Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Why Deaf Girly doesn't carry cash

Back in February, I took part in a two-day induction at Hearing Dogs – there's a big blog coming soon about that – as part of my application process. It was amazing and I met so many wonderful people and had so many lightbulb moments about my deafness while talking to them.

One of the loveliest people I met – Tracy – took me, and an adorable Hearing Dog, to a garden centre to see what it's like to be out and about with a dog. We had a cup of tea in the coffee shop. Tracy went to pay and joked about putting everything on card before she had her hearing dog as she could never hear how much something was so didn't want to hand over the wrong cash. Now she has a hearing dog, she says that cashiers are more aware so say the price more clearly enabling her to feel more confident about paying in cash.

And it was as if everything suddenly fell in to place...

I never carry cash. I never pay by cash. If I have a £10 note in my wallet, it will languish there for days as I pay for everything on card.

FJM jokes that I am like the Queen. But jokes aside, it's frustrating when you need change for a parking meter, a corner shop or the dry cleaners.

I stopped carrying cash around the minute I got my first Switch card at 17 years old. But I never really thought about the reason the reason why.

At university, and even now, I would always pay for drinks in pub with my card as I could never hear the barman say how much the drinks were... but again, I never really thought, 'Oh that's the reason why I do this.'

Shopping is challenging enough with all the questions I already struggle to hear such as:

'Have you got a loyalty card?'
'Would you like a bag'
'Would you like one of these products here that I've been told I have to sell today'

without the added stress of struggling to hear how much something is. Sure there's often a visible till screen to have a look at but not always... and even if there is, looking at that distracts you from the barrage of questions shop assistants continue to fire at you after all the usual ones.

I spend most of my time guessing what people in shops are saying – it usually works. You say no to most questions because they're usually just marketing things. On occasions though, this plan doesn't work – like the time I said no three times to a woman in TopShop who it turned out was asking me to enter my PIN. I thought she was going to brain me with my shopping bag.

Let's take a moment to now celebrate the marvel of contactless payment, which now reduces the chance of that happening again.

When I get my hearing dog, I wonder if like Tracy, I will find paying with cash less intimidating and stressful? Or if I will continue to remain defiantly cashless even when I'm paying for a 50p chocolate bar.

I have a feeling, it'll be the latter.

Happy Tuesday peeps!


Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Deaf Girly and the Fitbit Blaze

I'm a bit of a tech geek - always have been, which was quite exciting in the 1980s and 90s when technology was moving at a fair old pace.

I remember the first time I got a caption reader to add subtitles to videos, my mind was blown. When mobile phones came out, I got a really early one – a brick-like Panasonic with a capacity for 10 text messages and a massive keypad. I loved it. All of a sudden I could text people – although I had no one to text as I was the only one with a mobile phone.

I embraced the netbook trend with gusto and got Pinktop – my dinky little laptop that came everywhere with me especially during my Superdrug beauty blogging days. When wireless dongles came out, I got one so I could work anywhere, anytime – where there was a 3G connection of course.

I impulse bought an iPad mini on the day it came out (thankfully near payday from what I can remember), which I still use all the time nearly five years' later... and when wearable tech arrived, I embraced the Jawbone Up – a steps and sleep tracker with a nifty app... and continued to do so for four years until last week the band (number 7 in four years – most of which had been replaced for free by Jawbone) completely disintegrated and so it seems, after a spot of googling, the company has disintegrated, too.

And so, I did a spot of research and bought a FitBit Blaze - with a pink strap of course - in the sale at Tesco Direct, using my ClubCard points and nervously tried it out.

Would it be as good as the Jawbone Up? Would the step counter work? Would I like the watch model rather than just a simple band? Would I miss my pink Casio watch, which I got from Argos with my Nectar points? (I'm a bit of a loyalty card geek incase you hadn't noticed)

And after three days I can confirm that I LOVE my Fitbit Blaze!

Yes it does all the usual steps and sleep tracking and yes that's great. But I'm more interested on what other things it can do for me and how it can help my deaf life.

And here's how:

The alarm clock
The first time FJM was present for my vibrating alarm clock going off under my pillow I thought he was never going to come back down off the ceiling. Sonic Boom alarm clocks, while very efficient at waking me up, are also very efficient at scaring the crap out of your boyfriend, and after two months of hoping he'd get used to it, I ditched the alarm clock.

