Running for Sound Seekers

My wife Joanna will be running in the Vitality British London 10K run through Central London next Sunday, 12th July. She’s really looking forward to it and has been training hard, not only because she will be running with thousands of people past iconic London landmarks such as Big Ben, The Houses of Parliament, St Paul’s Cathedral and Buckingham Palace, but also because she hopes to raise money for a really fantastic charity, which we both love to support.

Sound Seekers blog_London 10K

It’s a small UK-based charity called Sound Seekers, but the work they do makes a huge difference to people’s lives. They help deaf people, particularly children, in the poorest communities of the developing world, particularly Africa.

Deaf children in Africa haven’t got access to the services that we take for granted in the UK such as a good education, the provision of hearing aids and cochlear implants on the NHS and access to audiology and free basic healthcare. For instance, in Zambia, one of the countries where Sound Seekers have been working, there is only one trained audiologist in the entire country, which has a population of 16 million people.

Sound Seekers_Alfred-Mwamba

With over 50% of the population living in poverty there, there is no money and little incentive to provide deaf children with the help that they need to get an education, stop them feeling socially isolated and unable to communicate with others, improve their life chances and employment prospects. Most of them end up being the poorest and most disadvantaged in their society.

But also, people living in Africa are much more likely to be deaf or have a hearing loss than in developed countries like ours because they are much more likely to have ear infections and health conditions, which go untreated. This often leads to significant hearing loss and deafness. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) up to 50% of hearing loss cases could be prevented, and many very early on, through early hearing screening and basic ear and healthcare.

Sound Seekers works in many areas to tackle these issues. They partner with hospitals, usually government hospitals, to develop audiology services in many African countries. They also partner with schools for the deaf to provide specialist teacher training and sign language training, as well as upgrading their teaching facilities and the infrastructure.

Sound Seekers blog_school group

They also work with mainstream schools to train teachers on deaf awareness and what they should do if they suspect a child in their class has hearing loss, to avoid them dropping out of school altogether.

They have introduced targeted paediatric hearing screening services in Sierra Leone and Zambia, and they have a new project in Zambia on primary ear and healthcare, aimed at trying to prevent ear infections and conditions leading to permanent hearing loss.

Sound Seekers blog_hearing screening

One country where they have done a lot of work is Malawi. They launched their ‘Hear in Malawi’ fundraising appeal and project last year with the help of Sam Evans, a former ‘Big Brother’ contestant, who has been involved in filming their project. Through their fundraising, they are currently building a comprehensive audiology unit in Blantire, Malawi, with the building of the clinic already underway.

Sound Seekers_Malawi clinic

Dr Courtney Caron, a qualified audiologist from America, is volunteering in Blantire for four years and is apparently brilliant. She and her team have already helped many deaf children there such as Happy, who you can see in the photo below. Happy is a ten-year old boy, who lost his hearing three years ago. He was bullied at school and felt completely isolated as a result of his hearing loss. He remained in the same class at school for three years.

Dr Caron recently fitted him with two donated hearing aids. From being really withdrawn, Happy now feels much happier and more confident in himself. He has even moved up a year in school. They hope to help thousands more Happys in the work that they’re doing out there.

Sound Seekers blog_Caron + Happy

Dr Caron and her team have also managed to bring about the first two successful cochear implant operations in Malawi carried out by the British cochlear implant surgeon Dr David Strachan last year. Joyce, a nine-year old girl, and fifteen-year old Richard, both became profoundly deaf a few years ago as a result of illness. In Malawi no surgeon is trained to carry out a cochlear implant operation and the children’s parents couldn’t possibly have afforded it anyway, so it was really great that MED-EL (the company which makes the cochlear implant devices) donated the cochlear implants and Dr Strachan agreed to carry out the operations.

Sound Seekers blog_Joyce

They wouldn’t have agreed to it if they hadn’t been convinced that Dr Caron and her team would give Richard and Joyce all the rehabilitative support they needed both before and after the operation and switch-on.

I was pleased to hear that Joyce and Richard’s cochlear implant surgeries went really well and that they are both now hearing much better and getting used to their new hearing environment. I am really pleased for them both and wish them both well. It’s wonderful for them to have been the first people in their country to have this life-changing surgery.

Sound Seekers_Richard

It’s really important that the projects Sound Seekers are involved in are sustainable and support the local communities there. That’s why capacity building of African people is at the charity’s core. Wherever possible, they delegate project administration to local people, providing employment opportunities. Examples are training existing nurses in Cameroon, The Gambia and Zambia to provide audiology services, providing them with equipment and using volunteer audiologists from the UK and abroad to help train them. They are also supporting Dr Alfred Mwamba (the only audiologist in Zambia) to set up a diploma training course for local people in audiology in Lusaka, Zambia.

