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 if you've had a close shave with an emergency vehicle!

Happy Wednesday peeps!


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