Wine tasting and fundraising: a perfect combination!

When I first found out about a wine tasting event for Action on Hearing Loss, I immediately thought this was my kind of event! I don’t claim to be any sort of wine expert, apart from enjoying drinking it, but finally here was a fundraising event that even I could manage.

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My usual experience of wine is buying whatever is on offer at my local supermarket, which is invariably hit and miss! I also liked the fact that this event wouldn’t involve me having to spend months training to run a marathon like my wife or having to climb up Mount Kilimanjaro. All I had to do was turn up, donate and enjoy a fun evening of drinking fine wine with great company. Right up my street!

So last Thursday evening I went along with my wife Joanna to the event in a wine bar in the beautiful, historic Leadenhall Market in the City. When we arrived there were quite a few people there I knew and it seemed a friendly, mixed group. There was also a BSL interpreter there to make it fully accessible for deaf people, and she was brilliant.

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After a welcoming glass of Prosecco, Neil, who was taking us through our wine tasting journey, introduced himself and started to talk to us about the first wine. Over the course of the evening, we tasted lots of white wines from different wine grape varieties, followed by lots of different red wines. He talked us through the history and descriptions of each one and its country of origin.

Thankfully, he told us we were supposed to throw out what was left of each wine in our glass before we moved onto the next one, as it was getting difficult to keep up!

Neil told me afterwards that he had worked in the wine trade for many years and had a real passion for wine, which had taken him to many interesting places around the world. He was involved in fundraising for deaf children through the NDCS but he wanted to fundraise for adults and share his passion and knowledge about wine with other people, while having a fun evening, at the same time. He approached Action on Hearing Loss about his idea of having a fundraising wine tasting event for them, and was delighted that they were really enthusiastic about it too. So that’s how the idea started.

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Neil also wanted to bring a group of people together without any barriers to enjoyment. He wanted it to be a fun, fully inclusive event. Anyone can enjoy wine tasting regardless as you don’t need to have your hearing to appreciate the tastes, smells and textures of the different wine varieties. The most important senses you need for it are those of taste and smell.

Many of us were also surprised at how much we enjoyed wines that we had dismissed before, perhaps due to our own prejudices about them or previous bad experiences of them. Neil had chosen the wine selection very well, I thought, and I was amazed to find that I enjoyed tasting most of them.

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I was particularly surprised how much I enjoyed the taste of the German Riesling. I had images of my parents drinking cheap Riesling wine in the 1970s, accompanied by an Abba soundtrack and flared trousers. Very retro! I remember the taste being particularly sweet and cloying, but the Riesling we tasted last week was crisp, dry and very drinkable.

I thought that Neil’s descriptions of the different tastes of the wine were really good too and they showed the complexity and depth of the flavours and colours of the different wines. I have never really got it when a wine expert talks about a wine tasting of damsons, plums or blackberries before but when he described it, I felt I really could start to appreciate the flavours.

I was also surprised to find out that I had enjoyed the Romanian wine, which I thought I would not like at all. Neil said that Romania was one of the biggest wine producing countries in Europe, which I had no idea about, and the wine we tasted was really subtle and pleasant.

It was great to chat to some really nice people in a friendly, relaxed atmosphere that night. Well done to Neil and Maddy from Action on Hearing Loss for putting in the hard work to organise such a great, fun event while raising money for the charity too. I hope there will be more events like this in the future!

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Time to act now on hearing loss

I felt honoured to be invited to the launch of Action on Hearing Loss’s ‘Hearing Matters’ report recently at the House of Commons. It was launched at a cross-party reception for MPs hosted by the MP Lillian Greenwood, a strong supporter of Action on Hearing Loss and advocate of their ‘SubtitleIt!’ campaign.

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It was great to meet other deaf and hard of hearing people there who I have connected with on social media and who share a passion for campaigning on important issues affecting our lives such as improving the provision and access of subtitled video-on demand and catch-up TV services and trying to reverse NHS hearing aid cuts. It was also great to meet Lilian Greenwood and have a really good chat to the Labour MP Steve McCabe.

There are still so many barriers to access for deaf and hard of hearing people to lots of different areas in society, as well as employment and education and continued discrimination. We need to keep raising awareness of these issues among the wider public and campaign to improve them if we are to make a difference and strive for equality and inclusion in society.

The ‘Hearing Matters’ report is an important report, which covers lots of different areas related to hearing loss. It highlights the fact that by 2035 there will be one in five of us living with some form of hearing loss compared to one in six now.

