Category Archives: life

Hearing loss and the spa … and naked!

spa cucumber 2

Anyone who wears hearing aids will tell you how attached we become to these little pieces of machinery. They enable us to stay connected to other people and to navigate more effectively through this noisy world. Taking them out is usually something we only do by choice (and usually at home) as we can sometimes feel vulnerable when we’re unable to hear properly.

Visiting the spa can be quite challenging as hearing aids don’t mix well with water.  Spas involve bathing, showers and quiet, tinkly music – all of which are hard to appreciate when you have to ‘take your ears out’.  And, as some-one who also wears specs, taking my glasses off means I can’t lip-read as much as normal either so there’s definitely a communication barrier when it comes to knowing what to do (and not to do).

So imagine the challenge I faced recently when visiting a spa on holiday in Crete recently only to be told it was a naked spa … it didn’t say that on the website!  There I was: can’t hear properly, can’t see properly and stood in front of a total stranger clad only in a pair of paper panties the size of a postage stamp … it’s a miracle anyone with hearing loss ever goes to the spa at all!!

I had two choices: run for the hills or dive straight in?  Reader, I chose the second one and had a fabulous time.  So if you’re feeling nervous about going deaf commando, here are my top 10 tips for visiting the spa with hearing loss:

  1. Do your research at the front desk. Be upfront about your hearing loss and ask what the treatments involve. A good spa will be happy to explain what each treatment includes. It also means you know exactly what will happen and can avoid any sudden tugs-of-war if the therapist tries to remove your towel unexpectedly!
  2. Ask whether you can wear your own undies or swimwear. Most spas won’t object to this. You may also find that ‘when in Rome’ is a good maxim to remember and just go with the flow. In my first experience at a naked spa in Hawaii, I dived straight into the mud bath to hide only to realise that the only person wearing a swimming costume looked ridiculously out of place and embarrassed.  We come in all shapes and sizes so relish the freedom and go with it!
  3. Take a waterproof case for your hearing aids (and a case for your specs) so they’ll be safe when you’re in the shower or pool – you can put them in the pocket of your spa robe then wear them again for your massage treatments if needed
  4. Before your spa treatment starts, tell your therapist about your hearing loss and go through what will happen step-by-step so you’re fully prepared
  5. Walk around the spa and find out where everything is – you don’t want to play hunt-the-towel when you come out of the hammam
  6. Check the level of tinkly music with the therapist.  You can turn it off for total quiet or adjust the volume so you can hear it. Stopping your massage in the middle to turn the music up/down can definitely ruin the moment
  7. If you’re having a facial or massage where the therapist will touch the sides or your face or head (even during a shoulder or neck massage), quite often the hearing aids may squeal with feedback. The first time this ever happened to me, the therapist jumped a few inches high with the shock!  So either take them out beforehand or turn the volume down.  I prefer to wear them but with the volume down so I can still hear the music but not frighten the horses
  8. Agree with the therapist about the best way for her to signal if she needs you to do something. For example, she can tap you gently on the hand if she needs you to turn over on the massage bed or to let you know the treatment has finished
  9. What you think is how you feel – if the idea of going deaf and naked makes you feel like Fatty Arbuckle, then you’ll never enjoy it.  Just repeat after me: “I’m absolutely fabulous” and you’ll have a great time
  10. Finally, and most importantly, take control of your hearing loss. Manage the situation by gathering information first, be totally upfront about your needs and discuss with your therapist any do’s and don’ts beforehand – it will make the world of difference. The whole point of visiting a spa is to relax and enjoy time out so put in a little effort at the beginning and you’ll soon float away and relax

But in the case of the tiny paper pants however, sorry guys – whoever invented them needs shooting!

 

The challenges and joys of learning BSL (British Sign Language)

As somebody who’s always loved languages and hates being flummoxed by a word they don’t know (I have to rush and look it up in a dictionary), learning BSL has been an interesting experience.  I’m fascinated with this expressive, visual language and how the signs representing words can be either very obvious or completely obscure.  For example ‘tea’ (lifting your forefingers up to your mouth with your little finger sticking up in the air – the universal sign for tea) is really easy to remember.  But signs which bear no resemblance at all to the words they’re supposed to represent, such as ‘hotel’ (the nearest I can describe this to is taking your cap off and putting it sideways onto the table) require a feat of memory power which has been really challenging.  It certainly gets the sludge moving in my brain in a way that it hasn’t done for years!

People were signing as early as the 16th century, but BSL is an unwritten language so it’s difficult to know exactly how and when it began.  When Thomas Braidwood’s ‘Academy for Deaf and Dumb’ opened in 1760, this was the first school in Britain to include sign language in education.  Then, as more people moved to the cities, BSL became standardised and used for teaching internationally.

