‘Even though deafness is one of the most common disabilities, it is still one of the most misunderstood.’ – Deafie Blogger
As a deaf blogger, I have been invited to give deaf awareness talks and informal training sessions to organisations, such as Banks, the Education sector and local groups.
Each speech varies, covering different topics, numerous life experiences but all with a similar outcome; to inspire others and raise deaf awareness.
For this blog, I’ve written about my public speaking experiences, along with some tips towards the end!
Reflecting on experience
As a young adult, I have gotten more used to public speaking about my experience of deafness, but of course the early years, my Mum remembers more, as my memory dates back to the time I was around seven years old!
Mum and I were recently invited to talk to a group of professionals from the Education sector; Sensory Support. They asked us to outline our experiences as a parent and student team, namely the highs and lows, challenges and triumphs of a family dealing with deafness.
To prepare for our speeches of course we had to look back. Me, to a childhood and teenage years with a severe hearing loss, trying to cope with the fast pace of education in this confusing hearing world. Mum remembering with a bittersweet mixture of pride and heartache, which came with the challenges surrounding a deaf child.
Speaking from the heart
Mum was nervous speaking to a large group, but she spoke from the heart. Her passionate words were a culmination of the blood, sweat and tears of bringing up a child with a profound hearing loss, giving a real insight into the difficulties we had on a daily basis throughout the mainstream journey, but giving praise to all the professionals who helped along the way.
Most speeches, including this one outline my achievements, the examples of overcoming the disability, my highlights and the wonderful opportunities I have had. Whilst touching on difficult subjects, such as the judgement I faced from peers, discrimination from a teacher who told me I couldn’t do a subject as I was deaf, and how it’s made me a stronger person today.
For this particular talk, I wanted to show that ‘deaf people can achieve anything given the right support’, but also underline the importance of getting the support right, tailor made for each individual. We also shared our common concerns for those children who are unable to access the correct support in education and the worrying longer term implications of not getting it right.
Reaching out to the audience
It’s not often that the professionals we spoke to, were able to meet with ex-pupils who had been through the education system and emerged at the other end. I think in a way, they were pleasantly surprised as to the amount of my success in life, but at the same time their eyes were opened more to the realities and extent of the struggles, hard work, determination and time which we all had to put in.
Other audiences have expressed their interest and surprise of what they have learnt. Some groups show more response than others, but with each conversation I hope to reach out to at least one person, in the hope that they can be confident and understanding if they approach a deaf person in the future.
Remembering the challenges
From diagnosis to the present day and beyond, life for a deaf young person involves constant hard work, sacrifice, exhaustion and difficulty. A disability throws up challenges every day, many things are hard, some impossible. In each talk, I wish to help people see that the realities, away from the textbook or theoretical take on deafness.
These basic facts need to be remembered, even with professionals who deal with deafness every day of their working lives, or work alongside a deaf colleague, or the general public, who still seem to believe that deafness simply means you can’t hear very well. Sometimes it is easy to assume that the rest of society understands the disability as well as you. It’s only by living with it that you know what it’s really like. From my experience, that is what makes public speaking worthwhile, sharing experiences, communication tips and raising deaf awareness. It all helps to make the world a better, more accessible place.
How you can get involved!
- Do your research
No presentation or speech is perfect without research. Look into themes, facts and statistics, terminology, organisations, information about deafness and different people’s experiences.
Think about what you’d like to talk about, what grasps people’s attention? Personal life experiences can be interesting. How long will your talk be? Why not plan some visual aids, like a presentation or video?
Practise makes perfect. Prepare your presentation, perform in front of the mirror or friends and family, and ask for constructive criticism. With time, you’ll be more than ready.
- Contact organisations
Why not get in touch with some local businesses in your area, and show your interest in speaking to employees about deafness and your experience in return for a small donation to a deaf charity?
As an organisation
- Invest in Deaf or Disability Awareness Training
How about incorporating Deaf or Disability Awareness Training within staff inductions or team training sessions? They give staff a broader understanding of how to approach and speak to deaf people.
- Invite inspiring Deaf individuals to give a presentation/speech to employees
You could make it a monthly or annual practice to bring in external speakers. Hearing others speak about experiences can motivate and inspire employees. It also raises valuable awareness.
- Look into the Disability Confident Scheme or Investors in People Award
It says a lot about an organisation if you have thought about disabilities and encouraging a fairer workplace. Plus, awards help make your brand more appealing!
- Advertise accessibility
For most D/deaf and disabled people, accessibility is crucial. If you advertise how your organisation and services are accessible, it’s a business opportunity! You will gain more customers and a better brand reputation.