Pursuing my passion – life as a deaf RVN

Written by: Megan Blythe
Published On: 13 Jul 2020
Category:

Megan Blythe

Since I started my training in 2013, I have always had a passion for medical and critical care nursing.

When the opportunity to work for Davies Veterinary Specialists as a wards nurse came along last year, I knew it was the job for me. However, I did have some anxiety about the job being suitable for me, as I am deaf.

Firstly, I should explain the importance of the difference between being deaf and being Deaf. Being Deaf with a capital “D” applies to people who are culturally Deaf and part of the Deaf community (O’Neill, 2003). They use British Sign Language (BSL) as their first language and, depending on the individual, often English as their second language.

Being deaf with a lower case “d” applies to people whose deafness is acquired rather than congenital and something to be treated or eradicated. This covers a large range of conditions and severity.

People who fall into the deaf category may also describe themselves as hard of hearing. People who are deaf often wear hearing aids to improve their hearing ability, English will be their first language and they will usually lip-read.

I think one of the questions I am asked the most is do I know BSL? The answer is I know enough to get me through a conversation or two now, but do not get to practise it enough. However, my first language is English and I largely rely on my hearing aids, lip-reading and body language.

Working in a referral hospital

I have been working at Davies since August 2019 as a wards nurse and absolutely love it. On a day-to-day basis, I provide care to the patients in my ward and communicate with clinicians about their treatment. I have seen so many new things since I started working at Davies, and feel my nursing skills and knowledge have improved massively.

I care for patients across disciplines – from neurology, orthopaedics and internal medicine to ophthalmology and oncology – and for some of the very sick animals in the new intensive care unit. My favourite cases are those in internal medicine and intensive care, and I love my weeks in the ICU.

I have had to overcome a number of challenges, such as struggling with noisy environments, telephone conversations and group meetings.

Every day we do morning rounds where the wards nurse presents the patients to the vet in charge of the case. This was tough for me and I would often rely on my supervisors to pass on to me what was said. I was also unable to answer the telephone if the noise levels were high in the prep room – which, as we all know, is most of the time.

However, when speaking to my audiologist I was advised about a scheme called Access to Work. This Government scheme allows people with disabilities to apply for grants for equipment to help them in the workplace. I applied for the grant and, after an assessment at work, received the Government funding towards my equipment.

Davies kindly topped up the rest of the money needed to buy the equipment I needed – something I would never have been able to afford on my own. The pieces of equipment I received included the following.

Phonak Roger Table Mic

The Phonak Roger Table Mic is a microphone that uses Bluetooth to connect straight into my hearing aids (Figure 1). I use this for meetings we have in practice – a great example being team talks and CPD events. It is especially helpful if multiple people are taking it in turns to talk.

Phonak Roger Table Mic

Figure 1. The Phonak Roger Table Mic and remote control.

The microphone is barely noticeable on the table and is very lightweight. It also has a useful option of increasing the range of voices it picks up, meaning I can increase or decrease the range, depending on how far away I am sitting from the speakers.

The main advantage of using this piece of equipment is that, on top of streaming directly into my hearing aids, it also eliminates background noise.

That is such a major bonus that I will use the table microphone even if I’m just with two or three people. I find I can keep up in the conversation and miss far less of what is going on.

Phonak Roger Pen

The Phonak Roger Pen is a small pen-like piece of equipment that has to be my favourite. I use it in situations where there is one speaker, and it streams the voice directly into my hearing aids and blocks out the background noise. This means I don’t have to rely on lip-reading so much, which can be very draining.

It is really difficult to explain to someone who has full hearing how amazing it is. But I imagine it would be like the difference between listening to a song on a radio that is on quietly in the corner of a loud, busy room, compared to listening to the same song through earphones.

Another feature this little device has is it can attach to telephone adapters that have been installed into the work phones (Figure 2).

The Phonak Roger Pen

Figure 2. The Phonak Roger Pen in use connected to the telephone in the main kennels area. Image © Davies Veterinary Specialists

This means when I am speaking on the telephone, the speaker’s voice will be streamed directly into my hearing aids. This means I can speak on the phone – even in a busy environment.

