Deaf Awareness week 2022- with Paralympian Suzanna Hext !

Just for a moment, take a second to imagine living in a ‘world of silence’, much like if you were to have noise cancelling headphones on all the time, or have ear plugs in. You can see people’s lips moving, but there’s no sound, there’s movement going on around you, but again there’s no sound. Now imagine relying on external clues/ factors such as lip reading, vibrations, body language, and the environment to piece together what someone is saying, and what is going on around you. Well, this is my world… For me ‘my eyes are my ears’!

My name is Suzanna Hext and I’m so happy to be joining living with hearing loss during deaf awareness week this year !

For those that don’t know me, I’m 33 years old and I have a spinal cord injury and Dystonia after a life-changing horse-riding accident in 2012. I broke my back, shattered my pelvis, crushed my shoulder and suffered a spinal cord injury and head injury. I am profoundly deaf and now a cochlear implant wearer.  

I am a Paralympian Tokyo 2020, World para Swimming silver and Bronze medallist and European para-dressage triple gold medallist.

My hearing now sits at the ‘profoundly deaf’ level, which means I have absolutely no hearing in both of my ears. However, this wasn’t always the case. I grew up with significant hearing loss, which rapidly deteriorated over the past couple of years to the point it is at now. In November last year (2021) I had a right cochlear implant fitted and my left ear had a blind sac closure (which essentially completely closed my ear off to avoid so many dangerous infections). I am planning on having my left cochlear implant fitted later this year. 

I thought I’d share a few tips on how you can help support someone who has hearing loss-

  • Firstly, make sure you have the persons attention before you start speaking.
  • Face the person while you are speaking so they can lip read.
  • If you’re wearing a mask, lower your mask to talk and make sure you are 2 metres apart or wear a visor.
  • Speak clearly without shouting. Use normal lip movements, facial expressions and gestures.
  • Repeat yourself if necessary or write it down.
  • NEVER say ‘It doesn’t matter’ or give up…
  • Find a place to talk that has good lighting, away from noise.
  • On video calls make sure you’re close to the screen, with good lighting and no background noise. 
  • Speak one at a time and don’t talk over each other.
  • Video call, email, or text if it’s easier than a phone call.
  • Ask if the person needs subtitles on the TV etc.
  • Use captions on social media where possible.
  • Make sure you include the person in conversations and help bring them up to speed on anything they’ve missed.

One of the challenging areas of hearing loss that I don’t think is spoken about enough is the toll hearing loss can take on people’s mental health. It’s isolating and can make you feel extremely vulnerable. I certainly struggle with not having the awareness of various sounds that may be going on around me, especially at night when I take my implant off, such as the fire alarm going off, someone breaking in, waking up to my alarm etc. Whilst I have a strobe and vibrating pad under my pillow at night for the fire alarm, and vibrating alarm clock under the pillow, I even at the age of 33 feel vulnerable at night. 

The other factor that can put pressure on your mental health is ‘listening fatigue’. ‘Listening fatigue’ is extremely common for a Deaf or Hard of hearing person as a side effect of their hearing loss. Trying to concentrate, watching signing, lip reading and listening to speech and sound can be exhausting. People who have hearing loss have to pay extra attention to visual clues and other coping mechanisms, in order to help ‘fill in the gaps’. The brain becomes overstimulated causing stress and fatigue. It’s important to be empathetic, supportive and understanding around how much of an impact this can have.

So, I thought I’d explain what I hear with my cochlear implant and what it sounds like…?

First and foremost, I want to explain that whilst I absolutely love my cochlear implant and it has been completely life changing for me, I just want to clarify, a cochlear implant isn’t a miracle cure, it isn’t ‘normal’ hearing. This is one of the areas I’ve struggled with the most since my surgery. This misconception that because I now have an implant, that I can hear everything. 

I am in the early stages of recovery from my implant surgery. I am picking up on words and sounds, and I’m improving all the time. In terms of how it sounds- words and sounds tend to sound slightly robotic and like someone is talking under water. As time goes on this is getting easier for my brain to process. However, strategies I’ve adapted to using such as lip reading, are still a key part of how I string a sentence together. 

The biggest aspect to remember is that deafness is a spectrum, and it’s not one size fits all. I’d always prefer someone to not be afraid to ask me how they can best help me in terms of making communication easier. The more open and honesty we are, the more people will learn and thus helping the wider Deaf community and Deaf awareness…

‘A little progress each day adds up to big results’…

keep in touch and follow my progress via:

Twitter- @suzannahext

Facebook- https://www.facebook.com/suzhext

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/suzhext/