Sound Seekers blog_nurses

It is really important that everyone living with hearing loss throughout the world has equal access to the same basic standards of education, healthcare and audiology that we take for granted here. That reality may seem a long way off but I think that the work that Sound Seekers is doing in Africa is helping enormously. As a small charity, though, they rely on our support and donations to keep it going and develop it further, helping to lift people out of poverty and isolation, as well as providing local training and employment opportunities.

It would be really wonderful if you could help support their work by donating whatever you can via my wife’s online fundraising page (link below). We would really appreciate it a lot. As for me, I’ll be there cheering her over the finish line!

Joanna’s fundraising page: http://bit.ly/1RmhoqA

Sound Seekers website: http://bit.ly/1LPqnST

Sound Seekers Twitter handle: @SoundSeekers

Thanks very much to Sound Seekers for permission for me to use their photos!

Advertisements

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

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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!

Hadrian’s Wall Marathon Walk: veni, vidi, vici

Last weekend my wife Joanna and I did a 26-mile trek over two days along the only remaining sections of Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland, from Lanercost Priory to Brocolitia. We had planned to do this trek for several months before this. Joanna had done various sponsored runs before, but we wanted to find a challenge that we could do together, and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to run. Also, we wanted to raise money for the charity Hearing Link, which has really supported me and other people living with acquired hearing loss and their families. Joanna comes from the North East originally and knows the area quite well, so it seemed an obvious choice for us to trek along Hadrian’s Wall.

ImageAs the weekend drew closer, I began to feel increasingly worried about it. I had done some training with Joanna and my dog in Epping Forest, but it is very flat there compared to the steep hills of Northumberland. I was also worried about camping in wet weather and if I would be able to hear what people were saying to me on the walk. I was also concerned about my poor balance, particularly on uneven ground and steep hills. To be honest, I was also worried about my level of fitness, being a bit overweight and whether I would actually be able to make it or not.

When we arrived at the campsite in Haltwhistle, the weather was surprisingly sunny and warm. I kept thinking that I just hoped it would last and not rain, particularly when I saw the size of our small tent. Before dinner, our guides for the weekend explained what the trek would involve and what to expect. I was really worried then as it suddenly dawned on me just how strenuous and tough the next day’s walk was going to be. I started to doubt my ability to do it again.

That first night, I didn’t sleep well at all in the tent. I kept tossing and turning and I just couldn’t make myself comfortable. When I woke up the next morning at 6.30 am, I felt pretty rough, but I was keen to get going. There were about fifteen of us in the group and we all set off together. However, we started off on a really steep hill, and halfway up, as I was completely out of breath, I thought that if it was going to be this hard, I doubted whether I’d be able to finish it.

As the day went on, I started to relax and enjoy it more. There was a real sense of camaraderie and human spirit in the group as people were helping and encouraging each other along. I was struggling to keep my balance on the hills and so a kind fellow walker lent me his walking pole to help steady me. This made a big difference to me and helped me to keep my balance. I also found it difficult to hear what people were saying when we were walking along, as it was very windy, but it was great that people wanted to talk to me. They helped me along with their words of encouragement and patience, although I couldn’t really hear what they were saying.

Image

At the end of the first day’s trekking, I felt really tired with sore feet and aching limbs, but I was really pleased that I had made it. After dinner at the campsite, a rather charismatic and eccentric local man dressed in a Roman tunic gave us a highly entertaining talk about life as a Roman legionary in the Emperor Hadrian’s time and the various weapons that they used and armour that they wore to go into battle with their enemies such as the Ancient Britons. He asked for three volunteers from the group to wear some of the Roman legionary costumes and helmets that he’d brought along with him and re-enact battle scenes with various swords, shields and arrows while he explained how they marched against and killed each other in battle in rather graphic and gory detail. 

Image

That night, I had no trouble sleeping after walking all day. Out of sheer exhaustion, I slept like a log. In fact, I snored so loudly I was told that I had kept most of the group awake. The next morning, I woke up feeling refreshed and raring to go, despite my aching limbs and sore feet. The second day was really strenuous but well worth it. It was tough climbing up those hills but when we reached the top and took a breather, the views were breathtaking. The sun was shining brightly and I could see far down the valley and across the fields filled with sheep and newborn lambs.

