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Deaf Awareness Week 2023 - An interview with Molly O'Brien from the Deaf-Initely Women Charity

Kimberley Bradshaw - Head of Marketing
Written By:
Kimberley Bradshaw

Head of Customer Content Experience

Updated: 6th May 2023
Deaf Awareness Week 2023

Deaf Awareness Week 2023

Molly O’Brien - One of the superwomen behind the Deaf-Initely Women Charity

 

Deaf Awareness Week 2023, 1st – 7th May 2023

#DeafAwarenessWeek

|  May 2023 Update:  This interview was written during the COVID lockdown in 2019.  Molly O'Brien now works for a large charity for disabilities in sports. Well done Molly!

Deaf Awareness Week is an important annual event dedicated to promoting understanding, acceptance, and inclusivity for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. Typically observed in May, this campaign aims to raise awareness about deaf culture, the challenges faced by the deaf community, and the importance of accessibility and communication equality.

Deaf Awareness Week encourages educational activities, events, and initiatives that foster communication, respect, and empowerment. By increasing knowledge and promoting dialogue, this observance seeks to create a more inclusive and supportive society that values and embraces the diversity and contributions of the deaf community.

Here, we take a look back at our interview with Molly O'Brien. What drives her and her colleagues to support and inspire women who may be feeling or have been discriminated against due to their hearing loss?  Sticking together to provide a constant flow of support to deaf and hard-of-hearing women and bringing them together to form a confident and thriving hub of a community. 

 

Was there a pivotal moment in your life that jump-started your passion to support those women who are deaf and hard of hearing?

As a deafblind woman myself, I am well aware of the issues and challenges that deaf, blind, and deafblind women face in society. I chose to study Sociology at University because I enjoy the subject and also because I saw Sociology as a way to make a positive difference in disabled people’s lives.

Whilst at University I was involved in the Students’ Union; representing disabled women in the Women’s Network (a support network for women students); in my final year at University, I was elected as the Disabled Students’ Officer, representing and supporting disabled students.

Through my Master's Degree in ‘Research Methods Sociology’, I realised how social research can be used to make a difference for disabled people and how research within the charity sector is a powerful tool for change. 

 

‘Deaf-Initely Women’ is run by deaf women for deaf women - could you tell us a bit about your role in this organisation?  Do you think this role has changed you, as a person and not just professionally?

I joined Deaf-initely Women in early 2019 as a volunteer, interested in the organisation and aim to further develop my work skills. Having finished University nearly 3 years prior to volunteering with Deaf-initely Women, I had not been able to gain paid employment. Despite various job interviews, many employers saw my ‘disability’, rather than focusing on what I could actually do.

I also found many employers focused on my perceived inexperience in workplaces. They were not aware that as a disabled person, it is incredibly difficult for me to gain meaningful work experience and volunteer opportunities due to many access barriers. Deaf-initely Women provided me with accessible, supported and meaningful volunteer opportunities to develop my skills, confidence and meet other deaf women. 

I now continue my work as a paid employee at Deaf-initely Women in the role of Researcher and Evaluator. My role is extremely varied, however, the main aspect of my work focuses on undertaking qualitative and quantitative research to support and submit various funding applications and write key evaluation reports for current projects within the organisation.

I am involved with many other aspects of the charity's work. I recently organised and led a successful yoga workshop, which was fully accessible and inclusive for deaf women.

Working for Deaf-initely Women has given me my first employment, enabling me to develop my work skills and personal confidence. The role has enabled me to positively contribute to providing full, inclusive access for deaf women.

 

Has the main focus of ‘Deaf-Initely Women’ always been the same or has it evolved over the years? 

To me, it is really important that Deaf-initely Women is run by and for deaf women. I personally have never encountered any other organisation like this. Deaf-initely Women’s unique position is pivotal to the charity’s work. The main focus of our work remains the same; to provide peer-led services responsive to the needs and requirements of deaf and hard of hearing women.

