago was that most public transport has noises that are out of my frequency. When you press the stop request on a bus, that makes a sound. The tube doors make a sound just before they close. And apparently bus doors do this, too.

I first discovered the tube doors one after jumping on a tube and watching as the doors closed on my friend who was half a step behind me. When we met up at the next station, she asked why I'd got on when the door closing signal was sounding.

'There's a door closing signal?' I marvelled, and suddenly the time when a tube door closed on my head as I looked out to check the destination of the train finally made sense.

Since then, I approach tube doors with caution. I rarely dash for a train that's already on the platform in case the doors are beeping inaudibly and I get taken out by them as they close.

But then the other day, while sat on a snazzy new Circle Line train, I noticed that just before the doors closed, an orange light, about eye level by the door flashed. Unsure if it was just coincidence, I watched it for the next few stations and sure enough, just before the doors closed, this light flashed.

'Amazing,' I thought. 'That is truly amazing.' And the very next day I got to test it out with my Ma – who also can't hear the door closing signal. There was a train on the platform, a new snazzy one so we made a dash for it. But just as we got close, the orange light flashed and the doors closed inches from my nose. Without that light, they would have closed on me. It was brilliant.

Now though, I need to go on the older trains and see if it's just something – in my tube-avoiding world – I've never noticed before.

It's fabulous how much TFL have done to make things easier for deaf people on tubes – the captioned announcements were the first thing that I loved. No more sitting listening to unintelligible chat from the driver. Just a clear scrolling text about red signals or waiting for platforms. Obviously that system doesn't cover people on the track and other emergencies but usually in those situations someone is more than happy to enlighten you.

So now I'm on a quest to find new things that make a noise that I didn't know about. Do lifts make a noise when they arrive on your floor? Do the doors ping when they open and close?

All enlightenments welcome.

Happy Friday peeps


Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Deaf Girly and pronunciation

Ok so you'd think by the grand old age of 35 my pronunciation mishaps would be getting less frequent.

You'd also think I'd be able to tell the difference between clear and black mascara before applying the latter to my eyebrows but that's a whole other story...

Anyway, yesterday while looking at the different countries that visitors to my blog come from, I remarked that I'd even had a hit from South Korea – from Seoul (that's See-owl when it leaves my lips by the way).

'The what now?' FJM enquired.

'See-oll?' I tried again, more nervous this time and having flashbacks to the whole Versailles and Marseille fiasco which you can read about here.

'Soul,' FJM replied. 'Like the bottom of your foot.'

'Soul?' I checked, amazed that no one had ever pointed this out before but also wondering whether I'd ever said it out loud before... But whether or not I'd said it, I'd definitely heard it.

But not correctly, it appeared.

And then I twigged. It began with an S – my lipreading and sound nemesis. Impossible to lipread in normal speech and also usually higher pitched so out of my frequency.

I kind of have to imagine s's when I hear a word with them in. And it appears that I imagined an audible 'e' too.

So there you go. That's my new word for the week. Seoul like soul. And if you're my single reader from Seoul, 
'Hello, and thank you!'

Happy Wednesday peeps.


Tuesday, 5 January 2016

What if I had never met Deaf Girly…?

Recently I've been thinking about this a lot. You see, when the clock struck midnight on New Year's Eve and hailed the arrival of 2016, over the next few days, it wasn't just the messages from friends and family over text I received, it was messages from my Twitter peeps, too. People who without Deaf Girly, I would never have the wonderful pleasure of knowing, meeting and calling my friends.

After all, what if I had never met Deaf Girly... or to be more accurately, what if I had never created Deaf Girly? Yes, my phone would have chimed with texts from family and friends, but my Twitter feed would have been silent... or non existent... all those marvellous Twitter peeps would have been wishing other people Happy New Year, not me.

It's such a horrible thought, I don't often dwell on it. But what if, after that job interview where I was asked to write my ideal column, had I taken a different turn. What if I had chosen not to write about my deafness for the 2nd around of interviews? What if I had written about whatever was playing on my mind the most in April 2008, eight years ago, and a whole lifetime away now?

