Lib Dem activist, Chair of Brecon and Radnorshire Lib Dems, and former Community Councillor Jackie Charlton shares her story of hearing loss and the struggle involved in staying in public service whilst hearing-impaired:
Some twenty years ago it was pretty obvious that my hearing was deteriorating and as a thirty something that was worrying. I have probably suffered from hearing loss since a child but like many people managed and didn’t actually realise. But looking back I never got the lyrics of favourite songs like my contemporaries, missed a lot in class at school and certainly at the college stage.
Having completed an Open University Degree to honours level and then a Masters it is no wonder that I wanted to use those educational attainments for some purpose. My private ambition was to become a Member of Parliament but I knew nothing about the process, had never belonged to a political party and no one in my family had either. But it wasn’t realistic so I lowered my goals. I stood twice to become a County Councillor but failed. So stood as a Community Councillor instead and worked well on my local council for 7 years. That is until my hearing loss became severe verging on profound.
At this point I worked with the Clerk and Chair to see if there was any way of supporting me. They were only interested in looking at a portable loop system and I thought this was a great idea and went along with it even though now my hearing loss was so acute this would not have worked for me. But it would work for members of the public or any councillor who may in the future wear a hearing aid. However, for some reason there was no financial support available at town and community council level. County Councillors have full support but as volunteers town and community councillors have none.
But worse was to come. For some reason the Clerk and the Chair of the Council decided that it was necessary to have a vote on whether to purchase a portable hearing loop. Not only that – there was confusion and mis-understanding about need and what it was for. The debate which took place in front of me was humiliating and embarrassing to say the least. At that point I felt there was really no point in continuing in the role of Councillor. It was very obvious that there was very little understanding of hearing loss, no thought of what might be done to assist in this situation and nothing would be done in the future. And by the way the vote was only just won by one vote.
To move now into the political arena with the level of hearing loss that I have will only be possible with support such as a lip speaker or palantypist. The better news on the horizon is a Cochlea Implant (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cochlear_implant) which I am waiting to get now. I also have a beautiful dog called Lucie a fully trained Hearing Dog for Deaf People ( http://www.hearingdogs.org.uk/). Lucie goes every where with me and is a familiar site in the Brecon & Radnor Lib Dem office. She comes on deliveries and door knocks with the best of them. And she has been to the Welsh Autumn conference too.
There are still problems, conferences are not conducive unless the main speaker uses a palantypist (never happened at Wales level), training is impossible unless support is given, communication at all levels is challenging for me and the person/people I communicate with. Friends and relations are supportive and understanding, colleagues in the Lib Dem office and other colleagues of mine know how best to get by. But new people, crowds or larger gatherings are not easy and the challenges immense.
So you see, training after the conference would be great and if support was available at all levels. I would still like to pursue that political career even at the most local level.
If my story is of any use as a catalyst to getting financial and indeed other support maybe a Lib Dem member who is a palantypist or lip speaker who might volunteer support at conference, funding from bodies such as Rowntree or even Sainsbury’s who knows what is out there or some other mechanism for financial support it would be great. But unless someone like me makes a point, becomes a nuisance or heavily campaigns nothing is done!
I also have an inherited hearing loss. Three of my cousins on my mother's side have the same problem. I only realised that the hearing aids only help with volume control. They do not help me with word clarification. For instance we went to the Liverpool Museum recently and the gentleman told me that we should go to the World Museum if we wanted to see the dinosaurs. The word World was difficult for me to recognise.
I made sure that a loop system was installed in our community centre some 20 years ago. I was amazed to find that our local library did not have a loop system. I am working on compiling a list of the public buildings which do have a loop system. I am also working with the local county councillor for our local library so see what can be done there. In my opinion they should not have open talks if they do not have a loop system.
I would also have thought that the DDA is not being adhered to if all forms of disability are not addressed.