Now, thanks to Phonak Roger Pen, I can manage in morning rounds without help and take telephone calls regardless of the noise levels – giving me so much more independence at work (Figures 3 and 4).

Managing morning rounds

Figure 3. Managing morning rounds

Taking telephone calls

Figure 4. Taking telephone calls regardless of the noise levels.

What is Access to Work?

Access to Work is a Government scheme to help those with disabilities in the workplace.

The type of support available is shown in the following list (GOV.UK, 2020) – for me, this included the specialist equipment to use alongside the hearing aids I was already using and adaptations to equipment used at work.

Access to Work can provide:

  • adaptations to the equipment you use
  • special equipment or software
  • BSL interpreters and video relay service support, lip-speakers or note-takers
  • adaptations to your vehicle so you can get to work
  • taxi fares to work or a support worker if you cannot use public transport
  • a support worker or job coach to help you in your workplace
  • disability awareness training for your colleagues
  • the cost of moving your equipment if you change location or job

Anyone with a disability (including mental health) can check if he or she is eligible on the Government’s website and apply for the grant with a quick online application.

The whole process for me only took a few months – from the initial application to the specialist equipment arriving at my practice.

Deaf awareness and why it is important

Deaf awareness is extremely important – especially when working in veterinary practice, as one in six people are deaf or suffer from hearing loss in the UK (Action on Hearing Loss, 2020a).

Several tips can be helpful when communicating with someone who is deaf that will make the conversation much easier for both of you. The below list shows some of the dos and don’ts (Action on Hearing Loss, 2020b).

Do

  • Approach the person from the side or front.
  • Try to find somewhere quiet with good lighting on your face so the person can see your lips moving. This can be very difficult – especially in a veterinary hospital.
  • Turn your face towards the person so he or she can easily see your lips moving.
  • Speak clearly with normal lip movements, facial expressions and gestures.
  • Make sure what you are saying is being understood. 
  • Rephrase your sentence and try saying it in a new way.
  • Make sure your body language and gestures match your tone.
  • Make sure you keep eye contact throughout.
  • Make sure you are looking directly at the person you are communicating with.
  • Ask the person how you can help. For example, if I am struggling in a noisy environment that is unavoidable, I am more than happy for something to be written down for me to read. Do not be afraid to ask how you can help.

Don’t

  • Approach the person from behind, or tap him or her on the back to get his or her attention.
  • Start conversations in noisy environments with bad lighting and distractions.
  • Cover your mouth with your hands when you are speaking. You may not realise you are even doing this, but people do it all the time.
  • Make exaggerated movements with your mouth and wild facial expressions.
  • Carry on speaking when you can see the person is lost in the conversation.
  • Give up on the conversation and say “never mind” or “it doesn’t matter” if the person is struggling to understand.
  • Shout louder if he or she can’t hear you – to a hearing aid user this will be uncomfortable and look aggressive.
  • Look away when you are talking to the person.
  • Look at someone else in the conversation (for example, a BSL interpreter) while speaking to that person.
  • Get frustrated with the person if the conversation is not working.

Conclusion

With 12 million people living in the UK with hearing loss (Action on Hearing Loss, 2020a), the chances of crossing paths in veterinary practice are very high – therefore, being more deaf aware will have a big impact on your co-workers and clients.

References
Action on Hearing Loss (2020a). Deaf awareness, www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk/how-we-help/information-and-resources/deaf-awareness
Action on Hearing Loss (2020b). Communication tips for the general public, www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk/how-we-help/information-and-resources/deaf-awareness/tips-for-hearing-people
GOV.UK (2020). Get support in work if you have a disability or health condition (Access to Work), www.gov.uk/access-to-work/what-youll-get
O’Neill C (2003). d or D? Who’s deaf and who’s Deaf? www.bbc.co.uk/ouch/opinion/d_or_d_whos_deaf_and_whos_deaf.shtml