Monday, 19 June 2017

Deaf Girly and classical music

I didn't know I couldn't hear until I was 10.

I have this really clear memory of seeing two girls signing to each other in a garden centre when I was about six years old and being fascinated about the idea of being deaf... little did I know, I already was.

I didn't know that birds sang or green men beeped or that song lyrics were meant to be understood. I thought dictation was a creative writing exercise and the challenge of French listening was actually hearing the words not understanding them.

So at six years old, I had only one ambition – to be a professional violinist. I was sure this was going to be my chosen career path and was determined to play with or without a violin, which is why my mum found me trying to play her guitar under my chin with a pencil on one occasion.

And after every single classical music concert my rents took me to, I fought my way to the front and wanted to say hello to the lead violinist every time, to tell them I thought they were amazing and I was going to be just like them.

For my seventh birthday, my grandparents bought me a tiny second-hand violin and lessons to go with it and I was smitten. But I did find it hard. I remember wondering why the sound ran out when I started to learn positions and why my teacher used to tell me I was out of tune, when I couldn't hear it. But I still didn't know I was deaf.

At 10, I got my second musical wish and took up the flute. With ready-made tuneful notes, I found this instantly easier and skipped the grades as I made progress. But this was also the year I was told I was deaf.

But I didn't feel deaf and there was no way I was giving up music. I was aiming for Grade 8 in both the flute and violin, but gradually it became apparent that the violin was not going to happen. I remember crying in lessons, trying to play my Grade 6 music but not hearing it, trying to feel what was going on but not having a clue.

Devastated about the violin, I tried the viola – a whole new clef to contend with. And to be honest, my resentment that it wasn't a violin meant my time with this instrument was short. And then, after discovering one in the music room at my school, I picked up the double bass. And I fell in love. It was rich and deep and wonderful. I could hear it and play amazing things again. And I did.

But then the double bass at school was stolen... a drunken man phoned the police and told them he'd seen someone running up the road with a giant cello and they hadn't believed him. And that was that really. Double basses are expensive you know. Plus I had a mini. And I was heading off to university.

In my flute lessons it was different – sure, a lot of it was out of my frequency, but I could feel it through my diaphragm and so long as I got this, the fingering and a collection of other things right, I could hit the notes. I made Grade 8, I did my Performance Recital Certificate. I felt like I'd beaten my deafness.

I should also point out I had an amazing teacher who taught me how to visualise sound. I can still do this even now, which is how I hear in my head when something is described to me or transposed into a frequency I can hear.

However, in my twenties, I went through a similar grieving process with my flute that I had done with my violin. I cried tears of frustration in my lessons as music sailed out of my frequency and became nothing. And then I stopped that, too. Playing music at that point only seemed to remind me what I had lost. I even stopped going to concerts for a while. They made me too emotional.

Anyway, for Father's Day this year, I told my Pa I would take him to a classical music concert of his choice in London and sent him lists of the various ones that were going on. He finally selected one that had a programme he would like, but also had a programme he thought I might hear OK. The Mozart by Candlelight was quickly dismissed. I can hear about 10% of Mozart I reckon.

So we headed out to see Fulham Symphony Orchestra to enjoy works my fellow deafie Beethoven and a 20th-century composer called Walton. The Beethoven – Triple Concerto for Piano, Violin and Cello – featured the Linos Piano Trio and was absolutely amazing. The cello –  the only one of the trio that I could hear had the most amazing part and sang out over everything, giving me quite a lump in my throat, and as I was sat on the side of my beloved double basses, I also had them guiding me through the musical score. And I felt happy.

The Walton – Symphony Number 1 – however I struggled with. There was no single instrument leading the melody in my frequency and so I struggled to find coherence over the noise of the timpani and the brass. It made me realise that I do best when there's a musical work written for orchestra and one other musical instrument – preferably in the bass clef. Cellos, bassoons, double basses, but also brass, which all seem to be more audible to me.

But what was lovely, was how much it reminded me of my childhood. Of going to concerts with my Pa. Of him sharing his encyclopedic musical knowledge with me and teaching me about the composers behind the score. And for a moment again, it didn't really matter that I was deaf.

