Deaf - Partially or completely lacking in the sense of hearing. Levels of hearing impairment vary from a mild to a total loss of hearing. Elderly adults suffer most often from hearing loss. The most common cause of hearing loss in children is otitis media. A substantial number of hearing impairments are caused by environmental factors such as noise, drugs, and toxins. Deafness can also result from inherited disorders.
Next week, over one hundred deaf charities and organizations across the UK will be celebrating national Deaf Awareness Week, which is co-ordinated by the UK Council on Deafness.
The week-long campaign between May, 7 to 13, aims to improve the understanding of the different types of deafness by highlighting the methods of communication used by deaf, deafened, deaf-blind and hard of hearing people, such as sign language and lipreading.
Deaf Awareness Week is now is its ninth year and has been continually supported by a 41-year-old mother of two from Bacup in Lancashire.
Julie Ryder suddenly found that she was going deaf and had a mild loss of hearing in 1991 after answering the telephone at work.
"I answered the phone at work one day and couldn't hear the other person on the line. I swapped the handset over to my other ear and still couldn't hear so I made an appointment to get my ears tested. It was during those tests when my whole life changed." said Julie.
Over time, Julie's hearing deteriorated and by 2000, she became profoundly deaf on both sides. She had hearing aids fitted but found it difficult and tiring to lip read and became increasingly frustrated that not many people knew sign language. It was a difficult transition for her to make particularly when communicating with her two children, Alfie and Annie.
In 2002, Julie had a cochlear implant fitted to her left side and for the first time ever, she could hear what Alfie and Annie said without having to lip read them.
"Alfie was almost four years old when I heard him speak for the first time - it was such an amazing feeling."
Julie is encouraging as many people and organizations across the country to get involved with Deaf Awareness Week particularly those organizations who provide a front line service.
She said, "Throughout my 'deaf' journey I've met many people who simply don't know how to communicate with deaf people effectively. Communication is two way so even though I can lipread and use British Sign Language, there's still a lot that hearing people can do to help me, and the millions of other deaf people in the UK, access conversation and information.
"For me, the onset of deafness felt like the end of my life but it turned out to be just the beginning."
Just over ten years ago, Julie embraced and used her disability to help others by setting up her own training company, HearFirst, to educate service providers to meet the needs of deaf and disabled people.
Julie added: "I wanted to deliver workforce training that was not only innovative, lively and participatory but would have an impact and motivate them to change their attitude, environment or work processes to meet the needs of their customers."
HearFirst works with a number of clients across many sectors including housing associations, schools, colleges and universities, museums, libraries and galleries, the NHS, community groups and commercial organizations.
One organization who has recently benefited from disability and equality awareness training is the Phoenix Cinema in East Finchley, London. Heritage Officer, Eleanor Sier, said: "Since we had the training, there has been a general change in attitude as an organization to improving our access and we are holding more and marketing better screenings with hard of hearing subtitles."
Julie added, "We work with many organizations across a variety of sectors but they all have one common goal - to educate and train their staff on disability awareness, promoting the benefits and improving services to their customers.
"Deaf Awareness Week is a great opportunity for organizations to organize local events and work with their staff, tenants and customers to raise awareness of deafness."
Julie's top tips to improve customer service to deaf people
For more information on Deaf, disability awareness and BSL training, please contact Julie at HearFirst on 01706 872 816 or visit www.hearfirst.org.uk