Hearing loss and the spa … and naked!

spa cucumber 2

Anyone who wears hearing aids will tell you how attached we become to these little pieces of machinery. They enable us to stay connected to other people and to navigate more effectively through this noisy world. Taking them out is usually something we only do by choice (and usually at home) as we can sometimes feel vulnerable when we’re unable to hear properly.

Visiting the spa can be quite challenging as hearing aids don’t mix well with water.  Spas involve bathing, showers and quiet, tinkly music – all of which are hard to appreciate when you have to ‘take your ears out’.  And, as some-one who also wears specs, taking my glasses off means I can’t lip-read as much as normal either so there’s definitely a communication barrier when it comes to knowing what to do (and not to do).

So imagine the challenge I faced recently when visiting a spa on holiday in Crete recently only to be told it was a naked spa … it didn’t say that on the website!  There I was: can’t hear properly, can’t see properly and stood in front of a total stranger clad only in a pair of paper panties the size of a postage stamp … it’s a miracle anyone with hearing loss ever goes to the spa at all!!

I had two choices: run for the hills or dive straight in?  Reader, I chose the second one and had a fabulous time.  So if you’re feeling nervous about going deaf commando, here are my top 10 tips for visiting the spa with hearing loss:

  1. Do your research at the front desk. Be upfront about your hearing loss and ask what the treatments involve. A good spa will be happy to explain what each treatment includes. It also means you know exactly what will happen and can avoid any sudden tugs-of-war if the therapist tries to remove your towel unexpectedly!
  2. Ask whether you can wear your own undies or swimwear. Most spas won’t object to this. You may also find that ‘when in Rome’ is a good maxim to remember and just go with the flow. In my first experience at a naked spa in Hawaii, I dived straight into the mud bath to hide only to realise that the only person wearing a swimming costume looked ridiculously out of place and embarrassed.  We come in all shapes and sizes so relish the freedom and go with it!
  3. Take a waterproof case for your hearing aids (and a case for your specs) so they’ll be safe when you’re in the shower or pool – you can put them in the pocket of your spa robe then wear them again for your massage treatments if needed
  4. Before your spa treatment starts, tell your therapist about your hearing loss and go through what will happen step-by-step so you’re fully prepared
  5. Walk around the spa and find out where everything is – you don’t want to play hunt-the-towel when you come out of the hammam
  6. Check the level of tinkly music with the therapist.  You can turn it off for total quiet or adjust the volume so you can hear it. Stopping your massage in the middle to turn the music up/down can definitely ruin the moment
  7. If you’re having a facial or massage where the therapist will touch the sides or your face or head (even during a shoulder or neck massage), quite often the hearing aids may squeal with feedback. The first time this ever happened to me, the therapist jumped a few inches high with the shock!  So either take them out beforehand or turn the volume down.  I prefer to wear them but with the volume down so I can still hear the music but not frighten the horses
  8. Agree with the therapist about the best way for her to signal if she needs you to do something. For example, she can tap you gently on the hand if she needs you to turn over on the massage bed or to let you know the treatment has finished
  9. What you think is how you feel – if the idea of going deaf and naked makes you feel like Fatty Arbuckle, then you’ll never enjoy it.  Just repeat after me: “I’m absolutely fabulous” and you’ll have a great time
  10. Finally, and most importantly, take control of your hearing loss. Manage the situation by gathering information first, be totally upfront about your needs and discuss with your therapist any do’s and don’ts beforehand – it will make the world of difference. The whole point of visiting a spa is to relax and enjoy time out so put in a little effort at the beginning and you’ll soon float away and relax

But in the case of the tiny paper pants however, sorry guys – whoever invented them needs shooting!

 

So you have hearing loss too? Soundz Off can help

Welcome to a very large club – 11 million of us in the UK have hearing loss (that’s one in six people) predicted to rise to more than 14.5 million by 2031 (Action on Hearing Loss 2015).  Add this to the 360 million people worldwide with hearing loss and that’s a very big club!

