Tell us about your hearing loss.
I have a degenerative hearing loss and although I was born with hearing, by the age of four I began to steadily lose my hearing. It levelled off and stabilised at age 11, leaving me profoundly deaf in both ears. I wear hearing aids on both sides.
Despite a severe hearing loss, because of how slowly I lost my hearing, I was able to build the core skills of a deaf person, such as lipreading.
When and how did you get your hearing dog?
Cracker and I were made an official partnership at the end of October 2018. My birthday is on Halloween, so I thought of him arriving as an early birthday present!
I provided information to Hearing Dogs about my hearing loss in early 2016, such as an audiogram and a doctor’s note, to demonstrate that I met the criteria for a hearing dog. I did meet the criteria, so I was invited to officially apply later that year in May – for which I was successful.
From then, it was a waiting game. Even though Cracker was born around Christmas 2016, I didn’t know anything about him until I received an email in late July 2018 informing me that we had been identified as a potential match and asking whether I would like to meet him. I did, so we had an overnight stay in August 2018 to judge whether we all thought it would be a suitable partnership (which went extremely well).
Finally, in October 2018, Cracker and I spent a week training together, supported by Hearing Dogs and their staff, at their Head Quarters in the Chilterns before coming home together for good.
How does Cracker help you in day-to-day life?
Cracker is a fully accredited assistance dog, which means he accompanies me wherever I go and is trained to alert me to sounds I can’t hear, such as doorbells, fire alarms, cooker timers and (in the future!) baby monitors.
Cracker’s biggest impact on my life though, is on my general wellbeing. Knowing that my best friend on four legs is always with me and there to alert me to things I can’t hear is a massive confidence boost. Being deaf in a predominantly hearing world, particularly at work, can be very isolating too and having him around helps me feel a bit less lonely.
Since being partnered with Cracker I’ve also noticed a big increase in people’s awareness of my hearing loss – such as getting my attention before speaking to me and asking me how I’d like to communicate with them rather than assuming I can communicate as a hearing person.
What are some tips for people working with deaf people and their Hearing Dog?
- Remember that Hearing Dogs are no different from Guide Dogs for the Blind – when they are working (so with their vest on) they should not be distracted. It’s best to ignore hearing dogs when they have their burgundy uniform or vest on – even if they look like they want to say hello! If you desperately want to say hello to a hearing dog, then I’m sure their partner will be more than happy to let you – just ask when would be a good time to do so. At work, people come with me on our lunchtime walks to say hello to Cracker – and he’s always happy for the extra attention!
- Always speak clearly, with your mouth uncovered and get a deaf person’s attention before speaking to them. You can get their attention by waving your hand or tapping them on the shoulder – don’t be afraid to do this. Over articulating, gesticulating or raising your voice just makes things harder so if they don’t hear you a second or third time, just rephrase the sentence or question, or go back to the start.
- Deaf people, regardless of their level of hearing loss, may not always be comfortable telling people of their needs. Don’t be afraid of asking, “How would you prefer to communicate with me?” – This empowers deaf people and allows them to set out clearly what they need to communicate effectively. A favourite tactic I encourage when meeting new people in company I already know is to ask them to introduce me and explain my hearing loss and that I need to lip-read. This makes everyone aware of my needs and breaks the awkwardness of me doing it myself or having to ask someone to repeat something later.
- Likewise, always feel free to ask deaf people questions about their hearing loss. The more people around them who understand their needs and what these entail means it’s easier for me to go about my daily life.