Last night a man came to door, he had an ID that showed he was from Southern Electric which he waved in my direction as he said something I didnt catch then stopped (waiting for reply) I indicated I was deaf, he carried on regardless, he seemed to talk really fast and after what seemed like a lengthy comment he paused again looking expectedly at me.
I didn’t have a clue what he had just said and was in middle of my dinner it was sat going cold on the tray in the lounge so guessing he was asking if I wanted to switch to Southern Electric I just shook my head and again indicated that I was deaf, realising he was gonna get nowhere fast he just nodded in acknowledgement and left.
I went back to my tea which by then needed re-zapping in the microwave. I am quite an accomplished lip-reader and can lipread MOST people quite accurately but I just couldn’t be bothered at that time to spend the next 10 mins on my doorstep with some guy trying to sell me a service.
When I first went deaf at 16 (over 25 years ago) I was in a mainstream college and I was struggling to keep up, my teacher knew I was bright from one-to-one chats but seemed to be missing huge chunks of information in group work and she frequently saw me copying off my friend just after she had turned to write something on the board. I didn’t relaise she had at some point tested me and realised I was lip-reading so had said something to my parents who did a similar test at home which I also failed so was dragged off to audiology services to discover I did in fact have an hearing loss.
It was significant enough that it was going to cause problems with me getting a job and keeping it if I couldn’t understand instructions, back in those days Equal Opportunities was not the same as today, if they gave you a job they had done their bit, but you still had to prove you could do the job as well as any non-disabled person they might have offered the job to instead.
I got transferred to Doncaster College for the Deaf which back then was like an annexe on the back of the Yorkshire Residential School for the Deaf.
Yorkshire Residential School for the Deaf
I learnt alot of tricks from other deaf kids who had been deaf all their lives. I learnt to sign quick as we were signing all day everyday and by end of the first term I was fairly fluent in sign language. I was only at the college two years via an Employment Training Scheme which sponsored my place on a Business Studies course to learn work skills and also got lip-reading and speech therapy. Learning to talk again when you can’t hear what you are saying is an odd experience at first so I tended to not speak in public as all I could hear was background noise from hearing aids. This of course had to be overcome as I was expected to speak in the workplace regardless of what noise was going off in the background. If I turned my hearing aids to cut out all the different noises then I also couldnt hear what I was saying either and whether it was coming out clearly.
Hanging out with other deaf students was fun we could all relax and understand each other, we just used sign, the people who could speak best were used to asked for things in shops or get the drinks/food in when we went out. Work Experiences were challenging we were only there two weeks each time but expected to be able to understand everything requested of us, it wasn’t much time to learn to lip-read someone when they were giving you instructions from day one, whilst the other workers watched on as the manager did their best impressions of fish or talking in slow motion at you! Break times were difficult, people would be friendly and smiley but then not realise its hard to lipread someone when they have a mouthful of sandwich or crisps etc, and everyone was sat around chatting/speaking at same time, it was difficult to keep up. I was always glad to get back to college where I had mastered the art of eating with one hand and signing with the other as the other deaf students did with each other!
After 25 years of being deaf I had mastered these arts to perfection but developing Ataxia has had an affect on my signing skills. As Ataxia affects Fine Motor Co-ordination I notice signing (which was once so good other uni students thought I was born deaf like them) is getting more of a challenge, particularly finger-spelling and trying to get one index finger to hit the point of each finger accurately (for vowels) and has slowed down my signing speed considerably.
It is now getting as difficult for interpreters to work out my signs as it is for hearing people to work out my speech sometimes, especially if it is a new interpreter who hasn’t met me before or aware of my physical difficulties. As its not always possible to meet the interpreter before, they kind of meet you at your appointment, they just speak what you have signed and translate other person speech for you.
I noticed this at a council meeting I went to last year where there was a few interpreters I had never worked with before. Some other deaf students ended up telling them what I was saying, I guess with their brains used to processing signing faster they could work out what I was trying to sign quicker than the interpreter could.
It is kind of frustrating when ALL methods of communicating are affected, ie typing and signing due to Fine Motor difficulties caused by Ataxia and also speech also affected by co-ordination of muscles involved with speaking. And to think I was told by a doctor that Ataxia meant I would ‘just be a bit wobbly on my feet’!