I could see Hadrian’s Wall stretching for miles ahead of us along the tops of the lush green and purple hills like a giant curvy and sinuous backbone. I thought about what an amazing feat of engineering the Romans had achieved two thousand years ago. They spent a decade and involved thousands of men building the northernmost frontier of their empire and then defended it for nearly 300 years.  It was a truly vast and spectacular sight.

Image

The people Joanna chatted to along the way talked about why they were doing this challenge and how much it meant to them. They had all been personally affected by cancer or other serious medical conditions and disabilities among their families, their friends or themselves. They were all a truly inspiring and wonderful bunch of people. There were also some real characters in the group, who entertained us all along the way singing songs and telling funny stories.

Towards the end of the trek, I was really struggling to keep going but Marco, one of our guides, was very patient with me and encouraged me to keep going at my own pace. I was lagging at the back by this stage, but I knew that I was so close now to the finish I was determined to conquer it.

Image

At the finish, we all felt an amazing sense of personal achievement as a group and we all congratulated and hugged each other. From my own personal perspective as a hard of hearing person, I felt that even though I had doubted my own ability to do this, I had pleasantly surprised myself that I could do it, through sheer determination and by believing in myself. For my next challenge, watch this space!

http://www.justgiving.com/RichardJoTurner

Image

 

Sound Advice at the Ear Foundation: going back to the start

Last Saturday was an incredibly special day for me. I woke up very early, and I was really excited to be going back to the Ear Foundation in Nottingham. This was the same place where I went for the intensive rehabilitation programme run by Hearing Link a year ago for people with a severe to profound hearing loss, and I had returned home feeling like a different person with renewed optimism and confidence.

Susan Hamrouge (the lady in the red dress in the photo) had invited me. She had been the facilitator on the Hearing Link course a year ago. She had asked me to talk about my own experience at a ‘Sound Advice Adult Day’, which was about peoples’ personal experiences of deafness. Susan works as a speech and language therapist and is a Director of the company ‘Sound Practice’ in Stoke-on-Trent. She has been a great support and friend to me over the last year, helping me with my talk and building up my confidence to deliver it in public.

The Ear Foundation is a charity which was founded in 1989 by Gerry O’Donoghue, a surgeon and Barry McCormick, an audiological scientist, to fund and provide children with cochlear implants, which were not available to children in this country until then. The first child, Michael Batt, was implanted the same year in an operation funded by Mrs Marjorie Sherman, who the main Ear Foundation building is named after. Since then the work of the Ear Foundation has expanded to what it is today, providing a bridge between cochlear implant centres in hospitals where the operations are carried out, and homes, schools and work where they are used. They now provide support, education, advocacy and lobbying to mainly children but increasingly also adult cochlear implant users.

There were about thirty-five people there, some with hearing aids, others with cochlear implants and also BSL users. I was asked to talk after the first speaker, Jan Sanderson (the other lady in the photo). Jan is a Programme Support Volunteer for Hearing Link, who I had also met on the programme a year earlier. When I listened to her talk then I had felt really moved and inspired by her story. She described how she had hit rock bottom when she had lost her hearing twelve years ago shortly before her daughter’s wedding. It had turned her life upside down and that of her husband and family too. She had spent eight years living in a world of total silence. Eventually, she had decided to turn her life around and she had a cochlear implant. She has devoted her life to helping other people affected by the deeply emotional impact of hearing loss and helping to raise deaf awareness.

Jan has worked on over fifty intensive rehabilitation programmes with Hearing Link, working closely with people with severe to profound acquired hearing loss. She described the joy she feels when she sees people gradually change over the course of the week from feeling depressed and isolated when they arrive to being much more positive and confident when they leave.

When I listened to Jan, I felt that I was no longer isolated and I felt a lot more inspired and empowered to go out and transform a very negative experience into something positive. Jan is a very warm, empathetic and down-to-earth person, who has had a big positive impact on my life since I met her and she is a true friend to me.

After my talk, there was a really interesting talk by a Deaf BSL user called Gloria. She signed so fluently and quickly that the BSL interpreter couldn’t keep up with her! She described how her Deaf parents brought her up and she went to a deaf school, but that her husband is hearing and while some of her children are deaf, others are hearing. She has led a very interesting life and has worked in Uganda for two years, helping to set up a deaf school there. She described how poor and difficult life is there, particularly for deaf children, who are often shunned and ignored by society.

Since returning to the UK, Gloria has been very actively campaigning for greater accessibility for Deaf BSL users in public buildings such as hospitals and within the NHS. Her current campaign is to help BSL users report crimes to the police when they often cannot communicate with them and explain what has happened. She has helped produce a brochure with some basic BSL signs to help the Nottingham police force understand and communicate with Deaf victims of crime, and she campaigns for BSL interpreters in public places.

