Challenge accepted: How deafness teaches us to survive and thrive
This month, Barnaby Lund, Marketing and Account Manager of Bradley Reporting writes about the challenges of living with deafness, and how these challenges give us the skills that make us valuable to employers.
“I’m sorry but you will be completely deaf by the time you are twenty”. That was the blunt assessment my mother and I received from the doctor. We walked out of the office in tears, having effectively been told by an expert that my remaining hearing would deteriorate completely and therefore my options in life were limited at best. It is precisely this attitude that dissempowers young deaf people.
Despite my growing lack of respect for the so-called “experts”, we did visit one more surgeon who thought he could help. However as fate might have it, he injured his hands before he could. Subsequently he retired and and we were told we would need to find another specialist. I was 14 and I’d had enough. I’d been in and out of hospitals and seen endless specialists since I was an infant, all with different opinions on my hearing and what should be done to fix it. So I told my mother I wasn’t interested in seeing any more doctors. In her wisdom she supported this.
I struggled at school. I couldn’t lip read when the teachers were writing on the blackboard, and had a lot of trouble following discussions in class. Despite this I still did quite well academically, although not well enough to get into university. I remember one particular teacher being surprised at my results because I never seemed to be engaged in class. I don’t think she even realised I was deaf.
When I was nineteen I was accepted into a university bridging course. By this time I had a hearing aid fitted by the Australian Hearing Service, so when I finally decided I would wear it in public, participating in class became a little easier. I was also working in a bicycle shop as a mechanic and sales assistant so face-to-face contact was an important part of my job. I still struggled on the telephone though. In the early nineties support at work was limited, and because I had no real contact with other deaf people, I didn’t know about TTYs. It was during this period that I first struggled with depressive episodes. Despite this, I still generally enjoyed a great lifestyle of studying, part-time work and competitive cycling. Having completed a university degree in Environmental Resource Management I decided to move to Brisbane in search of work in the environmental sector. After nine months searching and a part-time job in a book store I landed a job in working for the Queensland Government in the water management area. I worked in various roles there for ten years and gained some great experience working on a number of high-profile projects.
During my time in government I struggled on the telephone and in work meetings. Fortunately I found out about Jobaccess and was able to obtain funding for live captions and a captel telephone. Along with email, this assistive technology helped me to do my job. It took a lot of energy and self-advocacy on my part to educate my managers about these needs though.
I also found it hard to participate at social gatherings like morning teas with the my team. Despite this I made some lasting friendships with some great people. In one particular work unit, my colleagues were like family and I still keep in touch with some of them today. It’s certainly held for me true that the most important aspect of work life is not the financial benefits or the work itself, but the lasting relationships that you develop with people.
Unfortunately a series stress-related depressive episodes took their toll and I decided I needed to move on. It wasn’t an easy decision to leave the financial stability of a permanent government position or the friends I worked with, but in hind sight it was the best thing I could have done for my health and professional development. I decided to study a Masters of Counselling, which eventually led to my current role with Bradley Reporting.
So why am I telling you this? In simple terms my point is that deafness (or any disability for that matter) should not be seen as a deficit. Often it is actually a benefit. Why? Because the challenges we face enable us to develop specific skill-sets – especially skill-sets sought after by employers.
For example, when working in a counselling clinic during the masters course I learnt that many years of focused concentration on people’s faces, body language and lip-reading gave me a skill-set that is highly valued in the counselling profession. Because I’m a ‘visual listener’ I found that I was very good building a “mind map” of the client’s story (often these stories are very complex) and empathizing with the points of view of partners and family members too. In counselling these skill-sets are vital – remaining neutral and piecing together the client’s story is very important in identifying ways to effectively deal with the key issues.
So when someone tells you your options are limited or you can’t do something, it’s important to look at it the other way around. It really means you have skill-sets that they don’t see or understand. Like Liam Neeson, we all have particular skills. What are yours? Like me, it’s possible that you have, or will discover these skills along the way. Be sure to add them to you resume and sell your strengths. But be specific – target employers who value these skills. Whether you want to be a doctor, lawyer, pilot or whatever, deafness is not necessarily a bad thing.
Source Barnaby Lund 04 March 2015 Editor’s Note: Barnaby was instrumental in founding the Deaf Movie Club Brisbane now renamed Open Caption Movie Club Brisbane. He now lives in Lismore, NSW.