Raising deaf awareness

Oluchi Zelic, in her MSc physiotherapy final year at St George’s University of London, tells of tough times with placements 

Oluchi Zelic
​ Oluchi Zelic, in her MSc physiotherapy final year at St George’s University of London ​

I was born with profound bilateral hearing loss and use a cochlear implant to enable me to hear. However, I rely heavily on lipreading which requires great concentration as many words have identical lip patterns.   

The pandemic has affected everyone in a variety of ways but for me, mask-wearing and the use of video conferencing technology to replace face-to-face meetings have had a particularly adverse effect.   

When out and about, having to constantly explain my deafness and ask people to remove their masks so I can lipread is frustrating and sometimes met with a lack of empathy.   

At university I rely on British Sign Language interpreters and notetakers in lectures, meetings and in-service training sessions to make the course accessible to me. Since the pandemic all teaching and meetings are delivered online leaving me at the mercy of the quality of my internet connection and whether or not the audio signal is in sync with the video! My university has worked really hard to mitigate these problems by providing live captioning for all my lectures and meetings.   

During the pandemic I’ve had two hospital placements. The first was extremely stressful. Team members didn’t always remember to wear clear face masks or visors and there was a lack of deaf awareness during patient sessions and meetings (people talking over each other, mumbling etc), which meant my interpreter and I were unable to follow what was going on. Reminding people of my communication needs could be awkward at times, especially as I was a student. I often felt overwhelmed and excluded.   

My second placement went better. I was given plenty of notice and was able to meet my educators beforehand to discuss my communication needs and suitable adaptations to accommodate them. As a result, clear masks were consistently worn by everyone who worked with me and there was a better sense of deaf awareness. This made me feel more included and less anxious and stressed, making this placement a more enjoyable learning experience. 

Apart from my needs, the use of clear masks was a definite winner with the patients, who loved to see a smiling face! 

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