Navigating journalism as a deaf person

I never know whether to explain to people I’m “deaf” or “hard of hearing”, both seem inaccurate and yet that’s all I have to describe my lack of hearing.

Short explanation: I was born premature (but still huge), cord wrapped around my neck twice, not breathing; doctors thought I wouldn’t make it, and when I survived they thought I would have severe brain damage. Turns out that the brain damage only affected my hearing, and only a tiny bit. So that’s pretty great.

I have what’s called high frequency deafness — I can’t hear high pitched noises. I can’t hear alarms, I can’t hear birds singing, I can’t hear the microwave ping. I can’t hear the difference between Cs, Ts, SH, CH etc. I have the hearing range that maybe your grandparents have.

I feel like journalism as an industry isn’t really that deaf-friendly. I try to be open about the fact that I’m deaf but I explain to people only when it’s really necessary and most of the time people wouldn’t even know.

When it comes to working in a newsroom, I have to balance hearing things accurately with doing the job quickly, and I find it hard to navigate.

Instructions are left lingering in the air as they’re shouted across a whole room of people, and I’m expected to know which ones are meant for me and which aren’t.

People have conversations between themselves and then get annoyed when I wasn’t listening, despite the fact that I wasn’t directly being addressed at any point.

People don’t have a lot of time to spend with you. It’s hard to find the perfect time to explain to people that you’re deaf, that you need to be treated differently to other people, that it’s not good enough to walk behind me talking to me while I’m looking at a computer screen.

Another thing a lot of people don’t realise about being deaf is that it’s actually really tiring. When you’re a few seconds behind everyone else trying to unpick the mumblings of another person, it takes a lot of energy, a lot of running through words in your head trying to figure out what someone said, using the context that you’ve heard. I also lip-read a lot and I’m heavily dependent on that for getting me through situations.

I get really tired fighting what sometimes feels like an uphill battle with people that are quiet or mumble a lot. I try to avoid speaking to them, but it’s obviously impossible and most of the time all that happens is we both end up frustrated.

I don’t really want to be treated differently, but I have to be, because otherwise mistakes are made, and deafness ends up being misconstrued as stupidity or belligerence. I don’t really want to be asking people to change their behaviour when they are dealing with me, but I have to. I don’t want to be an inconvenience, but I am a capable and smart person who just needs a little extra consideration in order to do my job well.

It feels like I am mistaken for someone who is antisocial or not interested in other people. It’s not really that — I love collaborating and socialising with people. The problem is that it is so God damn tiring, embarrassing, and frustrating, and it leaves me feeling ashamed and stupid most of the time.

I’d be really interested in reading other people’s thoughts on sensory disabilities in newsrooms/journalistic work so please do point me in the direction of newsroom leaders who have dealt with this, or journalists who experience the same thing.

Written by

Data nerd and journalist— has probably worked at your fave UK paper. Unrepentant feminist. Likes: Asking irritating questions. Hates: Writing bios, pandas.

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