But the Jawbone UP vibrating alarm wasn't powerful enough to wake me up. The band would sometimes fall off my wrist and there was no way I was relying on that. So I resorted to setting my iPhone alarm and hoping the noise of it rattling against the bedside table woke me. Usually it didn't. It woke FJM, who then woke me, which wasn't fun for him when I get up two hours earlier than he needs to.

Hopefully one day a hearing dog will be there to wake me up *waits excitedly* but in the meantime, I've been trying out the FitBit Blaze vibrating alarm and it is awesome! Totally awesome. Alarms are easy to set. You can set multiple alarms. Different times for different days and when it goes off, there's even a snooze option.

Job done!

The workouts
So, I'm a bit fan of the workout video. Sometimes I just don't want to exercise in public and since I discovered that you could rent them from the library in my teens, I've sweated it out with the best of them, from Cindy Crawford to Rosemary Conley. But the lack of subtitles frustrate me. It's hard to know exactly what's going on and get your technique right. iTunes does have some subtitled exercise workouts and they're good, but then I discovered Fitstar, Fitbit's exercise app.

Built into the Blaze are three workouts you can do. You hit play; the watch vibrates and the screen shows you the exercise while counting down how long you have to do it for. It's fun. But the Fitstar app goes one better. With short videos and workouts you can follow on your phone. And guess what? There's an option to switch on captions... amazing eh?

And all the workouts get logged on your Fitbit, which excitedly tells you you're fabulous and have hit targets and "Wooo, that's a lot of green!"

The notifications
There's one more thing that makes the Fitbit Blaze ace in my deaf opinion and that's the on-screen notification option. That means text messages, Whatsapp messages, and compatible apps can send buzzy notifications to your Blaze when it's within a room-sized distance of your phone.

This has been brilliant for when my phone is in my bag and I can't feel it vibrate. Or when it's under a pile of papers on my desk. Or when I'm cooking and it's by the sofa.

Basically it does the job a sound notification would do otherwise.


I can't help but feel incredibly lucky that I was born at a time when technology was developing quickly. And that I am now an deaf adult in a world where texts and emails have largely replaced phone calls and allow me to communicate incredibly efficiently where I might otherwise have felt incredibly isolated.

Things aren't completely there yet – there are still woeful gabs on the accessibility front:

    Consistent, regular, multiple options of subtitled cinema 
    My GP surgery... no phone-less emergency appointment option
    Woeful live subtitles
    Woeful subtitles on previously live programmes
    Woeful subtitles on some catch-up apps

However, modern technology has given me a sense of independence that in the early 2000s I did wonder if I would ever have. It's enabled me to sort gas bills over Twitter, book appointments with the tax man, and wake up at 6.15am without FJM having to wake up to.

This morning he got to sleep soundly until 6.30am exactly, when instead of waking him with my alarm on my phone, I woke him up by putting something on our induction hob and causing it to beep frantically... Oops!

But I'm confident that one day there'll be an app for that beep... and FJM will get his full sleep quota.

Happy Wednesday peeps



Monday, 3 April 2017

Deaf Girly and the opticians

When it comes to vision and hearing, I am unfortunately blessed with very bad levels of both. I am comedy short-sighted, to the point that, if I was ever without my glasses or contact lenses, I would have a lot of difficulty navigating my way anywhere.

I first realised just how short sighted I was while on a climbing trip at university. We were staying in a cheap campsite – cheap because it had not toilets or showers and instead had a single cold tap that daily washing activities took place around.

One evening, after most people had gone to sleep, I nipped into the woods for a trip to the ladies. In my haste, I forgot to put on my glasses and for privacy, I turned off my head torch once I'd wandered a little way into trees.

And, on turning the head torch back on again, I realised that I had no idea where the campsite was or how to get back to it, and what's more, I couldn't follow the noise to it either. I was stranded. In a wood. In a section of wood that was more of a public convenience than a wood... not the sort of place you'd want to trip and fall over in.

So instead, I stood and yelled until Tigger – who was also on the climbing trip – put down his book and came to find me, guiding me back to my tent and reminding me to put my bloody glasses on before venturing out for a pee in future.