Like all clubs we have something in common – similar interests, ideas, problems and difficulties to overcome. Like all clubs, there’s lots of information out there relating to our speciality interest, yet only 1% of medical research spending goes on hearing loss and it’s surprisingly difficult to find the information we need.  So where do you find that information?

Many people deny they have hearing loss for up to 10 years and, for most of us, our only experience with a hearing professional is being referred to audiology for a hearing test and hearing aids.  Then we get waved off from the hospital and left to our own devices – not helpful when we’re usually reeling with shock at the diagnosis, baffled by the technology and unaware of how to help ourselves (and others) to cope better with this invisible disability.

That’s why I created Soundz Off in 2014 http://www.soundzoff.org – an independent website which brings together hundreds of links to useful websites related to hearing loss: equipment, support organisations, technology, social media, forums, apps, research, events … the list goes on.

As someone with hearing loss myself (I have moderate sensorineural hearing loss in both ears and wear two digital hearing aids), I was amazed to discover this didn’t exist before. Over the years I found hundreds of organisations which exist to support people with hearing loss but nobody ever told me about them – I had to support myself and find them myself one by one. Nobody ever brought that information together in one place … until now.  Soundz Off does the legwork so you don’t have to!  We also have an active Facebook page updated daily with the latest information and news on hearing loss http://www.facebook.com/soundzoff  – how I wish this had existed 20 years ago when I was just starting out on my own hearing loss journey.

Hearing loss affects people in different ways and most of us struggle with this challenging disability.  You’ll probably recognise where you are in your own journey represented by this graph of the different stages of grief:

stages of grief

As someone who’s travelled right though every stage of the curve and eventually adjusted to my own hearing loss – even to the stage where I’m now working as an advocate and welfare officer for people with hearing loss – Soundz Off is my gift to you, whether you’re new to hearing loss or you’ve been coping with hearing loss for a long time.  Discover new information, make new contacts and friends, learn about what’s being doing to cure hearing loss and tell us about organisations you think we should add to our Directory http://www.soundzoff.org/directory

The good news (there’s always good news!) is that for every stage of your journey there are organisations and people out there who can help you.  Soundz Off ensures you don’t have to travel that journey alone and we can all learn to cope better with hearing loss in a hearing world.

So, as I said at the beginning, welcome to the club!  Good to meet you.

Tania Le Marinel

 

The challenges and joys of learning BSL (British Sign Language)

As somebody who’s always loved languages and hates being flummoxed by a word they don’t know (I have to rush and look it up in a dictionary), learning BSL has been an interesting experience.  I’m fascinated with this expressive, visual language and how the signs representing words can be either very obvious or completely obscure.  For example ‘tea’ (lifting your forefingers up to your mouth with your little finger sticking up in the air – the universal sign for tea) is really easy to remember.  But signs which bear no resemblance at all to the words they’re supposed to represent, such as ‘hotel’ (the nearest I can describe this to is taking your cap off and putting it sideways onto the table) require a feat of memory power which has been really challenging.  It certainly gets the sludge moving in my brain in a way that it hasn’t done for years!

People were signing as early as the 16th century, but BSL is an unwritten language so it’s difficult to know exactly how and when it began.  When Thomas Braidwood’s ‘Academy for Deaf and Dumb’ opened in 1760, this was the first school in Britain to include sign language in education.  Then, as more people moved to the cities, BSL became standardised and used for teaching internationally.

Today there are apps to help us learn BSL, for example I use the SignBSL app (an online BSL dictionary) to remind me if I can’t get the sign correct.  But then I hit another barrier – there are so many different signs for different geographical locations.  In my first year alone I’ve had 3 teachers (for various reasons) – the first taught me signs from Newcastle, the second taught me signs from Darlington and my current teacher is teaching me signs from Durham.  That’s 3 different signs for every single word just in the first year – I know that this is the same as different dialects and different regions, and I can appreciate the rich variety and history of language evolution, but that’s still a lot for a beginner to learn!

