Welcome back to our blog series, ‘A day in the life of…’. Enjoy a fascinating insight into the working lives of people with different types of hearing loss, across a diverse range of careers and workplaces.
Patricia Wilfort is a deaf awareness trainer from London who has moderate to severe hearing loss and no stereo hearing*. We caught up with Patricia to find out more about the job and a typical day in her life.
*This means if a fire alarm is going off, she doesn’t know where the sound is coming from.
After being an Employment Consultant Manager for 16 years with a company that supported all disabled people, I decided I wanted a change. A senior manager from RNID, now Action on Hearing Loss, headhunted me to deliver deaf awareness training and I jumped at the chance.
I wanted to make a difference and support as many people as possible. We all need to communicate with each other verbally or visually – at home, at work, socially, in emergencies, on the phone and in all our journeys through life. Verbal communication is used by hearing people, sign language is the way for Deaf people who use British Sign Language (BSL) as a first language. However, people choose visual communication for many reasons and as a trainer it’s very important to relay this message, so people do not make assumptions about the way a person should or should not communicate.
Due to the nature of the job, my journey to and from work is different every day. I travel on public transport and, depending on the venue, this can include buses, cabs, trains, tubes – and even planes and Eurostar. I love travelling but at certain times it’s not easy as I can’t hear public announcements. The platform may have changed but I don’t know because they’ve announced it rather than used the matrix board. When this happens I need to find staff with the time and patience to help me. I tend to arrive early to avoid delays – my motto is “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.“ I have a different way of dealing with cab drivers and their jolly conversation. Once I have given the driver my venue details, I sit back, watch the mirror, then just smile and nod my head a lot!
I usually get up at 5.30am, having prepared my clothes and bag the night before. After breakfast with my husband I set off to wherever I’m training that day and grab some lunch on the way.
When I arrive at the venue, I sometimes find an intercom system waiting for me at the door or gate. Often I can’t hear anything when I press the button, so I keep pressing until someone lets me in.
When I finally get to reception the nice person politely says, “Hi, I said push the door didn’t you hear me?”
So in a really friendly way I say, “No I didn’t, I’m deaf.”
They reply, “Ahh sorry about that.” Then they look down at the computer and start asking the usual questions like, “Who are you here to see?”
I reply in a positive way, “I’m deaf, could you look at me when you speak please as I missed that?”
To which the reply is usually, “Oh yes I forgot, ahh sorry.”
Why does she/he keep saying, “Ahh sorry”? I’m not sorry.
Then…slow speech coming up, “WHO ARE YOU HERE TO SEE?”
To which I reply, “Excuse me do you have a loop system?” The response is often, “Sorry, what’s a loop system?”
I say, “Don’t worry for now”, thinking that I’ll keep that for the training session.
I then say, “I’m here to see Mr Smith.”
He/she replies, “Oh yes, I see that now. However, he didn’t tell me you are, you know, deaf.”
I say, “Ok, no problem.” Then I ask, “Are you coming along to the training today?”
They reply, “Oh no, we are very busy today on reception.” (Front line staff!)
Finally, Mr Smith arrives. He’s a very friendly person and chats away as he takes me to the training room. (I’ve not got a clue what he’s saying as he’s in front of me).
Before we start the training session I say, “Please look at me when you ask a question as I’m deaf.” If there’s a loop in the room (which is rare) I sometimes pick up people saying, “She’s deaf but she doesn’t look deaf.” They’ve usually never had training from a deaf person so it’s a new experience for them. I have to say the majority of people are very nice and become very positive following deaf awareness training.
During tea breaks I tell them about further training that’s available and our Communication Support services.
At the end of the day, feedback is important to me. I care what people think about my training sessions and take on board their comments so we can improve on what we deliver.
A well-deserved cuppa awaits my attention at home. It sometimes takes hours to get back depending on where I am. Every day is certainly different.
At the start of the day, 16 people arrive knowing very little about the deaf/hard of hearing world and our differences – different levels of deafness, different ways of communication, different needs for accessing information. By the end of the deaf awareness training session they want to know more as they’ve been starved of this information all their lives. They realise that deafness may affect them, or someone they know, at some stage. I love every minute of the job as I meet people from all walks of life.
At Action on Hearing Loss we’re committed to helping employees reach their full potential at work. We hope that this series will highlight the positive steps that already being taken to breakdown communication barriers and demonstrate how accessibility and inclusivity can be improved for employees with hearing loss.
Please contact Clare.Bowdler@hearingloss.org.uk
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