I have been unlucky recently. An ear infection has returned for the 3rd time in 6 months. I’ve been walking around work with tissues hanging out of my ears to avoid any leakage and to hide the sores, but thankfully my work colleagues thought I was just trying to make a fashion statement – if only I was actually into fashion, then maybe I could have pulled it off!

I have suffered with ear infections ever since I was a child. I loved going in the water on family holidays: diving, swimming and jumping into pools. It is a favourite pastime of mine. This would however, always result in a trip to the doctors on the way home from the airport where I would have to start a new course of antibiotics.

Unsure of how bad my ears actually were, I forced my poor boyfriend to take pictures of them to show me the situation (it’s not been pretty, believe me) and I’ve been left feeling frustrated, embarrassed and in a lot of pain.

This time around has been different. My symptoms have been the worst I’ve ever experienced . I went back to the doctors last week to get a new course of drops and antibiotics, and things are certainly improving, but for a few weeks now, I’ve been dealing with partial hearing loss.

I knew that once my infection cleared my hearing would come back, but while my ears were inflamed and blocked, I faced a number of obstacles and some prejudice. I found myself getting upset and deflated. I am involved in the deaf community, I have an understanding of deaf people and I’ve studied deaf history, yet nothing could really prepare me for the way I had been treated in some situations and how I was just expected to deal with them, barriers deaf people face and overcome everyday.

“This is not very deaf aware!”

Due to working with deaf people, my everyday life does consist of thinking about deaf accessibility and deaf awareness wherever I am. When I’m on a plane, at the shops or at a train station I think about how elements could be made more accessible for the deaf. This is just automatic for me, it’s something I massively care about which was useful as I was already able to see problems that would occur and affect me.

I could not hear my name being called out at the doctors surgery for my appointment, which was embarrassing. I could see the other patients turning around and whispering to each other about where ‘I’ was. Why is this still the system at my doctors surgery? Why have they not moved into the 21st Century by having electronic screens that show your name when the doctor is ready to see you? This feature alone would give deaf people more independence without having to rely on others to let them know that their doctor is ready to see them.

“Oh forget it, it doesn’t matter”.

At times, in conversation with friends and acquaintances, I would rely on the context of the conversation to try and work out what everyone was talking about. Sometimes I would have absolutely no clue as I really could not hear what was happening.  I’d ask them to repeat themselves and they would happily once, twice was clearly irritating and three times was either responded with ‘forget it’ or ‘don’t worry, it’s not important’. This is not an acceptable way to respond to somebody who cannot hear. It does not matter how unimportant you may think the information is, to deny somebody the opportunity to find out is just plain rude. I felt really upset, as though I did not mean enough to that person to repeat themselves again. When this happens to a deaf person, it could knock their confidence when communicating with the hearing community due to trying to converse and being shut down. This is such a negative attitude to have…my advice to hearing people: be patient, be clear, be approachable!

“You work in a deaf school, you’ll be fine”.

When I would tell people about my painful ears, they would immediately refer me to my job and how lucky I was for working in a deaf school as I can sign and don’t ‘need’ to listen. I know this was meant as a joke, and I understand the sentiment, but I do feel incredibly lucky. I feel lucky that I have the ability to use British Sign Language, not just at work but throughout the day. Anybody could go deaf in their lives, and then how would they communicate with other people?  I began to find it harder to communicate with my hearing friends while my infection was at its worst, than with my deaf friends and colleagues. This is for me, one of the many reasons why it is so important that British Sign Language should be taught in schools and to be on the national curriculum. Everybody should learn Sign Language to improve their communication. It will also allow you to confidently interact with people in the deaf community and it will give you a language should you one day lose your hearing.

“Do we have to have the subtitles on?”.

If I ate in front on the T.V. (a bad habit since moving out of my family home), I would find that my chewing was louder than what was happening on the box. I needed the subtitles to find out what was going on. To me, this is no issue. I live with a deaf friend of mine and when I was at University I lived with two girls who were also deaf. I am so used to having subtitles, I opt to have them on when I am on my own. However, not everybody is so willing to have words written across Ryan Goslings face when watching a film.

In one particular situation, I was made to feel like a burden and I watched a film paranoid that the people around me were not enjoying themselves because of me. The environment was not relaxing and I did not feel comfortable. All I wanted was to have access appropriate for me due to the state of my ears, why should I not be entitled to that? Why should deaf people not be entitled to that? If subtitles were automatic on TV then this could all be avoided. I have noticed how some channels still do not allow subtitles onto their programmes at all while others can be completely wrong.

This is not accessible to the deaf community. It is not acceptable with technology being as advanced as it is, for subtitles not to be on every channel or film.

I have had a short glimpse into what life can be like for deaf people. I am certainly not likening my ear infection to being deaf, but it was interesting for me to experience for myself the world with less hearing and undergo the challenges that came with that.

P.S. Sorry to anybody who had to look at my ears; especially the girl on the underground last week…your facial expressions said it all!




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