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.


DeafGirly: How I feel about being deaf at work

It's been a whole year since I posted a blog on here. Life's been happening. And I guess I am no longer 'deaf in the city and ha...