Deaf and hearing people: working together


Hormoz and Patrick Davies, who is on Result CIC’s Advisory Panel, reflect on their experiences of working with Jane and other deaf people.

As it’s Deaf Awareness Month, I started thinking about my experiences with deaf people. When I met Jane for the first time, I realised that I had not met many deaf people. I remember thinking that it was rather strange that this was the case. I always congratulated myself on being open about experiences which expanded my horizons. In the years since, about 8 in total, I have had some interesting experiences!

Even though before the first meeting I wasn’t nervous, I became so during it. I kept looking at the lipspeaker and not directly at Jane. It was as if talking to the lipspeaker meant that I would be better understood. In other meetings I realised that I had to look directly at her and noted how she chose where she sat so that the light was directly on the other person and the lipspeaker.  I should mention though that this initial meeting was a very good one.  Jane and her lipspeaker put me at my ease and this was the beginning of what has turned out to be an excellent working and personal relationship.

This relationship has opened a world to me that I didn’t know much about. It has taught me that communication is often not about talking and words. There is so much about body language and facial gestures that conveys messages. To take me further though, Jane had the patience to teach me finger spelling of the alphabet which was a good start. 

Since then and with Result CIC, we have delivered projects partnering with the Manchester Deaf Centre’s Job Club, to help their users gain better job opportunities. This has meant working with d/Deaf* people with completely different support requirements to Jane’s. 

British Sign Language is the one most non-deaf people have heard of. Makaton, developed in the early 70s, is a more basic language quite often used with people with acquired neurological disorders. Other help is available from hearing aids, cochlear implants and in meetings/seminars, palantypists and hearing loops etc. to aid deaf people. It has been enlightening to experience how deaf or people with hearing loss have had to adjust and learn what to do help themselves, something which Jane has written about here.

I have also worked with d/Deaf leaders and it was fascinating to realise how much we could communicate without the presence of support workers. I realised a lot of this was to do with the need to put my fear to one side and just, well, go for it! So even if it meant that I wasn’t being absolutely correct, like with any language, being understood was the main thing. The need to be outcome focused!

Last year, Patrick Davies joined our Advisory Panel. He had previously worked in Poland with Jane. They were both in senior positions within the Foreign Office and Jane was joining Patrick’s team.

Here, Patrick adds his own perspective, mentioning how he felt when he heard that Jane was about to arrive and what he had to do to prepare:

"To be honest, I was pretty anxious when I heard from London that a deaf member of staff would be joining the embassy team.  With little personal experience of deaf people, I struggled to imagine how it could work.  Diplomacy is all about communication and building relationships.  You can spend a lot of time in meetings with representatives of foreign governments, attending seminars and presenting at events.  There can be detailed negotiations too, and there is always lots of network building to promote UK interests.  I struggled with how that could work for a deaf person, and particularly in Poland where there was the added complication of working in a difficult foreign language as well as English.

I should not have been concerned.  Jane took the time before her arrival in Warsaw to explain how she worked with lipspeakers and we set about putting in place a system so that support could continue in Poland.  She worked hard on her Polish language skills and soon after her arrival was more proficient in the language than most of our hearing staff.  We worked with one of our translators to create a support system whereby Jane could handle meetings fully in Polish. This worked with the translator either typing in Polish into a laptop for Jane to read and then Jane replying in spoken Polish or simultaneously whispering to the lipspeaker a translation into English for Jane to respond to in Polish. It was impressive.

Perhaps more importantly, the experience taught everyone in the embassy about better communication – about making eye contact, enunciating clearly, not speaking over other people and giving clear body language.  With Jane’s and my encouragement, many staff working closely with her took the opportunity to learn finger spelling and some basic signs to aid communication when the lipspeakers weren’t around.  It was a hugely positive experience from which everyone gained.  Our internal meetings became more focused and productive, and we had a lot of fun too. 

I now look back on my initial anxiety about Jane coming to Poland with some embarrassment.  I should have known better than to let unfamiliarity colour my judgement.  That, in essence, is the basis of a great deal of prejudice.  Jane deserves huge credit for helping me to open my eyes and see how we could make her posting work in practical terms but also what we could all gain too.  But in an ideal world, that responsibility shouldn’t just fall on the deaf persons shoulders.  I know now that it’s my responsibility too."

Patrick is so right that it’s all our responsibilities to help adjust to a very unbalanced situation. It’s particularly interesting how much I have learnt by having to work closely with a deaf colleague. About 18 months ago, myself and a couple of Result CIC associates had several lessons in sign language to help further with communication. This has been very helpful. 

Previously but especially since, I have found myself needing to be a lipspeaker at some unexpected moments. For example, when a lipspeaker wasn’t booked for a training session, when one wasn’t able to attend a meeting as their car broke down and socially, whenever people aren’t used to talking to deaf people!

I often reflect on how much our relationship has grown, as our ability to communicate has, and how learning a new form of communication has enabled me to connect more with people in general. 

* Deaf (born deaf, sign language users) and deaf (acquired deafness or who are hard of hearing but who have English as their first language and may lipread and/or use hearing aids).


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