Just like any language, BSL is constantly evolving and new signs are being created all the time.   Using the letters ‘P’ + ‘W’ is easy to remember as the sign for ‘Prince William’, but BSL seems much harder to me than learning French, German or Spanish, mainly because it’s difficult to actually write down a description of what the sign looks like.  For example, this week for the word ‘party’ I wrote: “cross wrists facing away from me, turn fists over, open fists and move hands apart then splay fingers wide” – that’s a long description for just one word!  By the time I’ve finished an hour’s lesson I’ve got pages of notes!

I’m now revising for my Level 1 exam so it’s still early days but I’m starting to get the hang of it and to chat (albeit in very simple fashion) to the deaf clients I support at work.  And the rewards are far more than just learning a new language … it’s seeing the surprise and appreciation in the eyes of my deaf clients as they realise I’m starting to communicate with them in their own language, rather than me expecting them to adapt to mine.  I get smiles, encouragement and laughter as we connect for the first time in a totally new way which is absolutely brilliant.  That, in itself, makes all the hard work worthwhile.  Wish me luck!

bsl

 

 

 

 

 

When you just HAVE to do something about hearing loss!

Over the years I’ve developed a twitchy antennae for anything ‘hearing-loss’ related.  I watch the latest news, follow the latest research, support campaigns and try to raise the profile of hearing loss generally.  I’ve signed petitions and taken part in campaigns, organised loop squads, raised money, challenged discrimination when I see it and have been a what you might call ‘low-level agitator for change’ for some time.

But now I’ve decided that I’m ready, finally ready, to get out there and promote HEARING LOSS in big capital letters by volunteering to be a Trustee for Action on Hearing Loss.

Anyone with hearing loss knows that we all have to put up with so many things which are wrong – no subtitles on television and films, lack of understanding by the general public, threats to funding for hearing aids, noisy environments, feeling left out of conversations …. the list is endless.

Coming out of the ‘hearing disability’ closet is never easy – there have definitely been some highs and lows – but as I’ve ventured further out into the light and actually begun to take a lead in raising the profile of this invisible disability, I’ve realised I want to help those millions of people, just like me, who are still stuck in the shadows or not coping well with a life affected by hearing loss, tinnitus and deafness.

Action on Hearing Loss has fought hard to challenge these discriminations for more than 100 years (the RNID was started in 1911). I’m proud to be a member of this outstanding organisation … but now I want to do more.  I want to make discrimination on hearing loss obsolete, I want to help influence the movers and shakers who can make a difference to our world, I want to make life easier and better for TEN MILLION PEOPLE in the UK who find themselves struggling through no fault of their own.

And if this sounds like it’s a lot of “I want”, well that’s because it’s true.  Yes I could bore you all silly with a recitation of my CV, my strategic and operational knowledge gained through the school of hard knocks and 30 years of working in the corporate, SME and third sectors.  But it’s not about that – it’s not even about me at all really.  It’s about YOU, about YOUR life, about the help YOU need to cope better with hearing loss, and about how I can help YOU.

I believe passionately that our world can be better, that with the help and support we need, we can all live a happier more fulfilling life, even if we have hearing loss.

So, if you’re a member of AOHL, and you can hear the passion in my voice and think to yourself: “that sounds like some-one I want in my corner,” then please put a cross next to my name in your ballot box and send your envelope back to AOHL as soon as you can.  I don’t know everything, I’ll have a lot to learn, but I promise you this: if you vote for me, you’ll never regret it.

actions

 

Subtitle it!

One of the things we keep banging on about at Soundz Off is the need for every TV programme, on-demand content, catch-up TV and boxed set to be subtitled for people who are deaf and hard-of-hearing.  If the BBC can manage it, why can’t all the other broadcasters?

Action on Hearing Loss are spearheading a campaign to support this view and I’m delighted to be mentioned in a blog produced for SCOPE by AOHL campaigner, Johanna Taylor.  The more mentions we can get, the better!

subtitles

Enough is enough … it’s time to complain about the NHS!

