Deaf and Proud
30 November 2022
I have lived with acute hearing loss for most of my life. Over the past year, my hearing has deteriorated – I am now profoundly deaf to high-frequency sounds. Amazing technology exists that helps me live a full and hassle-free life, and there are new developments all the time. But I do sometimes wonder whether I would have had the successes I’ve had if I were born in a different century.
Beethoven may have composed many masterpieces after losing his hearing, but he is one of very few stories where a disabled person triumphs against adversity. In Beethoven’s case, he lived in almost total isolation once he lost his hearing.
It’s timely to chew over these ideas. The 16th of November marked the start of UK Disability History Month. It was created to celebrate the achievements of people living with a disability and raise awareness of the challenges they continue to face. Yes, the world has become a much friendlier place for those living with disabilities. From tactile paving to hearing aid induction loops, assistance for those with sensory impairments is widespread. But there is still a long way to go.
Earlier this week, my investment company Port Growth Partners, partnered with the Royal National Institute for the Deaf (RNID) to help put on a little quiz night. John Bishop, the comedian, hosted the quiz – his son has an autoimmune disorder that causes deafness, and he is very passionate about the cause. We had some great supporters in the room – the likes of Sir Rocco Forte, our host – and we raised £50,000. The RNID is a crucial champion in the battle for equal rights and support for the deaf – there are 12m of us in the UK alone.
At BigChange, we have worked really hard to be an inclusive organisation which welcomes people from all walks of life. We actively recruit those with disabilities and have programmes in place to support neurodiverse colleagues. We believe that by having a truly diversified team, we create better, more considerate technology.
For most of my life, I have tried to hide my deafness. I have shied away from wearing visible hearing aids. You worry that people make certain assumptions about you when they see those clunky gadgets tucked behind your ear.
UK Disability History Month has been an opportunity to reflect on that approach. I no longer want to hide my disability. There is no shame in my hearing loss. People wear glasses without embarrassment – they are a fashion accessory!
Life was actually easier for me – in some ways – during lockdown. We all communicated via Teams, which meant I could wear a headset and hear every word. It’s only now we’re back in the office and meeting customers that I’m reminded of how little I can hear in ordinary life.
If I can wear my disability with my head held high, I think that sends an important message. Disability won’t stop you from being successful in your life. You don’t have to hide who you are. In fact, I’m looking forward to the latest development in audio technology – a tabletop microphone that I will be able to take into meetings to capture the sound and relay it through my hearing aids. There will be no hiding my deafness then, but the mic will mean no more missed words or misunderstandings – it’s going to be a game changer.
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