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Speaking up about hearing

‘To be honest, it was the pandemic that triggered me to get my ears tested,’ remembers Kerry Banbury of our Business Banking team in Manchester. ‘I’ve always had the ringing in my ear, tinnitus. Or at least since my early teens. But it would come and go, and sometimes I wouldn’t even notice it.’

‘When everyone started wearing masks though, I was getting frustrated. I felt I wasn’t getting the full story in conversations and meetings. I just felt like I was saying “What? Pardon? Can you say that again please?” all the time.’

It got so bad she decided to get her hearing tested. ‘I have moderate sensorineural hearing loss in both ears. I’ve either had it since birth, or it’s early onset for an age-related condition. I can struggle with hearing low volumes or high frequency tones, and sometimes I miss words in a sentence which then means it doesn’t make sense to me.’

Her diagnosis didn’t come as a complete surprise. ‘In a way it was a bit of a relief, as I was getting so frustrated. And lots of things suddenly made sense.’

A positive journey

Since her diagnosis, Kerry has nothing but positive things to say about the support she’s had at work.

‘My experience since I disclosed my condition has been amazing,’ says Kerry. ‘My line manager was really good throughout. She arranged a workplace assessment with HR, who then arranged a review with the Royal National Institute for the Deaf, who did a report too. All this happened before Christmas, which felt really quick as I thought there would be a backlog because of the pandemic.

‘In January, I had a meeting with HR to go through the RNID report and their recommendations and, from that, I got a Roger Pen – a portable wireless microphone that is used in combination with hearing aids and can be conveniently used where additional support is needed over distance and in loud noise. It came within a couple of weeks and has been a massive help.

‘The bank met the cost of my new equipment without question. It felt like whatever I needed, they would get it for me. It was a really smooth, positive experience, I couldn’t have hoped for better.’

Speaking up can be hard

Even though the process turned out to be quick and painless, telling colleagues still wasn’t an easy thing to do.

‘I think my biggest challenge was speaking up about it. I told my line manager who got the ball rolling on the adjustments, and I told my team who were all great about it. They’ve done e-learning to find out more about my condition, and they’re all up for doing for formal classroom training too if need be. Now when one of them is arranging a meeting or training, they send round an email beforehand asking if anyone has any specific requirements they need to take into account.

‘It’s great they were so open minded. If you think you’re going to be challenged every step of the way or the process will be difficult, some people will understandably decide not to disclose their condition.’

Her wider network at the bank was a bigger challenge, but things are moving in the right direction there too.

‘I work with lots of people from all across the bank, so I used some guidance from RNID to send an email to them all letting them know about my condition. Everyone was really supportive. But what surprised me was that four people came back to me and said they had hearing difficulties too, but hadn’t done anything about it, like letting people know or asking for Zoom live transcripts.’

That encouraged Kerry to keep spreading the word on the small things people can do to make a big difference.

‘It made me feel I had to do my bit and get it out there, encouraging more people to feel comfortable talking about their conditions, whatever they may be.

‘It’s hard when you’ve asked people to make these adjustments, like adding Zoom live transcripts, then they don’t. How many times to do you need to ask? Do you need to do it every time until they remember? Speaking about it initially is hard, then so is continuing to ask for what you need.’

Joining the Enable network

Her keenness to make things easier for colleagues in similar situations was what drew Kerry to Enable, our employee-led network focused on issues of disability.

‘Being formally diagnosed has definitely changed my outlook,’ she says. ‘I joined Enable as an ambassador, and seeing their accessibility tips got me thinking. Not just about hearing, but about other conditions. Was I doing all I could to make my documents and meetings as accessible as possible?

‘It’s a really good group, Enable. Everything you do you know you’re going to benefit someone, somewhere.’

Stop and think

So how can we all make sure we’re being more inclusive. Kerry has some ideas.

‘Whatever you’re doing, before you do it, stop and think. If you couldn’t see it, or hear it, or whatever it may be, would it work? I just want it to become a given that people do it almost without thinking.

‘You wouldn’t send a meeting invite out without a Zoom number. So why wouldn’t you switch on Zoom live transcript, or ask if any of your attendees need that or other adjustments made? It’s about building healthy habits to make things inclusive.

‘It’s much easier to be inclusive these days. The tools are all there for us, much more than they were before. People want to do the right thing, so it’s important we do what we can to keep things like this front of mind for everyone.’

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