Anger  Most of the time I’m quite a laid-back, balanced, understanding person but sometimes events conspire to bring me to a head of steam and that’s what happened this week!  A letter of complaint is now lying on the desk of the Chief Executive of Sunderland City Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust complaining about direct and indirect discrimination against people with hearing loss.

What’s got me all riled up?  Well, I just attended the last of three self-management programme training days run by Hearing Link.  The course itself is useful (teaching you how to manage your hearing loss better) but the most useful thing was sharing experiences with other people who are hard-of-hearing.  I don’t really come into daily contact with other people with hearing loss so this was a bit of an eye-opener.  Although we all had a positive mind-set, the complaints we had were legion and all about similar things – the lack of understanding about hearing loss by the NHS!  It added to my recent experiences by really tipping the balance and finally driving me to put pen to paper.

At Christmas I was unlucky enough to fall down the last step of a dimly lit staircase while away on holiday, badly twisting my ankle and aggravating a previous shoulder injury (and no, I hadn’t  been drinking).  Once back in the UK, I decided to get an x-ray of my ankle and to visit my GP to get a referral for physiotherapy for my shoulder.  It all went downhill from there.

As I’m hard-of-hearing and can’t hear on the telephone any more, I use email, texts and messaging all the time.  However, my experiences in one week consisted of the following:

– to make an appointment at my GP I can only contact them by telephone

– to make an appointment for an x-ray, I need a letter from my GP who can only be contacted by telephone

– to make an appointment for physiotherapy I can only contact them by telephone at which point I need to do a 20-minute assessment by, you guessed it, telephone

– to make an appointment at audiology, I can only contact them by telephone

– when complaining to the NHS about discrimination against people with hearing loss, guess what? They asked me to contact them by telephone!  Aaaaargh!

If the audiology department of the local hospital can’t get it right, then what chance do we have?Sometimes you just have to take a stand!

Watch this space for updates … I’m not letting this one get away!!!

telephone in hand

Loving them for a reason – were you an Osmonds fan too?

Well every now and again you find out a little nugget of information that you never knew before and today it happened again.

I was reading a story in “The Times” this morning about a girl from Gateshead, Jo Milne, who heard for the very first time at 40 when her cochlear implants were turned on.  The story was very moving and interesting in itself but what really got me was the work she’d been doing with The Hearing Fund UK.  I’m always interested in charities working on hearing loss but I was amazed to find out I knew nothing about this fund or that it was set up by Olive Osmond, mother of the seventies pop group “The Osmonds”.

As a fan of 70’s music I was glued to BBC 1’s “Top of the Pops” every week and thrilled to all those top ten hits by Mud, Showaddywaddy, David Cassidy and Donny Osmond.  But I never actually knew that the first two Osmond children were born deaf and the Osmond family (Alan, Wayne, Merrill and Jay) began their musical career as a barber-shop quartet to help raise money to buy hearing aids for their deaf brothers.  Well knock me down with a feather!

Raised on a farm and too poor to buy hearing aids, the Osmonds family did something quite remarkable – originally setting up “The Osmond Foundation”, the programme has grown and become what is now known worldwide as The Children’s Miracle Network (CMN), generating more than $4bn dollars for children’s hospitals around the world and helping more than 17 million children every year.  I find that absolutely staggering!

All those years of swooning over my Donny Osmond poster on the bedroom wall, watching them on the Andy Williams show and singing away to their catchy pop songs, but I never knew the actual reason they began singing in the first place.  I actually find this oddly emotional and quite moving.  It restores your faith in human nature to know that so much good can come from such humble beginnings …. and, even better, that it’s all aimed at helping deaf children around the world.  I’d say that really IS making a difference!

osmonds

olive osmond hearing fund

 

 

 

 

 

Great app for deaf kids who love wildlife – Project Noah

I’m always on the look-out for ways to get involved in ‘normal’ activities even if I can’t hear everything that’s going on.  That’s why I was fascinated to come across Project Noah, an international wildlife project which allows kids to upload photos of plants and wildlife in their area to help create a map of the natural world and contribute to scientific research in the process.

