Blog: My hearing loss journey
By Colin Ayres, Hearing Link volunteer
About 20 years ago I started to have a problem with my right ear, and after a visit to my GP I was referred to hospital. I was told I had a hole in the right ear drum, then had an operation I assumed to repair the drum (in those days very little was told to me of the treatment). I woke up next morning and discovered I was profoundly deaf in that ear. Over the years the hearing on my left ear also declined.
As you can imagine my hearing loss completely changed my life. I no longer enjoyed going to theatre. I had communication problems at work especially in meetings; it was hard giving them my full attention. Communicating in places where there was background music in shops and coffee bars was difficult. I noticed that as soon as people saw I was having difficulty hearing them they ignored me and spoke instead to my wife. Once I went to a shop to buy a shirt and they didn’t have my size on the shelf. I asked the assistant if they one in the stock room. I misheard his answer so he turned to my wife and asked her what my size was. At home however, my family were brilliant, once I gave them a little deaf awareness training.
I decided fairly early on to learn British Sign Language (BSL) so I could converse with people who were Deaf who rely on BSL. I enrolled in my local college and met a fabulous tutor, Jennifer Brown who is profoundly deaf herself. Jennifer helped to get me to Level 3 ABC Awards (part of the Skills and Education Group Awards, a leading national awarding organisation with a long-established reputation for providing high-quality support and services to the educational sector).
I was approached by my work colleagues who wanted to know more about how best to communicate with other colleagues who had hearing problems. So with Jennifer’s mentoring, I completed City & Guilds Level 3 ‘Preparing to teach in the lifelong learning sector’ which meant I was qualified to teach BSL and Deaf Awareness. Sometime later I joined my local deaf club (DEAFvibe) and through the Club I started teaching BSL and providing Deaf Awareness training to the public. All as a volunteer, I trained universities, trainee doctors and hospital staff, public services and also my DEAFvibe Club. I became a trustee of DEAFvibe.
In addition I undertook a tinnitus course run by the British Tinnitus Association and became an approved advisor on tinnitus. This involved running a local tinnitus class, providing support and information for people with tinnitus and their families and friends, and promoting the work of the renowned British Tinnitus Association. Still keen to learn more, I met a wonderful lipreading teacher, Tom Kane, and enjoyed three years under his instruction.
Three years ago I came across an article about Helpdesk volunteering in Hearing Link’s magazine. I thought the job looked interesting so I applied. My job on the Helpdesk is to answer enquiries that come in from all types of people – those with hearing loss, hearing relatives, professions working in health and social services, lipreading tutors and so on. The range of questions is diverse, we get asked, for example, about legislation to help people at work, equipment for the home and mobile technology, how one accesses a business where there is only a phone number (and the person cannot use the phone).
Very often the enquirer has had no-one to turn to and they feel utterly alone with their problem. Sometimes the advice they have been given is too complicated or does not get to the heart of the matter. My job is to answer their query as if I had asked the question, and I give the reply that would have helped me. I research the topic thoroughly and present options so the enquirer can choose the one best suited to their concern.
Through meeting so many people with hearing loss I can honestly say that I have come to love my deafness. This may sound strange, but it is true. It is because my hearing loss has given me an insight into another world which I have embraced wholeheartedly. I have made an enormous number of new friends and have gained lots of new skills in being able to help others.
Being a Hearing Link Helpdesk volunteer has helped me on my personal journey. I feel part of a team that supports me and I am delighted to be able to use my experience and expertise to assist others. If you are thinking about getting involved as a Helpdesk volunteer my advice is to go for it!