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POSTED 6.5.2021

‘Coming through it together’ on Deaf Awareness Week

It’s Deaf Awareness Week in the UK and this year’s theme is ‘Coming through it together’. Erin Fox looks at the parallels between communication challenges that come with hearing loss and communication challenges that surfaced for everyone during the Covid-19 pandemic.

I recently got my cochlear implant checked out with my audiologist after worrying there was something wrong with it. There isn’t. It’s working perfectly; I’m just out of practice!

Over the last few months, I’ve had people close to me telling me that I’m not hearing them as well as I used to. And this has occurred in situations where there was no background noise, no social group settings, no live music, nothing. There was nothing to interfere with my ability to hear speech so why was I not hearing everything people were saying to me? Because there was nothing.

With social life put on pause during the Covid-19 pandemic, we’ve all missed out on catching up with friends, chatting over coffee, nattering away over drinks and shouting over live music. There has been a profound absence of sound in our lives over the last year and that absence has impacted how people with cochlear implants, like me, manage with conversation.

The Cochlear app on my phone, which is connected to my sound processor, has a hearing tracker which tells me the average hours of speech per day I’m taking in. Looking at the data from 2019 compared to 2020, I’ve lost on average one hour of speech per day. While it may not seem like a lot, it makes sense how a whole year without that extra hour of speech would impact my listening skills.

A hearing test and speech test with my audiologist confirmed that my cochlear implant is working perfectly, however, my listening skills are down just a little bit when hearing with background noise. This is because I’m playing catch up when I mishear something. Rather than moving on and focusing on what the next sentence is, my focus is on what I misheard, causing me to miss out on the next piece of conversation.

But with a little more practice my listening skills will go back up. So when restrictions ease and we are all allowed to socialise again, I’m going to have my work cut out for me trying to keep up with conversation. And I can’t wait!

It is not just me, and other people with cochlear implants, who will have to adjust with socialising again; it’s going to be a huge adjustment for everyone. Ever since the Covid-19 pandemic hit last year, I’ve been noticing the parallels between pandemic communication challenges and the communication challenges that arise with hearing loss. The pandemic gave everyone a taste of what living with hearing loss is like. Masks have made most people realise that we are all natural lip-readers, even if we are not conscious of it. Poor connections and speakers make it harder to hear over Zoom, leading to listening fatigue. And there’s the general sense of isolation from being cut off from human interaction.

With challenges, comes opportunity and in the spirit of Deaf Awareness Week’s theme ‘Coming through it together’, we can all learn from deaf awareness tips on how to improve our own communication skills. Being aware of ways to make communication easier for those with hearing loss, can only make us better communicators overall.

One of the keys to this is sharing responsibility. An individual with hearing loss will constantly have to advocate for themselves, whether it is asking someone to repeat themselves, or explaining for the fifth time in one day that they need to read lips to follow conversation. This can be exhausting and this is where shared responsibility comes in!

Living With Hearing Loss UK have launched a ‘Clarity In Communication’ campaign which involves encouraging businesses to display a poster saying they are a lip-reading friendly establishment. Displaying this poster will boost confidence in those with hearing loss to ask others to remove their masks so they can hear.

If you are a business owner and would like to make your business lip-reading friendly, you can find the resources for downloading the poster on Living With Hearing Loss’ website.