As the month of July and our focus on Senses draws to a close, we wanted to share the story of our very own practice manager, Rebecca Bliss, who lives with 80% hearing loss.
Rebecca recently told The Dentist magazine that her hearing loss happened gradually during her childhood and wasn’t spotted until she was at junior school. It’s thought her loss of hearing can be attributed to contracting chicken pox at the age of two.
She explained that her non-verbal communication skills are finely honed from years of ‘reading’ people and situations and she is confidence in her ability to communicate well. She said: “I’m a ‘people’ person so managing a team is something that comes quite naturally to me.”
Rebecca recently graduated from the Operational Managers Academy, a 12-month course designed to help managers develop the knowledge and skills to become area managers or equivalent.
“My hearing loss has definitely contributed to my confidence… as I have pushed myself to be better, almost to prove to myself that I am more than capable, in spite of my disability.”
Rebecca’s team and support colleagues have learned to work with her disability by:
– Communicating via text or email, not phone
– Teams calls allowing the use of closed captions
– Making sure she is looking at them when they are speaking to her
– Speaking clearly so she can lip read
– And by simply having patience and understanding
Since hearing loss is an invisible disability, Rebecca made a conscious decision to wear her hair short so her hearing aids can be seen. “I believe I have a responsibility to whomever I am conversing with to provide them with information about my hearing loss and what I need to help them communicate more effectively with me.”
Even though colleagues have been supportive and accommodating, she said, “One place I struggle in my role is a large meeting such as an area meeting or a training session with a group. I can’t keep up with the number of speakers and can lose the thread of the dialogue.” She’s found that sitting near the speaker and in a horseshoe seating formation helps.
Living with hearing loss can be challenge enough, but Covid made it harder. “Masks present a huge barrier for people who rely on lip-reading to communicate.” One positive outcome, Rebecca feels, is that Covid made even those who have no trouble hearing realise how much they too rely on lip-reading, without knowing it.
So, how do we continue to grow our awareness of hidden and not-so-hidden sensory disabilities so we can improve accessibility for everyone? According to Rebecca, “There’s little understanding both in dentistry and the wider community of the various levels and individual needs when it comes to communicating effectively with someone with a hearing loss. Education is the best way of helping anyone within our society who is deemed different from the norm. If people have a better understanding of someone else’s situation, they will become far more tolerant and adaptable to people’s needs.”