We provide support to build deaf women’s emotional and financial resilience to become more independent at work, at home and in society. We aim to; improve deaf women’s health and wellbeing, challenge discrimination, build confidence, support deaf women to gain skills and work experience. 

 

For those who aren’t aware of your organisation, could you tell us about what support and services you can offer to the community?

Deaf-initely Women encourages women with hearing loss, including deaf women whose first language is sign language, deafblind and hard of hearing women to learn new skills, make new friends and support each other.

The charity includes deaf women of all ages from aged 18+ and with varying degrees of deafness and communication needs. Deaf-initely Women serves all deaf women in Derby, Derbyshire and surrounding areas.

We provide a range of inclusive accessible events, workshops and courses, aiming to improve deaf women’s well-being, health, skills, knowledge and confidence. All our events are provided with full communication support including, sign language interpreters, speech-to-text and hearing loops.

Our events, workshops and courses are delivered by deaf and hard of hearing women themselves. Examples of events include basic communication and BSL courses, healthy eating, safety, mindfulness, macramé and crafts.

Deaf-initely Women also provides supported volunteer and work experience opportunities for deaf women. Volunteer opportunities range from assisting in the office, social media and marketing to assisting with events. Freelance work opportunities include organising events/workshops and delivering events as a tutor.   

 

What’s been your ‘shine’ moment in your career?  

I consider myself to be near the beginning of my career, but already I know my proudest moments are when my work has an actual positive impact. Being able to reassure new disabled students, by talking about the challenges and opportunities of being at University. Being able to provide supported inclusive events for deaf women to be empowered, learn and socialise.    

I am proud when I am able to successfully portray disabled people’s stories and experiences through my research work – whether these are stories of communication barriers, experiences of diagnosis, experiences of employment and gaps in service provisions for them personally. Writing these stories and experiences have a powerful impact on bringing my work to life. 

 

What’s been the biggest challenge in your career so far?

Being at the beginning of my career, my main challenge has been actually obtaining employment. Upon finishing my Master's Degree I was successful in gaining a place on a graduate scheme, being told I was a high standard candidate.

However, the organisation (that delivered the scheme) was unable to identify a suitable work placement for me in the Midlands area (where I live) and a placement that could provide the support I require as a deafblind woman.

As a disabled person gaining employment and work experience, is not as accessible compared with non-disabled peers. It was frustrating to be told I am intelligent and capable enough, but then not able to actually work. This was increasingly so, with subsequent job searching, applications and interviews, before I gained employment with Deaf-initely Women.

 

Times are very different for everybody at the moment.  Living in isolation and conforming to government guidelines, due to the virus we are currently facing, can make us feel segregated from the community, family and any form of communication. 

How can we empower the deaf and hard-of-hearing community to thrive in this environment?  

In the current uncertain and isolating times, it is even more important to keep in contact with family, friends and those important to you. Use the technology that you have and use whatever communication means is best for you – phone, text, social media, messenger, WhatsApp, Skype. Find the best way to keep in contact with others for you.

As a deafblind person myself I continue to adapt to various communication means. Some are more accessible for me than others, so I use what is easiest for me. Focus on the technology, online resources and communication that works for you.  

Do not be afraid to ask for help and assistance if you need it, either from family, friends, or professionals. Do not struggle unnecessarily in these times.  Focus on your interests, what makes you happy and what you can achieve at home. If you can, set yourself challenges at home.

For example, I enjoy yoga and fitness, so to access online classes via the Zoom app, I connect my laptop to my TV so I can see the screen better. I then connect my hearing FM system to my laptop and the sound is streamed directly to my hearing aids. I can access most of the class that way and feel happy continuing to practice yoga at home this way.

 

For those dedicated individuals who want to make a difference and support the deaf and hard of hearing community, what advice would you give and how can they get involved?

Ask questions and do not assume anything about people who are deaf and hard of hearing. Be prepared to listen and learn.  It might seem obvious but have good clear communication skills. This is so important for working and supporting deaf and hard-of-hearing communities.

