Monday, 19 March 2012

Equality, 2012 style!

I wanted to type something happy and cheerful with my new blog update as lots of things are happening at the moment that is putting a smile on the old face. That all crashed and burned today though, I’m sorry.

Being deaf in a hearing world is difficult, having any disability in an able-whatever world is difficult but you learn to take most of it on the chin, you know, the famous ‘British Stiff Upper Lip’ and all that. Just because I use an artificial cochlear implant does not mean I have 100% percent hearing as detailed elsewhere on my blog. I will never attain that (although would dearly love to) and in the same breath my hearing is very different from an able-hearing person’s. Remember, they have millions of nerve endings whereas CI users have a string of 16 electrodes working in unison, which equals a BIG difference. And then we don’t always wear the implants 24/7, you see there’s no rule book, there’s no finger pointing, it’s down to us when we wear them. Today I wasn’t wearing mine …..having said I really don’t think it would have made a difference either way, I’ll explain…..

I have been on the look out for some speaker stands and other bits and bobs that will make my access to music and films better so with that in mind I popped to Richer Sounds at London Bridge. Had a look around the shop, no stands on display were suitable so I asked an assistant for help. The first thing I said was that I was deaf and that I lip-read so he started shouting on tip-toe towards my left ear. Now I’ve had this before so I repeated that I was deaf, that I lip-read and there was no need for him to shout! He responded by continuing to shout towards my right ear! Can I just point out that when you’re shouting your lip movements are exaggerated so it doesn’t help regardless. I told him again in a more abrupt manner that I was deaf, I lip-read and for him to stop shouting at me…. He continued to shout into my face! I just said ‘Stop!’, by this time several customers in the shop were watching and I was feeling about 3 inches tall. I told him there was no need to shout, I was deaf and that no matter how much he raised his voice I wouldn’t be able to hear him. By this time the adrenaline had kicked in, I was quite honestly riled with a bemused smile on my face whilst my brain is going “OK, what the hell am I supposed to do now, cos I can’t lip-read in this state”…. I told him promptly to write down what he was saying and on seeing his illegible handwriting just said I’d order online, smiled, turned heel and left the shop! If I stayed I would have said something I’d have regretted, I have a very sharp tongue….. but this time, and it doesn’t happen often, I was left completely dumb-founded. More dumb-founded than disgusted, I mean that has to rank as one of most belittling situations I’ve been in. I was saying to myself straight afterwards ‘Did that really just happen’?

This incident has made me question myself, and of course the companies we (the deaf) deal with daily… How often do the deaf get the ‘rabbit-caught-in-the-headlights’ look when you tell a cashier (as an example) you’re deaf and you lip-read? How many deaf people prefer to make payments by card so they don’t have to worry about lip-reading at the cashiers, just pay and go, or go to the self-service tills to avoid a possible embarrassing lip-reading fail altogether? My guess would be quite a lot of you!

Now, I’ve had a reply on Twitter from Richer Sounds to say they’re going to look into this and that they take it very seriously, but do they? Call me cynical, time and again you’ll get an auto-response, an apology, an ‘it won’t happen again’ – the fact is it DOES happen again! It’s diversity awareness and its impact in the work force, if the staff are not made aware they don’t/won’t know. Although that is still no excuse for what happened today however, it was just out and out pure ignorance. That person really shouldn’t be part of the shop’s customer-facing team, end of!

Fast-forward a little bit further. On my way back to the office I grabbed some lunch from Tesco, and took my place in the queue at the cigarette counter with it being shorter than the others. Bear in mind I was still angry about what had just happened. The cashier was one of those ‘bunny-in-the-headlights’, you tell them (politely, I add!) that you’re deaf, you lip-read and for them to speak clearly… suddenly they just go wide-eyed and gawp mouthed, you can literally see their brain clanking over with the ‘..what am I to do, what am I to do?..’ … here’s a little hint, just speak, just speak normally! I lip-read, it’s part and parcel of me being deaf, if I can’t lip-read you I will ask you to repeat what you’ve said or show me the price display, don’t get frustrated, don’t shout, don’t mumble, don’t be angry, don’t be shocked, just repeat what you’ve just said in a calm manner….. It doesn’t work though, so I just, as usual, used my card to make the payment, didn’t bother with a thank you, and left.

Interactions such as the one in Tesco are normally a daily occurrence, you’re pretty much prepared for it, you take the embarrassment, you’re used to it and you shrug it off, and because it’s an almost daily occurrence…you grow a thicker skin. Sometimes you lash out, but it’s not very often ….best to smile, wave and walk away.

I took a long walk back to the office, my head was in a state of turmoil, I mean what else can we do? I had a cochlear implant to help me ‘fit in’ to the hearing world (and don’t regret having that for a moment, read ‘my music stuff!’). In a way I wear headphones with my implant ‘cos the able-hearing do that too, it becomes part of my camouflage I suppose. My wanting to fit in, to be accepted and treated normally, like everyone else.

Back at the office I couldn’t really concentrate on the work in hand, my head a whirl with ‘what else am I supposed to do’?

I had one more run-in, bad luck comes in threes they say. This time with a lawyer who had been sat on a file all day, I needed to sort it out for tomorrow’s court…. Went over to see her, asked her if the case was ready and she just, without even facing me, mumbled a response. I’ve told her several times that….yes, you guessed it, I’m deaf and lip-read, by this point I really couldn’t have given a shit. Didn’t even respond to her, turned heel, spoke about what had happened with my line manager, told her that she needed to deal with it and that I was going home! And that was the end of my day.

It's bloody hard work!

I’m now sat here with a large Bacardi and coke to take the edge off!

1 comment:

  1. Hi,

    My name is John and I have a quick question about your blog! Could you please email me?

    Thank you,