Can Deaf people become Lifeguards?

One of the myths about deafness is that Deaf people can’t do certain jobs, because being able to hear is a requirement, right?

Not always!

When I tell people that although I am profoundly deaf, I was once a qualified Lifeguard… most of them don’t believe me!

It was true, here’s a picture to prove it!

My motto is: ‘Deaf people can do anything, don’t let deafness stand in the way of achieving your goals. There may be barriers, but there’s always ways to overcome them.’

Why a lifeguard?

I’ve always loved swimming from a young age and I used to swim competitively. I had to give it up when I got to high school as the club were being too demanding of the amount of training sessions they wanted you to attend each week. I also didn’t want my schoolwork to suffer.

After my ‘retirement’ from swimming, I missed being in the water and at the time I was also looking for a job, so I saw an advert for a Pool Lifeguard course.

I had my doubts of course, not that I couldn’t do it, but more how I was going to overcome the obstacles of communication…

How would I communicate with people in the water without my hearing aids in?

How would I understand the Lifeguard Trainer?

How can I rescue people without my deafness being a barrier?

When I joined the course, I spoke to the Trainer and told her my concerns but she thought nothing of it and said it didn’t matter! She went on to say that Lifeguarding is all about being visually aware of your surroundings, hearing doesn’t really come into it.

She was fantastic throughout the course, making sure I understood what was being said, made sure the other participants were aware so I could lipread them and join in with team activities.

It was an intense week, but I passed! The assessor noticed that I was more alert and visually aware than the others, probably because when you lose a sense, your others are stronger.

How can you rescue someone if you can’t hear?

I don’t wear my hearing aids in the water, but I do on poolside. As a Lifeguard you are always scanning the pool. If someone gets into difficulty, generally it’s visual as they’d be splashing or grabbing onto someone or something and you’d be able to spot.

People say if someone is drowning and you can’t hear them – they wouldn’t be making noises if they’re under the water, so it’s all down to the eyes.

The only thing I can’t hear are alarms or whistles. If I was employed by someone, I made them aware of that and we put things in place instead, so hand signals instead of whistles and flashing alarms as well as audio.

In training sessions it’s also important to make team members aware if they need to tap you to get attention or face you when talking etc. When doing first aid on poolside, the priority is to get the casualty out of the water. Again, the team should be aware how to work together in this situation, until you can wear your hearing aids again.

So, are you ready?

It’s a fun job, and rewarding knowing that you’re keeping people safe in the water. However, it comes with many risks and responsibilities. That’s a personal choice you have to make if you wish to do the job or not!

The main thing, is not to let your deafness stand in the way, or to be an obstacle to potential employers. Show them how visually aware you are and focus on the positives, rather than what you can’t do.

Happy Lifesaving!