Steve McCabe

They highlight how important it is, therefore, for our national government to work together with local authorities to implement local, community-based action plans to support people living with hearing loss.

I think it is wonderful that deaf and hard of hearing people from around the country have come together and got involved in Action on Hearing Loss’s recent campaigns, such as the ‘SubtitleIt!’ campaign and the campaign against NHS hearing aid cuts in North Staffordshire. It is amazing what we can all achieve together when we feel passionate about a common cause and empowered to do something about it.

Action on Hearing Loss is also involved in carrying out lots of medical research on hearing loss and tinnitus. I am particularly interested in what they are doing with the cochlear implant manufacturer AB to improve cochlear implant technology. From my personal perspective as a deafened adult, I feel incredibly lucky to have received a cochlear implant last year. It has been truly life-changing for me!

Without it, I would not be able to communicate with my family and friends like I can now. It has also given me the confidence to find work and do the job I’m doing now, which I feel really passionate about.

As our society ages, the problem of age-related hearing loss among the over 65s will only get worse and we need to take action and address it now before it is too late. We need to have more health screening programmes for the over 65s. We also need to think in a holistic way about how we can provide more community-based projects to support people living with hearing loss.

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For instance, I work on the ‘Hear to Help’ service in my local Borough of Redbridge, run by Action on Hearing Loss. We support people living with hearing loss in my local community by showing them, their carers and family members how to maintain and care for their NHS hearing aids and how to communicate effectively with someone with a hearing loss.

I used to be a volunteer on this service for over four years before I was employed by them and I have seen the numbers of people we see grow over those years. It is still mainly run by trained volunteers, many of whom are hearing aid users themselves. As well as running regular drop-in hearing aid clinics, we also visit people in their homes, care homes and hospitals in the community.

Many older people suffering from hearing loss feel vulnerable and socially isolated. They find the support we give them invaluable. We help them get better use out of their hearing aids when they may be reluctant to wear them because they are not used to them or they don’t know how to maintain them.

We often see the same clients coming back to us regularly and telling us how much better they feel since we have helped them with their hearing aid problems.

Most of the clients we see have moderate hearing loss and before they had their hearing aids, they were struggling to communicate with their family and friends and felt reluctant to leave the house and socialise with other people as they felt isolated and vulnerable, missing out on everyday conversations. I can see how much they have improved and gained in confidence after accessing our ‘Hear to Help’ clinics.

This is why it is so important that older people living with hearing loss feel supported in their local community and are not denied the basic hearing aids they need on the NHS. North Staffordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) has become the first CCG in the country to stop providing hearing aids to most people. Under the CCG’s new policy, people with mild hearing loss will no longer receive hearing aids and people with moderate hearing loss will have to pass an eligibility test to get them. Four other CCGs are proposing to follow in the steps of North Staffordshire, meaning the cuts could affect over 145,000 people.

Kate Green

These people have paid their national insurance all their lives and it is cruel that they are denied access to hearing aids when they really need them, which results in them being cut-off from their friends and family and excluded from society.

It is a very short-sighted approach, aimed at saving paltry amounts of money, but over the long-term it will end up costing our already overstretched NHS much more as a result of increased mental and physical health problems brought on by their untreated hearing loss, resulting in reduced wellbeing and a lower quality of life.

I really hope that more people read this important report and share it widely. We all need to take more action to improve equality and inclusion for deaf and hard of hearing people in our society.

Instead of cuts to funding and NHS hearing aid provision, we need more community-based support services and holistic approaches to stop more problems building up in the future as a result of not planning properly for our rapidly ageing population and adopting short-term thinking.

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Link to Action on Hearing Loss ‘Hearing Matters’ report:

http://www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk/supporting-you/policy-research-and-influencing/research/hearing-matters.aspx

 

Rediscovering sound – like meeting up with an old friend

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After six weeks of anxiously waiting after my cochlear implant operation and hoping so much that it was going to work, I finally had my switch-on last week.

So much has happened in those last six weeks that I don’t really know where to begin to tell you. I thought it would be very difficult and very isolating trying to adjust to living in a world of total silence and tinnitus again. I’m not going to lie to you. It has not been easy and I have got through watching the first three subtitled series of ‘Game of Thrones’ on DVD followed by the complete series of ‘House of Cards’ while recovering at home. I can highly recommend both of them, by the way. But it wasn’t half as scary or as isolating as when I first lost my hearing four years ago.