Be adaptable with communication.  Remember deaf and hearing-impaired people are the experts in their own deafness, as they live it every day. Everybody is an individual, with individual needs. 

 

Your main aims, as a non-profitable organisation, are to improve wellbeing, challenge discrimination and build confidence. 

Is there a specific time in your life when you could relate to any of these?  What excites you most about the changes you can make to women’s lives?

When I was at University, I wanted to access sport, fitness and physical activities but I initially found this difficult, as I did not have the support or the confidence to do so. I found this challenging as it involved meeting new people, new environments and explaining my needs.

Not everyone was supportive and understanding, which negatively impacted my self-confidence and well-being. When I gained the right support, I was able to access sports and fitness that interested me, thereby increasing my confidence and improving my mental and physical wellbeing. 

I have also been in many situations that have been discriminatory. It is difficult to challenge discrimination. However, with the support of family and friends I have successfully done this. It was hard but feels so much better to actually challenge discrimination. 

Through working at Deaf-initely Women, I aim to use my own lived experiences of deafblindness to help facilitate positive changes for others – positive impact and changes for deaf women’s lives.

 

Are there any future projects you can tease us with?

As a charity, we are continually developing our projects and discussing new ideas for our work. During this current difficult and uncertain situation, we are working on adapting our services, so we continue to support deaf women, by providing more online events and workshops with full communication access for deaf women with all levels of hearing loss.

This has exciting potential for Deaf-initely Women’s future work, as we can use this current experience to develop and progress our future face-to-face and online services and events for deaf women.  

 

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Deaf Awareness Week 2023

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Interviewed by Kimberley Bradshaw

Meet Kimberley Bradshaw , Head of Customer Content Experience

By working closely with the Hearing Aid UK audiologists, experts and advisers, she develops the online content, so that the customer's experience is the best it can be. 

Kimberley's medical representation has allowed her to focus on the importance of hearing healthcare and explore the many ways in which hearing loss and its awareness can be improved.

She has collaborated and written about hearing healthcare for several online publications.

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Common FAQs when researching hearing aids and hearing loss

Is this the best model for me?

If you are looking at this page then it is likely that an audiologist has suggested that you purchase this particular hearing aid, so is this the best model for you?

In general, any audiologist will always be recommending to you the model that best suits your needs. Here is a useful check list to make sure that is the case.

  • Audiologist level of knowledge. The audiologist you have seen will hopefully have a wide knowledge of all available hearing aids, however some will only be familiar with a small number of brands and therefore may not really be in a position to know which model is the best for you. It is OK to challenge their recommendation and ask them to justify why this particular brand is the one for you.
  • Do research. Read about the hearing aid that was recommended. Does it seem like it will suit your lifestyle? Does it have more or less features than you need? 
  • Be aware of sales targets. Many high street retailers have specific tie-ins to a particular manufacturer/brand. The hearing aid they have suggested may still be the correct one for you, but do your research so that you know why they might have recommended it.

If in doubt, feel free to give us a call. That's what we're here for.

Do I need one hearing aid or two?

If you have a significant hearing loss in both ears, you should be wearing two hearing aids. Here are the audiological reasons why:

Localisation. The brain decodes information from both ears and compares and contrasts them. By analysing the miniscule time delays as well as the difference in loudness of each sound reaching the ears, the person is able to accurately locate a sound source. Simply put, if you have better hearing on one side than the other, you can't accurately tell what direction sounds are coming from.

Less amplification required. A phenomena known as “binaural summation” means that the hearing aids can be set at a lower and more natural volume setting than than if you wore only one hearing aid.

Head shadow effect. High frequencies, the part of your hearing that gives clarity and meaning to speech sounds, cannot bend around your head. Only low frequencies can. Therefore if someone is talking on your unaided side you are likely to hear that they are speaking, but be unable to tell what they have said.