Gloria’s talk led to a big debate among the group about accessibility to NHS services and the police among D/deaf and hard of hearing people. Everyone in the group agreed that many people working in the NHS and public services were  not very deaf-aware, and this made accessibility very difficult. They shared their personal stories of how difficult it was to attend GP and hospital appointments on their own because of problems understanding the doctors and communicating with them. Jan added that it had been her mission to improve communication and accessibility in public places for people with hearing loss by campaigning for change.

I personally feel really passionate about raising deaf awareness in hospitals and public services too as they are frequently inaccessible. For example, last week I had to go for a scan in a major London hospital and I was faced with a two-way intercom system to gain access to the building, which I couldn’t hear. This means that in future, I need to take someone else with me to help me gain access. I have recently given talks to audiologists in London about understanding the communication needs of deaf and hard of hearing patients, and hopefully after hearing my talk, they will try to become more deaf-aware.

I was keen to leave shortly after lunch as it was Cup Final Day and I wanted to get back home to see my team, the mighty Manchester City, wipe the floor with the lowly Wigan. I was sad to leave as I had met some amazing people who I had learned a lot from, but I was looking forward to seeing City lift the Cup. However, after seeing the shocking result of Man City 0, Wigan 1, I wished I had stayed in Nottingham where there was a lot more passion on display than among the Manchester Blues!

Image

 Image

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Winslow Boy at the Old Vic: accessibility on the big stage

I hadn’t seen a play in a big theatre in years, and I’d never been to the Old Vic either, so when my wife Joanna told me she had booked tickets for us to see ‘The Winslow Boy’ there last Thursday evening, I was really looking forward to it. There was to be live captioning by STAGETEXT and a good hearing loop too, so they were also big reasons why I wanted to see it. I had been to see ‘Macbeth’ at the smaller Trafalgar Studios a few weeks before, so I wanted to see how live captioning would work on a big stage.

When I arrived with Joanna in the Old Vic foyer, I was very impressed by the beautiful, classic elegance of the theatre, which was originally built in 1818. Huge chandeliers were dangling from the ceiling and as we walked up the grand staircase towards the stalls, there were photos on the walls of very famous actors who had appeared there over the decades, such as Sir Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton, Sir John Gielgud and Peter O’Toole. It was like the wall of fame. American actor Kevin Spacey has been the artistic director there since 2003.

Our tickets were booked in the Lilian Baylis circle, which, we were told, was closed, when we arrived. This would have been right at the top and quite a distance from the stage, so luckily, we were upgraded to better seats further down in the dress circle with a much better view of the stage and the captioning, which was positioned at both sides of the stage. This turned out to be a real stroke of luck because I think I would have had difficulty seeing the captioning from higher up.

The play is set just before the First World War in 1913-14, with all the action taking place in the elegant drawing room of the posh Winslow family home. It is based on a true story of a father’s fight to clear his son’s name when he is expelled from Naval College after being wrongly convicted of theft. Driven by a passionate belief in fighting for justice whatever it takes, the father hires the best lawyer in the country to fight the case and they take on the establishment together. Despite immense personal cost to his own health and family sacrifices, the father refuses to be beaten. Amidst a media frenzy, the case is even debated in the House of Commons and the boy’s name is eventually cleared.

At first I was slightly distracted by the stiff formality of the setting and the upper middle-class dialogue of the period. As the plot unfolded though, I found it increasingly gripping and engaging. I realised that the story has as much relevance today as it did then. It is simply about a father desperately fighting for justice against an impenetrable establishment, which we can definitely still relate to today. I thought that Henry Goodman acted the part of the father, Arthur Winslow, brilliantly, as did Peter Sullivan as the aloof cold-fish lawyer Sir Peter Morton and Naomi Frederick as the suffragette daughter Catherine Winslow.

As the actors moved across the stage during the performance, I thought that it was a really good idea to have the STAGETEXT captioning on both sides of the stage, as my eyes moved from one side to the other to follow the actors. I also noticed that there were quite a few elderly people in the audience and I thought about how having live captioning at theatre performances is a great idea for elderly people with hearing loss, although it makes the theatre more accessible for people of all ages, regardless of whether you have a hearing loss or not.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching this play at the Old Vic and I’m really looking forward to seeing my next theatre performance with live captioning. After not going to the theatre at all after losing most of my hearing about three years ago, I can’t believe that I’ve actually seen more plays this year than I have been to football matches! I never saw myself as a culture vulture.

Image

Image

 Image

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Image

Image

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.

Image