The difference this time is that I have learned to live with it and adapt to my deafness. In fact, it has changed me a lot as a person and how I see the world. But even more importantly, in the last few years, I have gained a whole new network of friends, who have provided me with the emotional support, help and guidance I have needed to keep me going in some pretty tough times.

I am especially grateful for all also the support and kindness shown by my fellow volunteers and friends from Action on Hearing Loss and other deaf charities I’m involved in.

It is wonderful that even when I have not been able to hear anything and have struggled to communicate with my wife and other people on a daily basis I have been able to meet up with my fantastic friends and have been to some amazing events recently. I have not had to struggle to communicate with them and they have been very kind and patient with me. We all have shared experiences of living with hearing loss and they know how to adapt their communication tactics with me.

So how was the switch-on and how has it been over the last few days since then? Well the only word I can use to describe it is “Amazing!” When the audiology technician first switched my cochlear implant on and I could hear the beeps as she was testing what I could hear, I couldn’t believe it. I just thought “Wow!” Immediately I could hear the sounds around me really clearly.

At first the technician asked me if I could hear her voice and I replied that I could. It was very clear. Then I heard water running from the tap in her office and even the ticking of the clock on the wall. These were sounds that I hadn’t heard in years as I couldn’t hear that well even when I wore my hearing aid until fairly recently. It was crystal clear. The difference in the quality of the sound I can hear now and the sound I heard from my hearing aid is huge. I hadn’t expected it to sound this amazing. It is truly life-changing!

Over the last few days it has been wonderful just to have a normal conversation with my wife without struggling to lipread her and follow what she’s saying. On that first evening after my switch-on I sat in the garden with my wife and my dad chatting about what an amazing day it had been. The next day I rang my mother and had a chat with her on the phone. Even though I still struggled to hear her as I think it will take time to learn to re-adjust to it, she was over the moon just to hear my voice! It was the first time I’d been able to speak to her on the phone in over three years.

Every day since then I have just been enjoying being able to hear again and rediscovering sound I thought I’d lost a long time ago. It’s like meeting up with an old friend you haven’t seen in a long time and rediscovering the things you have in common and what you can remember about them. I am constantly surprised and amazed at the sounds I remember from before and can suddenly hear so clearly again.

Yesterday, for instance, I heard a sound I didn’t recognise. It was the sound of my dog Jake’s paws as he walked across the laminate floor in the lounge. I hadn’t heard that sound for a long time and I was surprised by it. Later I sat outside in the sunshine and for the first time I could hear the sound of my cat’s bell on his collar as he ran down the garden to chase the birds away.

It’s everyday sounds that I now find truly amazing. Words cannot describe how happy I feel just to be able to hear them again after such a long time. I put on a CD in my car this morning to find out what it would sound like. I have always loved music but I haven’t been able to listen to it for several years now. I listened to an Oasis song which I’ve always loved called ‘Live Forever’. It didn’t sound the same as I remembered it but because I knew the words of the song so well from memory, I could listen to it and appreciate it. I never thought I would ever be able to hear music again.

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I feel like I have come a long way since I first started to lose my hearing. I have met some incredibly inspirational people on my journey and I am now starting to learn to adapt to being able to hear sounds again with my new cochlear implant. It will take a lot more time to get used to it and to rediscover sounds I thought I had lost a long time ago.

I have also had a few teething problems with it since yesterday, which has been frustrating, but I think like since it is completely new to me, it will take time for me to get used to using this technology. I posted a question today about why my new cochlear implant suddenly didn’t seem to be working on the AB Users Forum on Facebook and I got lots of helpful advice from fellow users, which reassured me a lot that the problem could be fixed. Thanks very much to those people on the forum. It helped me a lot.

At the end of the day, though, I am still a deaf person, caught between the hearing and the deaf worlds, being both amazed and frustrated at both worlds with equal measure. I think underneath it all we are all human beings with similar hopes, dreams, problems and anxieties. We are not all that different at the end of the day. All I know is that right now I am just enjoying rediscovering being able to hear again.

Disability Awareness Week at Holy Trinity Primary School: enthusiasm for deaf awareness

Last Wednesday morning I gave a talk at Holy Trinity CE Primary School in Dartford, Kent on behalf of Action on Hearing Loss. This was part of a series of talks and events that the children had been having that week as part of the school’s Disability Awareness Week for all its pupils and staff. The purpose was to make pupils aware of the daily obstacles that disabled people face and how they overcome them, and to help pupils think about other peoples’ feelings and needs.