I have always felt incredibly grateful that my trips to the optician also see me leaving with lenses or glasses that restore my vision to 20/20. That give me everything back and allow me to see all that people with perfect vision have. I am acutely aware that trips to the audiologist, while good, never result in me leaving with my hearing restored.

But today, I left my optician feeling disappointed. And a bit sad.

You see, because my vision is quite bad, my lenses are quite thick and therefore if I don't want to bankrupt myself with the cost of new lenses, then I need to have quite a chunky frame. But the problem with chunky frames? Along with my hearing aids, that's a lot of face furniture behind my ears.

And while I know it's not the end of the world, it changes how much I like the glasses, because when I tie my hair up, my ears look different and therefore my face does, too.

I've written about that before. About my sheepishness that I should be so worried about how my face looks with hearing aids and glasses with my hair up. But it's something that, how ever hard I try, still bothers me.

And that got me thinking – are there glasses that have thin legs but also chunky frames to allow for short sighted people to have affordable lenses in and wear hearing aids?

At Vision Express I found none... although the guy who served me was very sweet and helpful as I got more and more frustrated about this. But surely there have to be some out there somewhere?

Some lovely peeps on Twitter gave me tips about which frames they'd recommend so I will check all of those out, but I am also going to go on a tour of opticians to see if I can find the holy grail of glasses that don't encroach on the space needed for hearing aids, are comfortable and come in a range of frame shapes to suit the range of people who wear hearing aids.

And if I cannot find a range, an optician, a single pair of glasses that do this? Then I am going to ask them all why they don't have this... with a population that has a growing number of deaf people and hearing aid wearers.

Imagine – a hearing aid-friendly glasses range? That's nice. Fashionable. Affordable. Comfortable.

If you know of one, please shout, but in the meantime, I'm going glasses shopping.

I'll keep you posted peeps.


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.


Monday, 23 January 2017

Deaf Girly and the Gap advert

Yesterday was a beautifully sunny day and so I decided to go for a walk to get the things I needed to make curry that evening.

On my way to the supermarket I walked past Gap's window and – as I am blessed with four fabulous godchildren – I took a look in the window to see what spring offerings were on show and what winter sale bargains there might be.

And this caught my eye.

And I stopped still and stared at it for about 10 minutes, grinning like a loon.

The child is gorgeous. She has those amazing eyelashes that some kids are just born with, the sweetest expression, she also looks lovely in the clothes she has on. But that's not what caught my eye. What caught my eye was the fact that this child was wearing hearing aids. And they looked fabulous.

I wanted to grab passers-by and point this out, and then I realised that actually, all the passers-by were walking past and probably thinking, 'What a lovely child' and not even noticing the hearing aids...

Indeed, when I put my first tweet about it on Twitter and didn't point out the hardware in the the child's ears, even FJM thought that I was getting broody (*blushes).

But for me, it released a wave of emotion I wasn't expecting. It released the emotions of being 10 years old and being given hearing aids and being different. Of wondering if I would ever be as pretty as my non-hearing aid wearing friends. Of catching sight of myself with glasses and hearing aids and thinking, 'Wow, all I need now is the braces and frizzy hair' and sighing sadly at the poster of some Home & Away star on my wall. What 10 year old doesn't want to be someone else though?

Twenty-six years' later, a lot has changed. I spent the best part of 10 years choosing not to wear hearing aids. Not because I was embarrassed but because I couldn't find a pair to help me. Now, I am incredibly proud of being a hearing aid wearer and I will shout until the cows come home about how, while my hearing aids don't give me back my hearing, they add a third dimension that I didn't have before.

But sometimes I still have days where I plan my outfit, tie my hair up and as I'm adding the finishing touches such as earrings or a necklace, catch sight of my hearing aids and think, 'Wow, I wish you were a bit prettier.'

Sure, there are things I can do about this myself. I can get my tubing replaced, newer moulds to replace the discoloured ones I currently have. Or sparkly moulds like the ones in the GAP advert – does the NHS do these? There are also fabulous businesses like Tubetastic Pimps that allow you to cover your hearing aids with patterns and decorations. But for me personally, I guess I never considered that I might still be pretty with my hearing aids in. 

That is something I am a bit sheepish about admitting. But what I am even more sheepish about admitting is that fact that, yesterday when I walked past that picture,  I wasn't actually wearing my hearing aids. 

