Language & Communication20th May 2018

BSL Changed The Quality Of My Life

Loss of hearing brought isolation and a break down in family communication - learning BSL has changed that.

by Joey Smith, Pensioner

It’s an old saying, but lots of people are brought up with the adage, ‘never talk religion or politics at the dining table’. Doing so, often results in arguments and a spoiled dinner, so I understand where that comes from, but when did deafness get added to that rule.

77 now, I started going Deaf about 15 years ago. Not realising it myself at first, my wife, children and grand children started telling me to go to the doctor because they realised I was missing out on some conversation. I didn’t want to be deaf, so I told then not to be so silly at first, but when I started to become the butt of their jokes and treated more like a child than the children in the family, I sucked it up, and lo and behold, hearing aids were to quickly follow.

A strange thing happened though. Before diagnosis, my deafness came up regularly in conversation, but as soon as I started wearing hearing aids, everyone stopped talking about it. It was as though my being deaf had been added to politics and religion as a taboo subject. Why?

No-one can be certain why I became hard of hearing, but I’m pretty sure it goes back to working on the factory floor many years ago. We didn’t have ear defenders in those days, and just like youngsters today with their loud music and gaming noises, I felt impregnable, so I just got on with it. In a way, I was one of the lucky ones, I rose to management roles in my 30’s, and senior management in my 40’s, limiting my exposure to the thunderous noise in the factory to about 10 years.

In not talking about my deafness or the hearing aids after diagnosis, I think my family believed my hearing was repaired and things could carry on as normal. Well, they can’t, well, not if you want your hard of hearing relative to be a key member of the family you can’t. Despite the hearing aids, I was still pushed to the margins of family get togethers, getting more and more isolated.

‚ÄčIn my own home, I simply gave up wearing the hearing aids, because they amplified all the traffic noise, trains going by, children playing noisily, and everything else, all of which got a bit too overwhelming. My dear wife started shouting more and more at me, and our conversations got less and less because it was frustrating for both of us. Still deeply in love, we started getting distant to each other. It was so sad. I had contact with Deaf charities to get assistive technology in the home, but that still left me isolated from my nearest and dearest for normal everyday things like a chat.

Thankfully, things have changed a lot in recent years. My self respect has been restored and as a father and grand father I feel important again. I am back to enjoying life, not starting to wonder what the point of living was. Firstly, one of my grand sons had some deaf awareness training whilst at work. He related completely to the training and came home eager to embrace the changes that I needed, like having a round dining table, managing conversations so that I always knew who was talking, making sure I was following and allowing me the opportunity to talk too. Having someone there with understanding now, who manages family get togethers so that I am included, has been truly life changing.

But even more than that, Steve, that’s the grandson, was also shown some British Sign Language, and showing me the signs for good morning, tea, coffee, would you like some cake, ice-cream etc., made me realise that if I learned some signs with my wife, we could start to communicate using sign language in the house, rather then just raised voices and lots of misunderstanding. That was a few years ago now, and we are both still rubbish compared to Deaf people, but learning signs that are typically used in the home, has taken us back to being close and openly loving again. Communication is so much easier and my life feels fulfilled again. All of the family use some sign now, but everyone is determined to learn more!

What I don’t understand is why no-one on the medical side of deafness suggested it to me as a way to solve the everyday communication barriers that were rearing their head, especially as they were quickly having an impact on my health and well-being. None of the deaf charities suggested it either, and yet as a solution it has been just brilliant.  I hope the Deaf community doesn’t mind that I am using their language, but I thank them wholeheartedly for having a language that has changed the quality of my life and for getting access to a Deaf teacher who has been happy to build a BSL course around the typical conversations that happen behind closed doors.  I wont get a BSL certificate, but I have my family back, and that is a much better outcome.

Article by Joey Smith, Pensioner

posted in Community / Language & Communication

20th May 2018