Throughout the week, there were visits from representatives of lots of different disabled charities such as Kent Deaf Children’s Society, Diabetes UK, Sightsavers and the Stroke Association. Pupils were shown an adapted car for disabled drivers and they tried out wheelchairs hired from the British Red Cross to see how accessible the school was for wheelchair users. They also had a lot of fun during their Disabled Teddy Bears Picnic, were taught wheelchair dancing lessons and wheelchair fencing lessons, as well as seeing a magic show given by a children’s entertainer in BSL. They also had inspirational talks from 15 year-old Paralympian wheelchair fencer Gabi Down and Steve Brown, captain of Team GB’s Paralympian wheelchair rugby team.

First I spoke in the school assembly to an audience of around three hundred pupils. I talked to the children about how I lost my hearing and about the things I miss most since losing my hearing such as listening to music and not being able to go to the cinema when I want and watch the films I want to see as I am restricted to the few subtitled films that are shown at my local multiplex. I explained about how I have to lip-read people to understand them and how difficult it is to follow people’s conversations, particularly in a noisy environment.

I also told them about some of the other barriers I face such as trying to get around on public transport and ask for directions, and how I rely on my smartphone and emails for directions instead of asking people. I also explained that how well I communicated with other people depended on how patient and deaf-aware other people were with me too. I explained that hearing loss was becoming much more common as the population is getting older, so it is really important to know how to communicate with deaf and hard of hearing people. I think it is really important to teach schoolchildren good deaf awareness from an early age so that they can communicate well with older people who may have a hearing loss.

I finished my talk in the assembly by teaching the pupils some basic BSL fingerspelling. I really enjoyed this as they were really receptive and engaged by it. They seemed to learn from me really quickly and easily. Also, when I showed them the photo of my dog Jake and the one of me watching my favourite football team, Manchester City, I could tell they were really engaged. I could see from their reactions that they responded well to visual images and their enthusiasm was infectious.

I then gave talks to smaller classes of pupils. The children were also really engaged and keen to learn fingerspelling. They asked me to teach them some animal signs in BSL. Since my first language is English and my knowledge of BSL is still pretty basic, I found it easy to sign simple animals’ names such as ‘dog’ and ‘cat’ etc. but then I was really put to the test when they asked me more complex animal signs such as ‘koala bear’ and ‘kingfisher’. I think they were testing me on purpose, and when I tried to sign ‘kingfisher’, for instance, I made the sign for ‘king’, then ‘fisherman’, followed by the sign for ‘bird’. I hope that is right, but I’m still not sure. If anyone else could help me out with this, please let me know!

I really enjoyed myself that day at Holy Trinity Primary School. The whole day had been really rewarding, although I felt tired by the end of it. I came away with a real buzz, so pleased that I had been a part of the school’s Disability Awareness Week and that I had been able to teach the pupils something new about deaf awareness. I also felt I had learned from them about their enthusiasm and responsiveness to learn new things. I found this totally refreshing and it gave me a sense of joy and purpose.

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The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Voluntary Award reception: a royal celebration of voluntary work

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A while ago, I received an email asking me if I would like to meet the Queen as a volunteer representative from Action on Hearing Loss at a reception to be held at St James’s Palace. This was to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Voluntary Awards, with sixty voluntary organisations across the UK, including Action on Hearing Loss, being recognised for their voluntary service during the Queen’s sixty-year reign. When I read the email, I immediately thought that it couldn’t be true. It must have been sent to the wrong person by mistake. Why would they want a hard of hearing person from Essex, who does voluntary work in his community, to represent them at such an auspicious event, even if I do feel passionate about it?

A couple of weeks later, I received a beautiful formal invitation sent from the Queen’s Master of the Household inviting me to the Reception to be held on the 29th May. I couldn’t believe it! When I had got over the initial shock, I started to feel really excited, but also incredibly nervous. I started to worry. What would I wear? What was the etiquette on an occasion like this? How do I bow to the Queen? Do I address her as ‘Ma’am’ or ‘Your Majesty?’ I wasn’t exactly used to meeting the Queen, so I really didn’t know how to act.

