Category: British Sign Langauage, communication, Hearing Loss, Adapting, Hard of Hearing
Adapting to new ways of communicating: Grace's Story.
When wearing masks became the norm, Grace, who has hearing loss, felt isolated. She tells us how she adapted to a new way of communicating.
“Imagine you’re under water as someone is talking. That’s what it’s like for me without hearing aids,” says Customer Assistant Grace Davies-Friend. The 20-year-old lost her hearing as a child, after a round of chemotherapy resulted in the loss of the tiny hairs in the inner ear, which detect vibrations from sound waves and send signals to the brain. “I’ve worn hearing aids all my life, but they’re not perfect,” Grace says. “Rather than refine sounds to make them clearer, they just amplify the sounds you can hear.”
Grace is hugely reliant on lip-reading and using vibrations from voices to listen. So, when face masks were introduced at the beginning of the pandemic, she was left feeling completely cut off from the world.
“When I first started at Shrewsbury Extra, it was the first time I realised just how loud a supermarket is. The noise of the fan, freezers, music, checkouts and people chatting was really overwhelming, but I adapted. When the masks were introduced, I realised I’d drowned out the noise to focus on lips and vibrations to listen. All of a sudden, all this noise came screaming back.”
“It was totally overwhelming and exhausting. There were times I would go and sit in the toilets so I could turn off my hearing aids for a moment of silence. The biggest struggle was how disorientating it was. Suddenly all these loud, distorted noises were coming at me from all angles and I had no way of knowing what people were saying to me. I found it really hard to stay grounded, do my job, communicate and give a decent level of customer service while feeling so isolated.”
I’m not alone
When laws to make masks mandatory in public places were introduced, Grace took to social media to express her struggles.
“The worst part of it was that the laws were brought in overnight and I didn’t feel I had time to prepare. I shared my experiences on social media but I didn’t expect so many people to respond. I had so many messages from people who also wear hearing aids and are struggling on the shop floor too – even some from colleagues I didn’t even know wore them! I genuinely believed I was the only person who is hard of hearing at work, so to find out there are others going through the exact same thing made me realise that I’m not alone.”
After learning she was not alone, Grace felt motivated to help her colleagues communicate using British Sign Language (BSL). “I made a quick video on my phone demonstrating how to sign some basic phrases we use in-store and shared it on Facebook. I was both delighted and shocked at how willing my colleagues were to learn them and now we regularly sign when working on checkouts.”
Strong support system
“Had I not had the support system around me this past year, I really think I would have quit. My colleagues have been so supportive and the effort they’ve made to learn to sign to help me means the world.”
Grace runs her own blog, ‘Hearing Loss – Deaf Gain’, to increase awareness and is studying BSL at college, so she can help others with hearing loss.
Take note of Grace’s practical tips for clear communication:
- Let others know about your hearing loss. People are so much more understanding and willing to help
- If someone is struggling to hear what you’re saying, try using different words to describe it. It could be that someone has difficulty hearing certain sounds
- Be patient and remember it’s OK if you have to repeat yourself. One thing that irritates me is when I ask someone to repeat themselves and they say: ‘It doesn’t matter.’ It makes me feel like I’m not worth their time, which leads to feelings of isolation.
- Speak clearly and avoid abbreviations or contractions such as ‘gonna’
- Don’t shout or be condescending