Have you considered people with hearing loss?

During Disability History Month, Jamie Miller presents ways physiotherapy workers can support colleagues and patients who may have hearing loss

Jamie Miller
Jamie Miller inpatient physiotherapist at Nuffield Health Wessex Hospital, Southampton

Twelve million people in the UK are deaf or have some level of hearing loss. They all face different communication challenges that can – potentially -– affect them adversely. 

I was born with a severe bilateral hearing loss and I wear hearing aids. I have faced challenges, but I work successfully in the hearing world and can share valuable advice. I’m a member of the CSP DisAbility Network and UK Deaf Healthcare Professionals Network, and have friends and family with hearing losses too.

Overall, I feel fortunate to have received excellent support during my education and working life but there is often low awareness of the challenges facing people with a hearing loss. One example that affects both health professionals and patients is poor

12 million people in the UK are deaf or have some level of hearing loss

acoustics in hospitals: hard surfaces, the use of curtains to separate treatment areas and lots of people in close proximity.

People with a hearing loss can feel excluded and daily life becomes more difficult than necessary

While my current employer and managers are very supportive, at times I’ve experienced negativity and a lack of empathy, which is worrying in a profession where we treat many patients with hearing losses. 

Small changes can make a world of difference to the person concerned. The charity RNID has tips for communicating clearly. For example, make sure you face the person you are talking to and speak clearly, avoid shouting, speaking too fast or slow. 

A colleague and I are learning sign language to help patients where it is their main form of communication. Outside work, I’ve bought a clear mask as cloth masks prevent us from lipreading and seeing facial expressions. I really hope that one day clear masks will be the norm in healthcare settings. 

It’s not difficult but I do believe a change in attitude is badly needed. I challenge every one of you to consider what you can do to improve your awareness of the impact of a hearing loss in a clinical setting.

Diversity should be celebrated and the individuals supported. The benefit of improving awareness of hearing loss is more effective workplaces and improved healthcare. It’s a win-win situation. 

RNID communication tips for health and social care professionals 

  • Jamie Miller is an inpatient physiotherapist at Nuffield Health Wessex Hospital, Southampton

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