In all honestly, back in 2008, it was mostly my deafness that was playing on my mind. The world was a lot less deaf aware then after all. Smartphones were finding their feet, social media was for the savvy and companies were only just coming around to the idea of communicating with customers in ways other than the telephone. I had quite a lot to rant about, write about, cry about, get angry about and most of it was deaf related.

As Deaf Girly approaches her 8th birthday, I can't imagine life without this slightly mad alter ego, who I can blame all my quirks and weirdness on, when in reality I know she is me and I am her. She's given me so much more than a coping mechanism for my deafness. She's given me so much more than a platform to ask for equality in NHS Walk-in Centres (DONE), captioning on iPlayer (DONE) and find out why the company who released Dr Quinn Medicine Woman – I never said I had intellectual taste in TV – on DVD didn't subtitle any of it... not one jot (THEY COULDN'T JUSTIFY THE COST). Deaf Girly has given me friends. Amazing, wonderful friends who get a part of me that even I don't sometimes. From interpreters and audiologists to writers and people who I just somehow ended up chatting to in 140 characters – some who are deaf, some who are not.

I've met some of them in real life too – after discovering shared enthusiasm for writing, museum exhibitions or afternoon tea and it was great. There was always a nervousness that the real me might be somewhat disappointing. That DG might be better online, blogging or ranting on Twitter. But so far everyone's been far too polite to let me know.

And let's not forget Country Writer, who took me under her wing and introduced me to a whole world of people who might be able to help then next stage of DG's journey get off the ground.

So what are my resolutions for 2016...

Well, I am going to try and blog more. I'm going to start going after the things I am passionate about again. Subtitles on Catch Up TV and at the cinema for example – asking for answers all the time, because while I know that someone has asked these questions before, the more people who ask, the more the people who can make things better, will wonder if they should.

And I'm going to get Deaf Girly on a bookshelf... where she'd quite like to hang out, tell her story on paper for a change rather than on screen.

Yep that's the plan. Wish me luck folks.


Monday, 4 January 2016

Deaf Girly and subtitled Star Wars


Feels like ages ago that I was getting ready for Christmas and now it's all over... *sniff

One of the best pre-Christmas things I did was go and see the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens movie with subtitles.

However, before I was allowed to go and watch it, FJM insisted that I watch the first three Star Wars movies – he's banned me from watching the Prequels – so that I would understand who everyone was and note all the references.

And so we devoted a rainy December day to ploughing through them one by one. I have to admit, I was a bit worried I'd hate them... but actually I loved them. It was great seeing a young Harrison Ford and mercifully, most of Luke Skywalker's moaning was out of my frequency (God, he's annoying in the first movie isn't he?). Sadly one other character who was out of my frequency was R2-D2 – the cute droid. I couldn't hear any of his bleeps and whistles and, although the captions showed when he was making a noise, it obviously couldn't convey the frequency or rhythm of them. And FJM felt that this was important.

So he did something amazing. He interpreted R2-D2 for me, in all the movies. He transposed the bleeps and whistles to a frequency I could hear and let me know when he was sad, nervous, happy or angry. And it was brilliant. It brought what would have otherwise been to me a silent character and really made the movie. It was also highly entertaining watching FJM do this *beams.

In the new movie, there's BB8 and FJM had promised to do the same, but amazingly BB8 had a much lower 'voice' so I could hear him alright – but hearing him nervously go somewhere, or bleat angrily made me realise how much FJM had helped me in the first movies by giving R2-D2 a voice.

There's more – according to FJM, the subtitles in the new Star Wars were also very informative. They told you who was speaking. Helped you identify characters easily and even made one section of it – giving nothing away – much clearer than it would have been without them.

I enjoyed it so much, that I am going to see it again at a showing this month. And this time around, now I know the storyline, I will be able to relax a bit more and enjoy the general feel of the film rather than staring transfixed at the subtitles. I'm intrigued to find out if I will notice anything I missed last time.

There's just one thing more worth noting about the new Star Wars movie and that's how many cinemas showed it with subtitles and how many showings there were... LOADS!!

I honestly had my pick of local cinemas – and it doesn't seem to be too difficult to go and seeing it again.

If only cinemas would do this with more movies. OK, so the demand was obviously much higher for Star Wars as seemingly the whole country went to see it, but if they can do it with Star Wars, then they should do it with other films.

Here's to 2016 and hoping they do...