“I have spent the last few months mentoring an ambitious, hard-working and enthusiastic robotics student called Liza through the Equal Engineers mentoring scheme. Liza is all these things, and also deaf. She was born with 80% “deafness” which puts her in the severely deaf category.
I helped Liza work through some ideas on career prospects and help give her an insight into engineering in the UK. This second part was particularly helpful for her given her French / Russian background but wanting to stay and work in the UK.
In return, Liza has educated me about what it means to be deaf in the modern world, and in this particular case, as an engineering student in the UK. The most shocking thing I discovered was that all those “hearing induction loop” stickers generally indicate a load of wasted money! Liza’s experience of these hearing induction loops was that they were not turned on, and the people who sit next to the proudly displayed induction loop signage, such as receptionists, did not actually know how to operate them! This goes along with a few other gems such as hearing music in the corridor of an opera hall when no one else could; and some social distancing specifics such as online lectures being more difficult to understand and masks taking away the extra help of lip reading.
My experience talking with Liza has coincided with my almost-parents-in-law (my wedding has been postponed due to the pandemic…) living with me for a period of around 7 months. My almost-father-in-law was struggling to hear us at the dinner table and needed extra help to hear the TV – it turns out he is one of that 6.7 million that could benefit from hearing aids!
This all makes me wonder; how many deaf people go about their daily lives with extra barriers which others could remove with ease? For example, training staff to turn the hearing induction loop on! It also makes me wonder about the use of face coverings, where thoughts on clear plastic masks are banded around to allow lip reading – but they do not work due to misting up. Liza suggests that our rules should be flexible enough to allow her to say: “Excuse me, I’m deaf – could we take a step back and remove our masks for this conversation?”.
So, we’ve got enabling systems that aren’t turned on, extra difficulties from wearing face masks and 4.7 million people walking around not even knowing they could benefit from hearing aids. That sounds like a very invisible disability to me. To add to that, Liza has discreet hearing aids, which is very common now so a lot of the 2,900,000 people who might be wearing hearing aids would not be immediately obvious either.
So, what can you or I do?
If someone needs an extra enabler, like turning on the hearing induction loop, or being pragmatic about social distancing – Listen to make sure they have the opportunity to tell you!
Then, Ask if there is anything you can do to help.
Finally, we should also be pushing for the visibility of awesome disabled people; because who is going to design the next piece of technology, organization, or system that really works for disabled people? It is probably going to be a disabled person. For example, we should not assume what is best for a deaf person, why not ask one? Preferably the deaf person who is going to use it! The same goes for the whole list of visible and invisible disabilities.”
p.s. If you think Liza is as awesome as I do, help her be a successful by adding her on LinkedIn and help establish her professional network! : https://www.linkedin.com/in/liza-masson/
Steven Wray (He/Him), STEP Product Development Team Leader – Power Infrastructure