I was also really worried about my hearing loss and communication problems at such a big occasion. I was concerned that I might not be able to hear people and that I might not be able to hear what the Queen said to me. How would I be able to respond to her if I hadn’t heard her? I really didn’t want to embarrass myself, so I started to become more nervous at the thought of this as the day approached. I also thought that I would become really tired after struggling to lip-read people for a couple of hours.

When the big day arrived, I put on my wedding suit, my newly polished shoes and my brand new shirt and tie, which I’d bought especially for the occasion. I felt really excited, but nervous. As I sat on the tube into Central London, I felt around for my hearing aid batteries and I realised I couldn’t find the spare ones. Oh no. What would happen if my hearing aid battery went flat and then I wouldn’t be able to hear the Queen at all? I started to panic at the thought of that. Thankfully, I rummaged around and found them to my great relief.

When I arrived, I met Peter from Action on Hearing Loss beforehand, and he completely put me at my ease. As we strolled up the Mall, I saw some crowds of tourists watching the Changing of the Guards, and I thought to myself ‘Oh my goodness, I will actually be meeting the Queen in person in about five minutes time at St James’s Palace’. I had to pinch myself to remind me that it was really happening.

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When we arrived at St James’s Palace, we were ushered into the reception room, where we were handed a glass of champagne. The reception itself was to be held in the Throne Room. There was a long queue of people waiting to go into the Throne Room to shake hands with the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, who was also present. I glanced around at my surroundings in awe. The reception room was absolutely beautiful and incredibly opulent. The carpet and walls were covered in red and gold and on the walls hung portraits of the Queen’s royal ancestors, including Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. I felt completely overwhelmed by the grandness and beauty of it. I had never been anywhere like this in my life! St James’s Palace was built by Henry VIII and it is the senior palace of the British monarchy. The Throne Room is still used today for official Royal occasions and it is where the Queen receives visiting Heads of States on State visits. I couldn’t believe I was actually in such an important, historic place.

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In the Throne Room, I stood in line and waited for my name to be called out as I was introduced to the Queen. She smiled at me, reached out her hand and greeted me warmly. I shook her hand and bowed to her, relieved that I hadn’t fainted at that moment or had not been able to hear her. I smiled back and acknowledged her kind greeting. Then I met the Duke of Edinburgh and I shook his hand too. I was so incredibly happy and proud to represent the volunteers of Action on Hearing Loss at that moment.

After this, I chatted over a glass of champagne and canapés to some of the other volunteers from across the UK who were also there to celebrate receiving their Awards. I was amazed that there were so many volunteers present, representing a wide diversity of voluntary organisations, from the large national charities and the Olympics-related groups to much smaller voluntary organisations. I spoke to some volunteers from Guide Dogs for the Blind and the Sea Cadets. I also spoke to a man who told me he had volunteered for forty years for the British Red Cross, which I found really inspiring. He told me that they do a lot of voluntary work in the UK helping vulnerable, elderly people, which I had no idea about before.

I thought it was incredible that so many thousands of people around the UK give up so much of their time and are so passionately committed to helping others in their local communities. I felt immensely proud to be part of that. It was tiring trying to lip-read people and communicate in a noisy environment, but it felt very rewarding to be there amongst these dedicated and compassionate people that day.

On a personal level, I feel that the voluntary work that I have been doing over the last few years on the ‘Hear to Help’ programme run by Action on Hearing Loss has given me back my self-confidence and a great sense of purpose and desire to help other people in my local community with hearing loss, who may be experiencing similar hearing and communication problems as myself. I also really enjoy the social aspect of being with my fellow volunteers. To me, this is worth far more than money. It has helped me rebuild my life after being deeply affected by my hearing loss.

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I was so proud and humbled to meet the Queen and the other volunteers at St James’s Palace that day. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me – one that I will never forget!

A Deaf Day to remember

Last Saturday I represented Action on Hearing Loss at City Lit’s Deaf Day, the biggest deaf-related event in the UK. This is an annual event, attended by almost 2,000 members of the public and this year, there were 60 exhibitors there, including Action on Hearing Loss. There were also various workshops and entertainment events happening throughout the day too.

This was the first time that I had worked at this annual event. It was incredibly busy and very popular. I was struck by how many different types of exhibitors there were, represented by people from all ages and backgrounds. They were all there, from Hearing Dogs to charities, travel companies for deaf people, speech to text and media captioning companies. There was even a BSL martial arts comic there, with young people dressed in martial arts costumes going around demonstrating various combat-like poses for the camera.

