“Hereditary deafness runs in our family. My dad is deaf, my grandmother was deaf. My brother and sister were fine; it happened that I was born partially deaf in both ears. As a youngster I got along OK, but in my early twenties, my hearing had degenerated to the point where I had to start wearing hearing aids.
This was around the same time that my career as a lawyer really began to take off.
To start with, while I wasn’t actively hiding my hearing loss from people I worked closely with, it wasn’t something I necessarily told my clients about. Over the years, I slowly became more open about my deafness, but it still wasn’t something I wanted to shout about. That all changed though, about seven years ago, when I had just been made a junior partner at another law firm.
I was working on a tricky deal which involved an American company buying a UK business. After the deal was done, the senior partner turned around to the client and said: 'How did Hugh get on?'. The response was: 'He’s done very well, but is he a bit stupid?' 'No he’s not stupid at all, he’s really clever,' said the senior partner. 'But did he tell you that he’s partially deaf?' he added.
It was a horribly difficult thing to hear. I took that to heart, and from that point on I’ve been far more open about my deafness.
My current firm, Aaron & Partners has been very supportive. My biography on the company website explains about my hearing loss and outlines that I prefer advising my clients face to face or via email which has never posed a problem. New clients are more than happy to have a face to face meeting, and the first thing I say when I greet them is: 'I don’t know if you’re aware but I’m partially deaf – do you mind if I sit there?' – and they’re completely fine about it.
Aaron & Partners has also been flexible enough to give me my own office which is great, as open plan environments can be a challenge as I struggle to hear over the background noise. Meetings with lots of people are difficult, but I now have the confidence to be very strict with my colleagues about where I sit, and I feel able to give an occasional reminder about my needs.
Looking back I could have benefited from leaders in my sector – people further up in organisations – championing me, being a mentor and giving me the confidence to have been forthright about my hearing loss from a much earlier stage."
"My hearing loss certainly did knock my confidence in my early career, but I learned to overcome it. I’ve now made a partner, and my client base continues to grow and grow. My deafness hasn’t held me back."
Our Working for Change campaign aims to improve attitudes to hearing loss in the workplace. Whether you’re an employee or an employer, we need your help.