For the last week, Action on Hearing Loss has been marking Deaf Awareness Week by asking people to tell us their stories. Rather than set a particular agenda ourselves, we wanted the voices of those living with hearing loss to be heard, and their stories to be shared.
During the course of the week, dozens of people came through to us via Twitter, Facebook and through a dedicated page on our website to tell us their own unique experiences of hearing loss. Some had been born deaf or had a profound hearing loss from a young age; some had very suddenly lost some or much of their hearing as adults; many, as you might expect, had lost their hearing gradually as they aged.
Many stories reflected all-too familiar tales of isolation, of discrimination - both directly in terms of exclusion from work and services, and indirectly in the form of widespread ignorance and a lack of deaf awareness.
But that wasn't all we heard. We promoted positive stories on Twitter and Facebook, and through emails to our supporters, of people with hearing loss talking about their achievements, with the tag line 'I definitely can!'. The response we received was heartening.
We have a profoundly deaf cyclist fundraising for us, doing both Ride London and a marathon ride across the USA. We have a lady who, previously a keen athlete, lost her hearing and balance very suddenly - only to bounce back to her feet and continue doing triathlons. We have an acclaimed opera singer who never let her hearing loss stand in her way. We have internationally acclaimed percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, who said to us:
"Like many my hearing had the potential to stop me from doing the things I loved. I never gave up and neither should you. Remember, some challenges can actually help us to build self-confidence and as soon as you realise this, your confidence will grow and you will flourish."
What these stories tell us is that hearing loss and deafness are not barriers to incredible achievement - rather, it's society's lack of understanding and accessibility that creates unnecessary barriers.
Alongside our campaign to hear peoples' stories, we've been encouraging people and businesses across the UK to become more deaf aware to help remove these barriers. One in six people has a hearing loss - a number that will increase to one in five by 2035 due to our ageing population. For businesses to continue largely ignoring this fact would be a false economy - putting up barriers to employment for millions of capable workers makes no sense. On a personal level, just a few communication adjustments such as looking at the person you're speaking to and not covering your mouth could cumulatively make an enormous difference to someone's quality of life.
What we've learned - or rather, what has been reaffirmed this week - is that no disability, whether visible or not, is a barrier to happiness and achievement. We hope the message gets out there that, despite many people's preconceptions, people with hearing loss definitely can.
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