Recently I have been wondering about playing my flute again. Wondering about finding a second-hand double bass to try. Wondering if I should let music back into my life a bit more. And I think I'm going to. First step, Suite Antique by John Rutter for my flute – it's not difficult, but it's beautiful and a lot of it is in my frequency. It was also the music I played at London Aunt and Uncle's wedding when I was 17.

I will never be a concert violinist though... but that's OK. I've got to do some pretty amazing things instead. And should I ever get hearing aids that give me back higher frequencies in the correct pitch? Look out world, DG the violinist will be back.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Deaf Girly: 5 things I wish I'd known about work at 23

I got my first dream job aged 23 in London. It had never occurred to me that I would struggle to find work because of my deafness, but in all honesty I think back then I added a hefty dose of denial to just how deaf I was. But if I could go back and give my 23-year-old self some advice, what would it be?

1. Be fearless
Back then, I was scared of many, many things. Living alone in London. Leaving the safe confines of my university world. Getting the tube. Meeting new people. Making phone calls. Getting things wrong at work. Mishearing people. It was exhausting. If I could have sat 23-year-old DG down, I would have told her to just say yes to things, be bold in her actions and put the energy she used for worrying into having fun.

2. Be clear
Many of the early issues I had in my career were due to my apologetic nature about my disability. I hid it. I pretended I could do things I couldn't, which resulted in hiding in cupboards crying while trying to make phone calls before my amazing line manager hid in the cupboard with me and made the calls. I wonder if I'd just been more upfront, less emotional and less defensive, if I might have had more early career success. So DG, please please be honest about your deafness. Practice telling people in the mirror until the words and phrases trip off your tongue. Smile and be positive about your deafness – don't make it a negative thing.

3. Sleep more
I swear half the reason I was so emotional in my first job was because I was so exhausted. All the time. Being deaf is tiring. It's like spending your whole time surrounded by people talking a foreign language but expecting you to understand. Concentrating and trying to follow what's going on is the most energy sapping thing. So DG – sleep after work, then go out or go to the gym. Shut-eye makes everything better.

4. Yes you can
I was given some brilliant advice at the start of my career about how to break into the very competitive world I work in. And it worked. But was it my dream path? Not really. And I think that at some point, I should have thrown myself down the path I was truly passionate about and who knows where I might have ended up. So DG – yes, take the job that's better suited to your deafness but then network like a mad person and go after your dream. DO IT!

5. Be more than deaf
I think I let my deafness consume me in my twenties. It defined my life and my decisions. It defined my work persona and my behaviour. And my deafness is not me. It's a part of me. I let the negative aspects of my disability win for so long. Until the day I created Deaf Girly actually. If I look back to that first blog, it's like a switch flicked and I started to puzzle out how to be deaf, how to live the life I wanted. So dear 23-year-old me, it's not easy but soon you will meet Deaf Girly. She'll allow you to find your feet, take a breather, educate others and make your voice heard. She's brave, fearless, stroppy and I love her. And she will love you, too.

Happy Deaf Awareness Week peeps

Love DG

Monday, 15 May 2017

Deaf Girly: 10 things I love about my deafness

Ok, so this week is Deaf Awareness Week and my Twitter is filled with fabulous infosnacks about deafness and advice and wotnot. It's brilliant.

If there's one thing being deaf and the experiences that come with that have taught me, it's that no one size fits all with deafness. It's personal. And no one can tell you how you should be feeling or hearing.

So with that in mind, here's 10 things I personally love about my own deafness, so you can see the world from my deaf perspective…

1. The quiet 
This has not always been the case for me, but these days I really do like the quiet that my deafness gives me. I used to be terrified of it and had panicky moments when taking out my hearing aids and realising everything had gone, but now I am used to it and sometimes, when I am on deadline in the busy office I work in, there's nothing better than taking out my hearing aids and relishing in the nothingness.