Project Noah is for all kids everywhere but has an inclusive app for deaf and hard-of-hearing young people (relying entirely on images and text communication) who can get involved in exactly the same way their peers do.

As a community volunteer myself, this will be hugely useful for a 2km nature trail we’re creating around our homes during the next few months.  Working closely with our local Wildlife Trust, we’re getting residents and kids involved in identifying flowers, trees, plants, birds, bats and bugs so we can tell everyone about the wildlife that lives in our area.  This app will be ideal as the kids can not only find the wildlife, but they can take photos and add information to an international database of species, becoming ‘citizen scientists’ in the bargain!  Wow, what a great way for kids, parents, and teachers to learn about wildlife!

If you want more info check out http://www.projectnoah.org/and find out about the app on http://www.projectnoah.org/

project noah

Travelling with hearing loss – it’s a pain!

Well I’m just back from almost a month away on holiday in America visiting two national parks in California and flying to the beautiful island of O’ahu in Hawaii.  Wow, did we have a good time!  Travelling the world – particularly the USA – is just my favourite thing.  A few days in San Francisco, a snow-covered lodge in Sequoia National Park, Christmas in a log cabin in Yosemite National Park and New Year in a fabulous private house in Hawaii – truly memories to cherish and remember forever.

A great experience of course but there are so many things which negatively affect the whole experience when you’re hard of hearing.  Not being able to hear announcements on the plane, not knowing what’s happening when flights are delayed and being unable to hear announcements in the airport – that’s just for starters.  Add to that the terrible background noise at check-in desks, being unable to hear bus drivers on courtesy coaches when they ask which hotel you’re staying at, trying to hire a car in a deafeningly loud rental office …. it makes travelling so much more stressful.

I’ve also become a keen critic of architects who design marble hotel reception areas with no soft furnishings, terrible acoustics and waterfall features which drown out speech.  Then there’s waiters in restaurants who have strange accents and mumble while they tell you about unfamiliar food you’ve never heard of, plus tours around tourist attractions with no loop system for guided talks …. well it’s just a real pain.

One thing that made the journey slightly easier was a new app – Flightview – a flight tracker and airport diary.  You can track your flight number and it updates you on any delays, changes to arrival/departure times and your departure-gate number.  It was a real help, although you need to keep an eye on the airport information just in case as our flight departure gate changed at the last minute and Flightview didn’t update us.  At least it reduced the stress of having to listen to garbled announcements or fighting the queue to get to the check-in desk  for more information!

Delayed-Airline-passengers

 

 

Come on, Sky! Get your act together!

I’m thrilled to see my guest blog is on the Action on Hearing Loss website today!

I’ve been a member of Action on Hearing Loss for years now, including spending a year fund-raising and supporting their activities, and it’s really satisfying being able to play a part in campaigning and raising awareness on hearing loss issues.

I was delighted to be asked to write a response to the recent ATVOD report about the poor levels of subtitling for on-demand services.  We all know the technology exists to make this happen – the BBC has 100% of its content fully accessible – so other broadcasters are lagging way behind and they need a sharp poke with a pointy stick to get them to catch up.

Yes, there are technical difficulties, but if the sound went off on normal programmes you wouldn’t be able to hear yourself think as a scream of protest went up around the world from people with normal hearing!  Why should we be any different?

Sky is missing a huge financial opportunity here too – there are 7.5m people in the UK who regularly need subtitles but can’t access anything on Sky’s ‘On Demand’ service.  It’s so disappointing/frustrating/irritating!!!  If Sky got their finger out and provided subtitles just think how many more potential customers they could get!

If you feel equally aggrieved and want to do something to support this campaign, contact campaigns@hearingloss.org.uk

http://www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk/community/blogs/our-guest-blog/subtitles-an-absolute-essential.aspx

frustrated