Noise reduction. The brain has it’s own built in noise reduction which is only really effective when it is receiving information from both ears. If only one ear is aided, even with the best hearing aid in the world, it will be difficult for you to hear in background noise as your brain is trying to retain all of the sounds (including background noise) rather than filtering it out.

Sound quality. We are designed to hear in stereo. Only hearing from one side sounds a lot less natural to us.

What are the benefits of rechargeable hearing aids?

For most people, the main benefit of a rechargeable hearing aid is simple convenience. We are used to plugging in our phones and other devices overnight for them to charge up. 

For anybody with poor dexterity or issues with their fingers, having a rechargeable aid makes a huge difference as normal hearing aid batteries are quite small and some people find them fiddly to change.

One downside is that if you forget to charge your hearing aid, then it is a problem that can't be instantly fixed. For most a 30 minute charge will get you at least two or three hours of hearing, but if you are the type of person who is likely to forget to plug them in regularly then you're probably better off with standard batteries.

Rechargeable aids are also a little bit bigger and are only available in behind the ear models.

Finally, just like with a mobile phone, the amount of charge you get on day one is not going to be the same as you get a few years down the line. Be sure to ask what the policy is with the manufacturer warranty when it comes to replacing the battery.

 

Are behind the ear aids better than in the ear aids?

For most people, the answer is yes. But it's never that simple.

The majority of hearing problems affect the high frequencies a lot more than the low ones. Therefore open fitting hearing aids sound a lot more natural and ones that block your ears up can make your own voice sound like you are talking with your head in a bucket. Therefore in-ear aids tend to be less natural.

However the true answer is we can't tell until we have had a look in your ears to assess the size of your ear canal, and until we have tested your hearing to see which frequencies are being affected.

People with wider ear canals tend to have more flexibility, also there are open fitting modular CIC hearing aids now that do not block your ears.

There is also the age old rule to consider, that a hearing aid will not help you if it's sat in the drawer gathering dust. If the only hearing aid you would be happy wearing is one that people can't see, then that's what you should get.

Most people can adapt to any type of hearing aid, as long as they know what to expect. Have an honest conversation with your audiologist as to what your needs are.

What are channels, and how many do I need?

Generally speaking, six or more. Unless it's none at all.

The number of channels a hearing aid has is often a simplistic way an audiologist will use to explain why one hearing aid is better than another, but channels are complex and it is really not that straightforward.

Hearing aids amplify sounds of different frequencies by different amounts. Most people have lost more high frequencies than low and therefore need more amplification in the high frequencies. The range of sounds you hear are split into frequency bands or channels and the hearing aids are set to provide the right amount of hearing at each frequency level.

Less than six channels and this cannot be done with much accuracy, so six is the magic number. However, a six channel aid is typically very basic with few other features and is suitable only for hearing a single speaker in a quiet room. The number of channels is not what you should be looking at, it's more the rest of the technology that comes with them.

As a final note, different manufacturers have different approaches. One method is not necessarily better than any other. For example some manufacturers have as many as 64 channels in their top aids. Most tend to have between 17 and 20. One manufacturer has no channels at all.

Where can I get the hearing aids covered?

Hearing aids are easily lost, misplaced or damaged and typically are one of the most expensive personal possessions an individual can own. We offer hearing aid warranty cover for £80 per year per aid.  Find out more here

How much does the hearing test cost?

All our audiologists use the very latest technology and provide the full range of tests to accurately measure your hearing for free.  Find out about what we offer all our customers here

Do home visits cost extra?

Hearing Aid UK offers all their customers free home visiting services and home visits for hearing aids - Including hearing tests, fittings, maintenance, check-ups and much more in the comfort of your own home and at your convenience.  Find out more information here

How come you're much cheaper than other places?

Here, at Hearing Aid UK, we are dedicated to offering low hearing aid prices. We achieve this by having no head office and low marketing costs.   Our hearing aid prices are amongst the lowest you will find anywhere in the world.

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