2. The mishearing/pronunciation comedy
This is a tricky one as there's a fine line between the hilarity of mishearing something and the crushing embarrassment. If I'm honest, more often than not it's the latter, such as the time I was at Tintagel and went somewhere I wasn't meant to as it had just been closed but didn't hear the yells of the person working there. I was quite tempted to ask the cliffs to throw me out to sea that day. 
But just sometimes, a wonderful nugget of humour is created from the uniqueness of my deafness and we fall about laughing – the other day this was when I ordered a Chicken Ceylon curry and Biryani at my local Indian restaurant and got the pronunciation so wrong that FJM snorted beer out of his nose. As punishment I made him phonetically go through the whole menu with me over our main course. I am now expert at Indian restaurant pronunciation.

3. The deliberate ignore
As a kid, this was one of my favourites. Being asked to empty the dishwasher would suddenly see me disappear, if a teacher called my name at school and I knew it wasn't going to be to give me a merit mark, I'd hot foot it in the other direction, and all with the back-up excuse that I hadn't heard. Nowadays this is particularly useful with chuggers, random nutters in the street and political canvassers.

4. The privileges
Again a bit of a tricky one but I do feel genuinely lucky about some of the things I get as a result of my deafness and I don't just mean my amazing Phonak Nathos NHS hearing aids. From travel perks to concessionary entry to lots of places, such as museums and theatres – with plays and musicals captioned by the brilliant Stagetext. However, the flip side of this is that I only get this concession because the services aren't always accessible. And while stalls tickets – at non-stalls prices – at the theatre for things with captions are amazing, you are fixed to the one date that the captions are happening. The best perk? Pre-boarding on aeroplanes... especially when there's a fight for overhead bin space.

5. The people
Without my deafness, I never would have set up my blog and become @DeafGirly. I kind of met myself through having a hearing loss and blogging about it. It's been an amazing journey. What's more, without my blog, I wouldn't have met all the wonderful people on Twitter, via Hearing Dogs and in person randomly while out and about. It's amazing to be part of this wider community of charities, Hearing Dog owners, other deaf and HOH people not just in the UK but from all over the world. And a special mention also goes to Hearing Loss Hour – a monthly Twitter event that I would highly recommend you getting involved in. My blog also inspired the book I wrote, which is currently still a work in progress as I'm quite busy at the moment, but hopefully one day might be on a bookshelf near you.

6. The technology
I am a massive tech geek and I LOVE discovering new tech that can help make life easier for me as a deaf person. From the FitBit Blaze with its vibrating alarms and notifications to just discovering which streaming services now offer live subtitles, I love trying things out, asking for more and providing feedback to companies. When I think back to the early days of iPlayer and the even earlier days of page888 and Caption Readers, it's hard to believe how much more accessible it is now. If only SkyGo could follow the BBC's lead in this…

7. The dogs
OK, so I know hearing people can get involved with the charity Hearing Dogs for Deaf People and see all the amazing work that it does, but as a deaf person, I have felt the excitement of seeing how a dog could change my life and that excitement is up there with how you used to feel the night before your birthday when you were 5 and knew that you were going to get the Lego you'd asked for. Seeing first-hand the recipients of Hearing Dogs and listening to what life is like now has been such an incredible thing for me, so incredible that I well up just thinking about it... and the dogs – the dogs are just so gorgeous. Want to meet them yourself? Head out to one of the Hearing Dogs Great British Dog Walks and you'll find many to say hello to.

8. The determination
This is a weird, very personal, one but I honestly think that I am more determined than I would have been if I wasn't deaf. When I look back at what I was like before I knew I was deaf, and further back to what I was like when my deafness wasn't as bad as it is now, I took so much more for granted than I do now. Being deaf for me is like an extra rocket booster of determination to succeed in as much as possible and do fun and brilliant things and I love that.

9. The memory
One of the things I have, which I wonder if its because of my deafness, is an excellent general memory and also a photographic memory. I commit situations, places, rooms and people to memory in the strangest way – perhaps to help me with recall of conversations as I rarely take them in and remember them... lipreading and concentrating on what's being said often stops retention of information – for me anyway. The other thing I have is an audio memory. I remember things I used to be able to hear and I can transpose music up an octave in my head so I know what it's meant to sound like even if my ears can't tell me that. It's brilliant. I like it.