I had put them in before I was about to leave but then taken them out again. I was feeling self conscious about wearing my hair up and my black thick-rimmed glasses as there're not a lot of room for hearing aids, too and my ears sit differently and I don't like my face anymore.

I chose to go out and struggle to hear what was going on, to make a fool of myself in Waitrose when I couldn't hear the woman at the checkout because I felt self conscious about my looks and I wanted to look like the me I had in my head not the one in the mirror.

*looks at feet shamefully

But I don't even think I had really admitted any of this to myself until I was faced with a picture of someone who looked amazing and was wearing hearing aids.

Looking at that picture yesterday reminded me that hearing aids don't matter when it comes to what someone looks like and that no one else gives a damn about whether my face looks different with my hair up, glasses and hearing aids. Heck, someone might think I look lovely. 

But adding them to advertising and bringing them out into the public eye, in the same way as glasses are completely the norm, and quite often a fashion statement, might mean that a 10-year-old girl grows up feeling confident and happy with her hearing aids in. Bold and clear about who she is and what her needs are. Brave and fearless about what she can achieve and where she's going.

Heck, there's a 36-year-old sat right here feeling all of those things with renewed vigour... wishing her 10-year-old self had had that chance.

So bravo Gap. Thank you for making my day. Thank you for reminding me of a few things I'd forgotten.

I am Deaf Girly. I wear hearing aids. I am fabulous.

And so are you lot.


Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Deaf Girly and the emergency sirens

One of the things I really don't hear – not even a little bit, not even at all, not even with my fancy Phonak hearing aids in – is ambulance sirens. I just about hear police sirens, if there's not too much background noise, and I can hear the low honking noise that fire engines make in built-up areas, but ambulances, I just cannot hear.

I've had some near misses with ambulances in the past as well. The time I tried cycling in central London and was at the front of some lights and pulled away when they went green unaware that there was an ambulance right behind me and I was in its way.

Or the time I was crossing a four-lane carriage way as the green man was flashing and an ambulance flew out from behind a lorry at top speed in the far lane and was so close to me, if my feet had been half a size bigger it would have run them over.

I am – most of the time – ultra careful about trusting the flashing of a green man (that sounds weirder than it should). I will always cross when others cross and hesitate with them too, which gets me some weird looks if I refuse to cross until a particularly distracted toddler and irate mother do as well.

But the other night, I was in a rush. I had to get to a shop to pick up a parcel before it closed – it was a ski helmet but they sent me a pair of Tommy Hilfiger jeans by accident but that's a whole other story – and I was on the verge of jaywalking the crossing when the lights finally changed.

In my defence I was also distracted by a bicycle who was insistent on cycling through the red light – and in his defence, two seconds later I realised why he had done this.

I crossed the two lanes of traffic facing me and then looked left to make sure the other carriageway was clear. It was, so I stepped out and there, just metres away on my right, on the wrong side of the road, blue lights flashing, clear as day was a massive, fast-moving ambulance.

And it was one of those moments where everything goes into slow motion. It seemed to take me an age to react to the fact that I was seconds away from being mown down, it seemed to take even longer to convince my feet to actually hot foot it to the other side of the road and it seemed to take a painful amount of time for me to reach the safety of the pavement.

I did, by a whisker and the braking of the ambulance. And as I faced the shop window, aware of the entire row of drivers behind me wondering what the hell I was thinking, I felt hot tears sprout from my eyes. The same tears of humiliation I used to get when I tried to make phone calls in one of my first jobs because I was told, I just had to make more of an effort. Back then I used to go and hide in a cupboard, but this time there was nowhere to hide.

I am not the only profoundly deaf person in the world. I am not the only person who has no chance of hearing high and some middle frequencies not even with hearing aids. And yet, ambulance sirens are out of range for me and I wonder how many other people?

But what I want to know is, could anything done about it? Without it costing a fortune? Could ambulances have a siren that was more variable in its frequency like the fire engines? That honking sound they make as they go through traffic lights has helped me on more than one occasion.

I'm just off to do a bit of research and to find out whether more deaf people have been hit by emergency response vehicles – a bit of a grizzly Google. And in the meantime, please let me know via Twitter @DeafGirly or over email deafinitelygirly@gmail.com if you've had a close shave with an emergency vehicle!

Happy Wednesday peeps!