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Hearing – Josie

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Age: 41    Height: 5ft 2ins

Lives in: London

Profoundly deaf

Assistive aids:
Assistance dog, Shakewake alarm, vibrating visual alerts, hearing aids, Captel, SMS

Links: Case studies | Related statistics

What I can do

  • Follow a TV programme with good quality captions
  • Lip read someone (within 6 feet) who is a clear speaker
  • Use vibrating or visual alerts to sounds wearing hearing aid
  • Communicate well on the phone using CapTel (Text Direct and Minicoms don’t work well at all for a number of reasons) or SMS

What I cannot do

  • Have difficulty hearing someone talking in a loud voice in a quiet room wearing hearing aid
  • Cannot hear a doorbell, alarm clock, cooker timer, smoke alarm, fire bell, telephone bell, train/tube announcements wearing hearing aid
  • Cannot understand the TV or radio wearing hearing aid
  • Cannot hear on the phone wearing hearing aid
  • Have difficulty understanding what other people say


Part-time lecturer, business owner (communications company), post-graduate student.

My condition

Born profoundly deaf and brought up with speech and lip reading (not sign language). I got a cochlear implant in 2010 and now have almost perfect hearing in one ear. This means I can hear all sounds (but not know what they are) and understand some speech. However I cannot hear against background noise and I cannot tell what direction sounds come from – this is because two good ears are required for this. I am learning to recognise sounds and am progressing all the time. I have started to use the phone a little with familiar voices. I am now understanding communication from both sides – the hearing side and the deaf side.

A typical day

Arise at 7am with the help of a ShakeAwake vibrating alarm clock, commute to work by Tube and walking. Commute takes 90 mins each way. I always have my assistance dog with me, which is tricky when the Tube is busy. I work 10am-6pm in the office and help hearing people with their queries and deaf people with their communication needs. I always go to the park at lunchtime with my dog. I might pop to a shop on the way home to pick up food. In the evenings I am on the internet, talking to my friends online or doing some work/research online.

Good designs and how they improve my life

Good designs improve my life through accessibility. This applies to every part of my life really, as communication affects all parts of my life:

Entertainment: availability of cinema captioning and rental video/CD captioning. Availability of printed information in plain English or pictorial information (maps, diagrams, flowcharts etc). A well lit public place makes communication so much easier as I can see the speaker’s face to lip read them.

Transport: Clear, easily readable captions on buses and trains/Tube really help as they give me information and reassurance. Placement of captions is important. When flying, I am given a handout with printed information instead of having to try to lip read the flight attendant give their safety speech. Airlines who caption their in-flight videos make them accessible to me, and the flight much more enjoyable.

Education: Acoustically well-designed lecture theatres and classrooms in schools make it much easier for me to understand students (in close proximity) and also for my interpreter (stenographer) to hear them.

Work: I have my own office, which is quiet and enables me to concentrate without the distraction of unwanted sounds, and offers space for the interpreter and my hearing dog. So space and surroundings are also a part of good design in my case.

Environment: Good signposting helps as I don’t need to rely on asking hearing people for directions/information, with all the communication problems that can occur.

Hotels: Flashing/strobe light alarms in hotel rooms.

Technology: Vibrating mobile phone is vital to me. So is the Internet, Skype, email, MSN Messenger. All are vital for business and personal communication. They need to be easily accessible and available.

Lessons for designers

Try being deaf for a day. Think about life with your eyes, not your ears. Deafness is not about silence. Try to live a day wearing your iPod and doing everything with your iPod on – go and buy a train ticket from the ticket kiosk, ask for something in a shop, ask someone for directions, anything that requires you to communicate. The constant noise simulates tinnitus, which is very common and removes your reliance on your hearing. This will open up insights for you into what it’s like to be deaf yet subject to a constant stream of meaningless irritating noise. Tinnitus aside, a hearing loss means you will still receive a stream of meaningless noise (speech) and have to spend all day trying to ‘decode’ this, which is very tiring.

Space is important. Space to relax in peace, without distractions, without people, without the stress of communicating. Deafness is simply exhausting. When I am tired, I cannot concentrate, I cannot communicate, ergo I cannot hear. Space to have the necessary accommodations to life such as interpreters, text phones, captions, fax machines, computers – visual communication available on demand, and portable, would be great. This means hearing people need to understand adjustments.

Not all deaf people want sign language. Not all deaf want captions. In the UK, 9 million have some sort of hearing loss (this is one in seven). By 2014, this will increase to one in four. Only about 23,000 people use sign language and this number is getting smaller. Over 8 million would benefit from quality captions – captions may be present but the quality is sometimes poor, defeating the purpose.

Hearing loss cannot be seen and a lot of people do not want to disclose they have a hearing loss. Businesses need to show us they are accessible and be pro-active about this. It’s no good having a textphone number then not taking a textphone call, or refusing to take a Text Direct call from a deaf person because they think it breaches confidentiality (actually it doesn’t – operators sign the Official Secrets Act) or the hearing person doesn’t know how to deal with a call from a deaf person and so just hangs up.

Poor designs and how they impact my life

On London Transport, I often have to carry my dog on escalators and he is heavy at 16kg. Stairs and lifts help but stations often don’t have either. There is often no staff around to ask to stop the escalator so we can walk down. Sometimes there is a big gap between train and platform – the worst place is Clapham Junction. My dog has fallen into the gap a few times.

Places such as cafes and bars are too noisy as sounds echo off hard surfaces, creating background noise, which means I cannot focus on a speaker’s voice to hear them. A deaf person cannot have selective hearing and cannot filter out background noise.

An open plan office just doesn’t work for me as there is too much background noise, even with only one other person in the room. This is particularly true with a cochlear implant as sounds are amplified so much.

The quality of signage is important too. The new LCD signage at train stations can be hard to read from certain angles or in bright light. I prefer the old signage systems. Station names are not always visible when arriving by train, sometimes I have gotten off at the wrong stop because I couldn’t see the station name and/or the train didn’t show onboard which station the train was pulling into. Sometimes I am not sure if the incoming train is the correct one as they change platforms/times, there is no destination on the front of the train.

In emergencies, no text or flashing light alerts in public places, or lack of access to a text 999 number or a public textphone – these are problematic.

Five most important ‘things’ in my life

  • Technology
  • Relationships
  • Communication
  • Nature
  • Sunlight

Message for designers

Cafes and bars need soft furnishings and carpet to absorb sounds and reduce background noise. No background music, particularly in shops, please – this makes it very hard to make out speech from shop assistants.

All parts of transport should offer the possibility of independence by offering information in different ways.

I feel much more reassured when a business states they are deaf-friendly and they follow this through, for example by offering a fax number, an email address, not just a phone number. When completing an online form or order, often businesses ask for a phone number and this is a mandatory field, and there is no option to give them an email address. Where is the accessibility?