Today there are apps to help us learn BSL, for example I use the SignBSL app (an online BSL dictionary) to remind me if I can’t get the sign correct.  But then I hit another barrier – there are so many different signs for different geographical locations.  In my first year alone I’ve had 3 teachers (for various reasons) – the first taught me signs from Newcastle, the second taught me signs from Darlington and my current teacher is teaching me signs from Durham.  That’s 3 different signs for every single word just in the first year – I know that this is the same as different dialects and different regions, and I can appreciate the rich variety and history of language evolution, but that’s still a lot for a beginner to learn!

Just like any language, BSL is constantly evolving and new signs are being created all the time.   Using the letters ‘P’ + ‘W’ is easy to remember as the sign for ‘Prince William’, but BSL seems much harder to me than learning French, German or Spanish, mainly because it’s difficult to actually write down a description of what the sign looks like.  For example, this week for the word ‘party’ I wrote: “cross wrists facing away from me, turn fists over, open fists and move hands apart then splay fingers wide” – that’s a long description for just one word!  By the time I’ve finished an hour’s lesson I’ve got pages of notes!

I’m now revising for my Level 1 exam so it’s still early days but I’m starting to get the hang of it and to chat (albeit in very simple fashion) to the deaf clients I support at work.  And the rewards are far more than just learning a new language … it’s seeing the surprise and appreciation in the eyes of my deaf clients as they realise I’m starting to communicate with them in their own language, rather than me expecting them to adapt to mine.  I get smiles, encouragement and laughter as we connect for the first time in a totally new way which is absolutely brilliant.  That, in itself, makes all the hard work worthwhile.  Wish me luck!

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When you just HAVE to do something about hearing loss!

Over the years I’ve developed a twitchy antennae for anything ‘hearing-loss’ related.  I watch the latest news, follow the latest research, support campaigns and try to raise the profile of hearing loss generally.  I’ve signed petitions and taken part in campaigns, organised loop squads, raised money, challenged discrimination when I see it and have been a what you might call ‘low-level agitator for change’ for some time.

But now I’ve decided that I’m ready, finally ready, to get out there and promote HEARING LOSS in big capital letters by volunteering to be a Trustee for Action on Hearing Loss.

Anyone with hearing loss knows that we all have to put up with so many things which are wrong – no subtitles on television and films, lack of understanding by the general public, threats to funding for hearing aids, noisy environments, feeling left out of conversations …. the list is endless.

Coming out of the ‘hearing disability’ closet is never easy – there have definitely been some highs and lows – but as I’ve ventured further out into the light and actually begun to take a lead in raising the profile of this invisible disability, I’ve realised I want to help those millions of people, just like me, who are still stuck in the shadows or not coping well with a life affected by hearing loss, tinnitus and deafness.

Action on Hearing Loss has fought hard to challenge these discriminations for more than 100 years (the RNID was started in 1911). I’m proud to be a member of this outstanding organisation … but now I want to do more.  I want to make discrimination on hearing loss obsolete, I want to help influence the movers and shakers who can make a difference to our world, I want to make life easier and better for TEN MILLION PEOPLE in the UK who find themselves struggling through no fault of their own.

And if this sounds like it’s a lot of “I want”, well that’s because it’s true.  Yes I could bore you all silly with a recitation of my CV, my strategic and operational knowledge gained through the school of hard knocks and 30 years of working in the corporate, SME and third sectors.  But it’s not about that – it’s not even about me at all really.  It’s about YOU, about YOUR life, about the help YOU need to cope better with hearing loss, and about how I can help YOU.

I believe passionately that our world can be better, that with the help and support we need, we can all live a happier more fulfilling life, even if we have hearing loss.

So, if you’re a member of AOHL, and you can hear the passion in my voice and think to yourself: “that sounds like some-one I want in my corner,” then please put a cross next to my name in your ballot box and send your envelope back to AOHL as soon as you can.  I don’t know everything, I’ll have a lot to learn, but I promise you this: if you vote for me, you’ll never regret it.

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Subtitle it!

One of the things we keep banging on about at Soundz Off is the need for every TV programme, on-demand content, catch-up TV and boxed set to be subtitled for people who are deaf and hard-of-hearing.  If the BBC can manage it, why can’t all the other broadcasters?

Action on Hearing Loss are spearheading a campaign to support this view and I’m delighted to be mentioned in a blog produced for SCOPE by AOHL campaigner, Johanna Taylor.  The more mentions we can get, the better!

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Loving them for a reason – were you an Osmonds fan too?

Well every now and again you find out a little nugget of information that you never knew before and today it happened again.

I was reading a story in “The Times” this morning about a girl from Gateshead, Jo Milne, who heard for the very first time at 40 when her cochlear implants were turned on.  The story was very moving and interesting in itself but what really got me was the work she’d been doing with The Hearing Fund UK.  I’m always interested in charities working on hearing loss but I was amazed to find out I knew nothing about this fund or that it was set up by Olive Osmond, mother of the seventies pop group “The Osmonds”.