I really enjoyed working on the Action on Hearing Loss stand. I was kept really busy all day dealing with lots of enquiries. Most of the people who came up to the stand to talk to us were Deaf people who used BSL as their main form of communication, so I was really glad that we had two BSL interpreters to help, although I really tried to communicate in BSL myself. I found that at the beginning of the day, I felt rather unconfident about my BSL skills and how I would be able to cope communicating in BSL. However, over the course of the day, I found that my receptive skills improved. Also, I thought that people would dismiss me as soon as they found out that I couldn’t communicate fluently in BSL, but I found that although there were a few who lost patience with me, the majority of people were just pleased that I had made the effort to try to communicate with them in BSL.

I also enjoyed meeting new people during the day, getting to know them a bit, sharing our experiences of living with hearing loss and trying to help people in some way. We showed the people who came to our stand a range of products that Action on Hearing Loss provides to help people living with acquired hearing loss, such as specially amplified phones, vibrating doorbells, alarms and smoke alarms. One lady told me that she worked for a charity, which helped elderly people who were losing their hearing and often their sight too. They often have difficulty seeing the numbers on the phones, have arthritis in their fingers and are also often not very technically aware, so the products need to be as simple as possible to use and not too technical. I agreed with her because I know from my own experience in my voluntary work how important these phones are to elderly people. They can act as a lifeline to people who are losing their hearing and find it difficult to talk on the phone to their families and friends.

After the event, I felt really tired after a long but very interesting and productive day. I went to a local café nearby with Joanna and my friend Andrew for a drink and early dinner to discuss the day. The place was really lively. I was amazed that about half the people there looked like they had just come from Deaf Day too. They were signing and socialising with their friends, which was an amazing sight to see. They were also queuing outside the local pubs, with the area buzzing with people signing away to each other. I was happy that it had been such a positive, inspirational and social day for lots of people.

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My talk

I began writing about my experience of hearing loss with my wife last year. It took us about three months to write it down as I had never written anything so personal before. The experience of writing it brought back difficult memories for both of us, but it was also therapeutic, so that I could finally move on.

When it was finished, my step-brother Ian asked me if he could read my story. Ian works as an ENT doctor at St Thomas’s hospital in London. I was very reluctant at first but finally I agreed to send him a copy. Ian told me that he had really enjoyed reading it, as it was incredibly honest and an insight into what it really feels like to lose your hearing. He asked me if I would be prepared to give it as a talk to some audiologists at Guy’s & St Thomas’s Hospital. I wasn’t sure as I had never done any public speaking before, but after much persuasion, I finally agreed and I went with my wife Joanna to St Thomas’s in December last year.

I gave my talk to a group of fifteen audiologists and audiology students. I was incredibly nervous but after I had finished speaking, I got a really good response and the audiologists asked me lots of questions. I was really happy that the talk had been so well received and I thought that would be the end of it. However, a few days later, an audiology student who had been present there, Rebecca, emailed me, telling me that it had opened her eyes to the deeply emotional impact, not only on people who lose their hearing, but also on the people around them. She went on to tell me that afterwards, she felt inspired to do the best job she could for all her patients. Rebecca’s words made me realise that through my talks, I might be able to highlight the emotional impact of hearing loss and hopefully raise deaf awareness among the general public.

I decided to send my talk to Steve, my Volunteer Manager at Action on Hearing Loss. Steve and the rest of the staff there told me how much they had enjoyed reading it as they had seen a big change in me since I first went to see them for help three years ago when I lost my hearing and felt scared and isolated. After a lot of help from Steve and Christy, who has supported me and helped me deliver my talk, I have now given it to a wide range of groups, from Rotary Clubs to health professionals and schoolchildren. I can see that people are really engaged by it and inspired, which I never believed would happen, and I always get lots of questions about it afterwards.

The biggest talk I gave recently was to five hundred schoolchildren at their Disability Awareness Day. Christy didn’t tell me how many children would be there and when I found out, I was petrified! I could feel my heart pounding and I was extremely nervous and shaking. When I had finished it though, I had a real buzz as I could see that the children had enjoyed listening to it and they asked me lots of questions afterwards.

Sometimes I have dark days, but then I’ll read my script back and realise how far I’ve come. I’ll take my dog Jake for a walk in Epping Forest and the dark clouds will suddenly disappear. It has made me appreciate how lucky I am and how important it is to live in the present moment. I’m still hard of hearing, but I feel much more like my old self again.

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