10. Being Deaf Girly
I mentioned her earlier and I'm going to mention her again. Becoming Deaf Girly quite possibly saved me. She helped me find my feet in the scary world of work, she helped me find the words to explain my deafness to others, and to process the challenges and exhaustion I encounter as a deaf person. But most importantly she helped me look on the bright side about my deafness, and see the good things about it. And if, 20 years ago, you'd told my 16-year-old self that this would be the case, I would have denied it, got stroppy and put my hearing aids back in my pencil case.

Happy #DeafAwarenessWeek peeps


Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Deaf Girly and the London Underground

Yesterday evening, I got to watch the third episode of Inside the Tube: Going Underground presented by Rob Bell – and his Rab jacket – on Demand 5 after subtitles were finally added! And it did not disappoint. In fact, it's a must for anyone with a love of our amazing underground network.

I've had a fascination with the London Underground since I was a little girl when I used to come up to London from the Wild West erm... Country to watch things at the theatre or visit a wonderful Bulgarian friend of my father who lived in a quirky flat in Earls Court.

My dad, who grew up just outside of London, used to tell me all sorts of interesting facts about the trains and stations as we were travelling from A to B and to this day our fact-sharing chats haven't changed except now, he also buys me books... all of the books about the Underground and London and maps. My favourite one is the Chambers London Gazetteer, which lists all the areas of London and how they developed. 

But close second comes anything on the disused stations of the Tube, which is one of the reasons why I loved this TV series so much – Rob got to visit so many unseen places that the public can't get to.

So you'd think as a Tube fanatic that I'd spend all my time travelling by tube and marvelling at the wonder of the trains and stations and journeys you get to take.

But no!

I hardly ever get the Tube. I travel by bus. Admittedly a new Routemaster bus, which I'm more than happy to geek out over too, but crikey it's a slow way to get around London in rush hour.

But why, if the Tube could be my specialist subject on Mastermind, am I so afraid of traveling on it?

And I think I've worked it out. 

When I was 15, I got a two-week summer work experience placement at Reuters in central London. I was super excited but that summer was also the one where my hearing nose-dived and I lost so much clarity of speech I had to be statemented by the council and given a notetaker to get through my A-levels. 

Traveling on the Central Line every day to Reuters' Gray's Inn Road offices was one of my favourite things – even in rush hour. I don't ever remember feeling afraid. In fact, I used to fold myself into the shape of the curved door to squeeze into the train leaving Notting Hill Gate and often remained like that for my entire journey under Oxford Street until I arrived at Chancery Lane.

From memory, for most of that entire fortnight, I loved travelling on the Tube. I felt safe on it, getting me where I needed to go without having to brave the busy London streets, which quite frankly terrified the country mouse in me.

I'd read my book and pretend to be a proper commuter, not a teenage work experience student on her way to type up reports for the energy desk at a massive news agency.

But I can remember the first time I felt frightened and it was at the end of that fortnight. I was heading to meet London Aunt in Covent Garden and had the route mapped out in my head – I could have totally walked by the way – but as my train neared Covent Garden, it sailed on through without stopping. 

Unbeknown to me, the driver had made an announcement about Covent Garden being closed and the train headed on to Piccadilly Circus. I asked a man next to me – his armpit at my eye level – what had just happened but I couldn't hear his reply and 15-year-old me was less happy about declaring her deafness to random strangers. And so, I got off at Piccadilly Circus and my fear of being stuck on a tube train being unable to hear was cemented.

Over the years, deafness has made me frightened of lots of things, which I am gradually trying to overcome and many things that I have already overcome, such as ordering drinks in bars... I went on complete strike doing this as I really cannot hear bar staff but now I just wing it, or tell them I'm deaf. 

But flying for example, is not something I enjoy because whenever the crew make announcements I immediately fear the worst. But I am combatting that by making sure I ask the crew to tell me what's going on, and so far, most have done so.