As a fan of 70’s music I was glued to BBC 1’s “Top of the Pops” every week and thrilled to all those top ten hits by Mud, Showaddywaddy, David Cassidy and Donny Osmond.  But I never actually knew that the first two Osmond children were born deaf and the Osmond family (Alan, Wayne, Merrill and Jay) began their musical career as a barber-shop quartet to help raise money to buy hearing aids for their deaf brothers.  Well knock me down with a feather!

Raised on a farm and too poor to buy hearing aids, the Osmonds family did something quite remarkable – originally setting up “The Osmond Foundation”, the programme has grown and become what is now known worldwide as The Children’s Miracle Network (CMN), generating more than $4bn dollars for children’s hospitals around the world and helping more than 17 million children every year.  I find that absolutely staggering!

All those years of swooning over my Donny Osmond poster on the bedroom wall, watching them on the Andy Williams show and singing away to their catchy pop songs, but I never knew the actual reason they began singing in the first place.  I actually find this oddly emotional and quite moving.  It restores your faith in human nature to know that so much good can come from such humble beginnings …. and, even better, that it’s all aimed at helping deaf children around the world.  I’d say that really IS making a difference!

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olive osmond hearing fund

 

 

 

 

 

Great app for deaf kids who love wildlife – Project Noah

I’m always on the look-out for ways to get involved in ‘normal’ activities even if I can’t hear everything that’s going on.  That’s why I was fascinated to come across Project Noah, an international wildlife project which allows kids to upload photos of plants and wildlife in their area to help create a map of the natural world and contribute to scientific research in the process.

Project Noah is for all kids everywhere but has an inclusive app for deaf and hard-of-hearing young people (relying entirely on images and text communication) who can get involved in exactly the same way their peers do.

As a community volunteer myself, this will be hugely useful for a 2km nature trail we’re creating around our homes during the next few months.  Working closely with our local Wildlife Trust, we’re getting residents and kids involved in identifying flowers, trees, plants, birds, bats and bugs so we can tell everyone about the wildlife that lives in our area.  This app will be ideal as the kids can not only find the wildlife, but they can take photos and add information to an international database of species, becoming ‘citizen scientists’ in the bargain!  Wow, what a great way for kids, parents, and teachers to learn about wildlife!

If you want more info check out http://www.projectnoah.org/and find out about the app on http://www.projectnoah.org/

project noah

Travelling with hearing loss – it’s a pain!

Well I’m just back from almost a month away on holiday in America visiting two national parks in California and flying to the beautiful island of O’ahu in Hawaii.  Wow, did we have a good time!  Travelling the world – particularly the USA – is just my favourite thing.  A few days in San Francisco, a snow-covered lodge in Sequoia National Park, Christmas in a log cabin in Yosemite National Park and New Year in a fabulous private house in Hawaii – truly memories to cherish and remember forever.

A great experience of course but there are so many things which negatively affect the whole experience when you’re hard of hearing.  Not being able to hear announcements on the plane, not knowing what’s happening when flights are delayed and being unable to hear announcements in the airport – that’s just for starters.  Add to that the terrible background noise at check-in desks, being unable to hear bus drivers on courtesy coaches when they ask which hotel you’re staying at, trying to hire a car in a deafeningly loud rental office …. it makes travelling so much more stressful.

I’ve also become a keen critic of architects who design marble hotel reception areas with no soft furnishings, terrible acoustics and waterfall features which drown out speech.  Then there’s waiters in restaurants who have strange accents and mumble while they tell you about unfamiliar food you’ve never heard of, plus tours around tourist attractions with no loop system for guided talks …. well it’s just a real pain.

One thing that made the journey slightly easier was a new app – Flightview – a flight tracker and airport diary.  You can track your flight number and it updates you on any delays, changes to arrival/departure times and your departure-gate number.  It was a real help, although you need to keep an eye on the airport information just in case as our flight departure gate changed at the last minute and Flightview didn’t update us.  At least it reduced the stress of having to listen to garbled announcements or fighting the queue to get to the check-in desk  for more information!

Delayed-Airline-passengers

 

 

The joys of travelling with hearing loss ….. not!

One of the things that hearing people don’t realise is the amount of ‘kit’ that comes with any type of hearing loss.  Hearing aids, batteries, boxes, moulds … that’s just for starters.  If you still have the ability to listen to music, then the list just expands exponentially and you need a special suitcase just for your hearing gear.

For example, a hearing person can just get onto a plane, plug in the headset and go.  I wish!  Headsets are no use when the microphones in your hearing aids are at the TOP of your head, while headsets are designed to go over the CENTRE of your ears, so unless you want to have your headset perched on the top of your head like a parrot then that’s not going to work!  So I end up taking a whole bag full of paraphernalia depending on the circumstances.

