Who am I?


24 / 9 / 2014 3.47pm

This month the Equality and Diversity Team are focusing on disability. Our final blog for this month is from Helen Cherry who works at Central London Community Health NHS Trust. Helen talks about her experiences and aspirations as a deaf nurse, manager and student.

Who am I?
I am 55 year old woman, a wife, daughter, sister, aunt and a Community Health Professional. I am also passionate about removing communication barriers so information is accessible to all.

Due to a childhood illness I am deaf and I wear bilateral hearing aids. When I take them out at the end of the day I love the silence. Unfortunately hearing aids are not a cure and do not provide perfect clear hearing, so I also rely on my other senses and gut feeling to help me communicate and engage with my environment. I also lip read, am intuitive and pick up on the many clues and vibrations all around me. 

How did I get into nursing?
Thanks to Brighton School of Nursing, I became one of the first deaf nurses in 1977. When others would not even give me an interview, Brighton School of Nursing provided me with an opportunity to start my profession. They were not afraid to step into the unknown with an open honest attitude, and for that I am grateful.

I wanted to gain independence, travel and use my personal experiences to help those I would care for. I know what it is to be misunderstood when you want to be listened to and what the impacts of unconscious bias can be.

Why this introduction? 
I could have started this blog with examples of how the Equality Act has increased opportunities for anyone within the diverse spectrum of mental health, disability, culture, faith, race and sexuality.

However, I wanted to paint a picture first and then ask you, the reader, to be truthful and think about whether there was a moment when you thought, ‘is a deaf nurse - putting people at risk? 

There was a time when just saying I am a blond blue eyed woman conjured up all sorts of stereotypes. Add into the mix I am deaf and the words ‘dumb or stupid’ often comes up.

As a deaf professional I know my abilities and there is a solution to every challenge.

What defines me?
A few months ago someone asked me whether my husband, family or friends see me as deaf? The answer is no. Being deaf is not what defines me, it’s being Helen Cherry that does. I am defined by my attitude, independence, love, empathy, no ‘us vs. them’ approach, seeking solutions mindset and pioneering manner - anything is possible!

Normalising ways of working
When Paul Deemer, head of equality, diversity and human rights at NHS Employers, asked me to write about my personal experiences of being deaf, and dealing with disability in the workplace I wasn’t sure what to write. However, my angle focuses on what we can do in everyday life to ‘normalise’ special requests to adapt ways of working.

With advances in technology, building design and organisational structures, this should be a time when all special adjustments can be incorporated as part of the norm. From my personal experiences, here are few things that cause me difficulty yet could be resolved easily and with fairly little cost:

  • Make sure external venues know how to use the induction loop. For those without hearing aids or do not have aids that are compatible with induction loops, you can provide a speech to text reporter (STTR) which converts real time speech into text. However be mindful for those who use British Sign Language (BSL) as their first language, as it is very different to English.
  • Reflective glare from too many windows can cause faces to be blanked out, which makes it impossible to lip read anyone. Watch me do a little dance as I reposition myself so I can see their faces! 
  • Use round meeting tables so I can see everyone speaking.
  • Offer different communication channels other than forms and letters. Face Time and Skype is a great way to see the person and lip read or use BSL.
  • I can’t use intercom systems as I cannot hear you, so please use signage that’s clear, concise and uses colours.
  • Some phone apps give a guided tour around a building which allows me to see what facilities are available. 
My biggest bugbears are videos. When will it become the norm for all videos to embed correct subtitles that can be switched on and off? Or use sign language for those who have BSL as their first language?

Any videos uploaded onto company or health websites need to be captioned for inclusion. This doesn’t only provide me with access but it’s also educational learning for others. When information is provided clearly it reduces errors and mistakes caused by miscommunication and assumptions. 

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