Dark places. Yep – frightened of them, too. It's like someone's removed my last remaining useful sense... and come to think of it, the underground is essentially dark, especially if you're on a broken down train in a tunnel – my absolute worst fear.

So yes, I'm a big scaredy cat about some things. But that doesn't mean to say I haven't tried to use the Tube since I was 15... 

When I moved to London at 23 for my first job, I got the horrific Wimbledon branch of the District Line daily until being stuck outside Earls Court waiting for a platform in carriages so cramped you didn't need to hold onto anything to remain upright, reignited my phobia and I became amazingly well acquainted with the capital's bus network, which come to think of it could also be my specialist subject on Mastermind

I would still persevere occasionally with mixed success. I was once stuck in a tunnel on a Northern Line train for 20 minutes with a bunch of Greek girls who didn't speak English, but phonetically spoke all the announcements to me so that I knew what was going on and then I tried to act out what the driver was saying so they understood - all while my heart threatened to stop beating with sheer panic.

And after that occasion, I think it was several years before I stepped onto an Underground train again.

But after watching the final episode of Rob's documentary last night, I felt less afraid than I have done in a long time about travelling on the Tube. While I might not be able to hear what is going on, I now feel more reassured that there are hundreds of people monitoring, managing and maintaining the Tube to ensure that passengers get to their destinations without incident. 

Of course, there's always going to be unexpected events where the driver will make announcements I can't hear and turn me into a claustrophobic panicking person – don't we all love those people in confined spaces? – but the majority of the time, it'll be OK.

Which is why this morning, instead of turning left and walking to the bus stop, I turned right and walked to the tube. And got on one. And then got off one stop later, – hey, I didn't say it was going to be easy – before getting on the next one and staying on it all the way to my stop. 

Yes, I dashed for a seat and had to ignore the glares of the person I beat, but it was the only way I could ensure I stayed on the Tube. If I am standing, my feet would walk me straight off at the first opportunity.

Will I ever love travelling on the Tube? Probably not no. But will I always love the Tube? Absolutely.

Watch the TV series peeps. It's aces.


Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Deaf Girly and the Great British Dog Walk

Last weekend, I was invited to take part in the Hearing Dogs Great British Dog Walk at Windsor Great Park and it was brilliant fun.

This annual event helps raise money for Hearing Dogs for Deaf People and there are 20 walks around the UK – at time of writing there are still 11 walks you can get involved in too, from Exeter to Aberdeen... (although not literally of course).

I was a bit nervous about turning up without a dog, but I needn't have worried. I soon met up with Nicholas Orpin, the Community Fundraising Manager for the South East for Hearing Dogs and had a good chat with him when he wasn't busily walking around with a clipboard organising people and pooches. There were plenty of dogs to say hello too, and I was thrilled to bump into two Twitter pals of mine and their pooches – Sophie and Rusty the Hearing Dog and Anne and Tegan the Hearing Dog.

The donation for both me and FJM was just £24, which for a fun day out and walk in beautiful parkland and the chance to chat to loads of new people and Hearing Dog recipients was an absolute bargain. But what's even better is that for that small donation, you get to see first hand where your money is going. It's going on providing these amazing animals for people who need them. It's going on changing people's lives.

As you know, I am in the Hearing Dog application process at the moment and the knowledge that I will hopefully one day have a dog of my own, is completely grin inducing. But it was also a fantastic opportunity for FJM to meet his very first Hearing Dogs and chat to other recipients and their partners about what it's like to get a Hearing Dog.

Rather excitingly, Rachel Riley from Countdown was also there... spot my stealth shot of her above! I actually got to meet her briefly and chat to her a bit about how much I love the charity she also supports, which was brilliant. She was lovely.

There are two walks coming up this weekend in Suffolk and Glasgow and more the week after in Cheshire, Kent and Cambridgeshire. Check out the full list here and then grab your dog – or borrow one, or simply go without one – and head out to the countryside for a Great British Dog Walk.

It's the most fun day out. I promise.


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.