I have a hearing loop which I can wear round my neck.  Brilliant, sorted?  Er, nope!  Because nobody in the electronics industry has ever thought about what it’s like to be deaf and nobody has ever thought about making life easier for us by standardising the size of jacks on the end of electronic widget cables.  So, my hearing loop doesn’t plug into the hole in the aircraft arm because the plug is too small.  So I need a bigger jack size – I learned by trial and error to bring it with me and it took a bit of tracking down but I eventually found one.  I plug it into the plane arm-rest and rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!  All I can hear on the loop is feedback/interference from the plane’s engines.  So that’s not an option 🙁

So I decide to listen to some music on my iPod but the plug on the end of my hearing loop is too big!  So I need yet another jack, a smaller one, which takes even more tracking down.  So now I have a phone, a loop, two jacks, hearing aids and batteries.  Then I need a charger for my loop and  a charger for my iPod.  Add to that my streamer so I can connect by Bluetooth to electronic devices (just not on planes), the additional chargers for the streamer, my Kindle and my iPhone and I might as well just give up and pay the excess baggage charge now!

PLUS I need to take all this kit on the plane with me – the guys at Passport Control are all peering at this spaghetti junction of electronic wiring and gadgets with great suspicion.  Nothing like trying to explain about hearing loop technology to an irate security guard on high terrorism alert in the middle of the Christmas rush at Heathrow airport.  Honestly officer, it’s just so I can watch the new Hobbit film on the plane!  And don’t even get me started about the incomprehensibly garbled announcements about plane departure times ….. sigh!

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It’s a work of art! Soundz Off looks fantastic!

Wow! Just two of many lovely comments I’ve received since Soundz Off was featured in the 100th issue of ‘Action on Hearing Loss’ magazine which came out yesterday.  The site was very positively reviewed by Jean Straus in the “Time In” section on page 36 and described as: “just what the doctor ordered”.  Great publicity!

It means a huge amount to me that other people are finding the site useful.  One lady (deaf since the age of 2 and knows a huge amount about hearing loss) still founds lots of new information to help her which makes me feel a huge sense of satisfaction.  Another lady said that it will be a constant source of reference to help herself and her daughter ….. RESULT!!  If my site is already helping people, then it’s doing its job!

Another benefit of the site is that it’s not just helping other people but it’s also hugely helping me.  I’m more informed and empowered about the latest news on hearing loss than I’ve ever been before – keeping an eye on news sites every day (looking for titbits and scoops for the Soundz Off Facebook page www.facebook.com/soundzoff) is opening my eyes to the massive amount of work being done by people all over the world.  There suddenly seems to be a tsunami of effort, determination and innovation heading our way!  Not sure whether this was already there and I hadn’t realised it or that it’s the perfect example of serendipity – whichever, it’s great news either way!

Unfortunately the AOHL magazine isn’t online yet but the review is shown below, page 36.  And remember to like and share our Facebook page too – thank you!!

AOHL article Nov 2014

Radio 5 Live asks deaf people to phone in about their hearing loss, doh!

Well it was an interesting day yesterday!  Facebook and Twitter vibrated with outrage as deaf people tried to get their heads around the latest lack of deaf-awareness by one of the UK’s national organisations.  I’m surprised you couldn’t hear them shouting!

Radio 5 Live Breakfast’s show asked deaf and hard-of-hearing listeners to phone in and tell them how hearing loss had affected their lives – what a ridiculous thing to say!  Apart from the fact that deaf listeners probably wouldn’t be listening to the radio anyway, how could they ring in when they couldn’t hear what was said?  You have to laugh or you’d go mad 🙁

The programme featured an interview with Roger Wicks, Director of Policy & Campaigns for Action on Hearing Loss, with a feature about David Hockney (the artist) about how hearing loss had made him feel isolated and withdrawn.  I’m sure it would have been very interesting if I’d been able to hear it! http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/player/b04p55w4

Anyway, after lots of tweeting to and fro, BBC 5 Live finally set up a text message number and an email address so that people could write in with comments and reactions.  It took a while but they got there eventually.  I think the reaction from their audience took them by surprise: “you’ve managed to alienate the entire deaf community” was one response … no pulling punches there!

So, the good news is that BBC 5 Live is going to go away and do their research then feature hearing loss again when they’ve got all their ducks lined up in a row properly.  Raising the profile of hearing loss is great and so I’ve asked if they can get live captions set up this time so we can watch/read it as it happens, rather than having to wait a week for a transcript.  After all, it’s supposed to be Radio 5 Live, not Radio 5 in 2 Weeks’ Time!!!  We shall all watch with bated breath …..

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