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Sarah’s story: ‘It does matter’

Sarah, 23, lives in Erith and works as an audiologist. She is one of thirteen children but hearing loss does not run in her family. Sarah was born with hearing but when she was aged two or three, her mum noticed she was not responding when being called and her speech was not as developed as that of her brothers and sisters.

Her mum sought help from several professionals, who did not know why Sarah was not responding. Eventually they saw a doctor who diagnosed Sarah with enlarged vestibular aqueducts (EVA). The doctor explained that EVA was a condition where the hearing canal did not develop properly which resulted in hearing loss.  

Sarah was given hearing aids and wore those until she decided at age 19 to have cochlear implants. 

Here, Sarah shares her story and talks about the benefits of having a cochlear implant, difficulties communicating with the general public, and how she hopes to be a positive role model for people from the black and deaf community to show them that being deaf is not a barrier to achieving their dreams. 

I found it hard to communicate with my family

Sarah stands outside with her mother on the right and her father on the left. They're all smiling at the camera. Sarah wears a hearing aid. Her father wears a hat.
Sarah and her parents

There were times when I did not necessarily feel included or part of the conversation.”

I was given my first hearing aids when I was four. I always had the best hearing aids, but they never really allowed me to hear everything. My mum wanted me to be able to speak, so I was taught Signed Supported English (SSE).  Even though me and my family are close, I did find we had a communication barrier as they don’t know SSE or BSL. It was hard for me to communicate with my family and difficult to hear them despite having hearing aids. So, there were times when I did not necessarily feel included or part of the conversation. 

School life

Finding my community and my deaf identity.”

I went to a mainstream primary school and two secondary schools. My first secondary was a specialist school for deaf children in the UK. As it was a boarding school, I could opt to stay on the weekends or go back home. I would stay most weekends and when I did go back home, I would be on Skype speaking to my friends in BSL. Even though I was home my family would not see me as I would be in my room signing away with my friends. Looking back, I was isolating myself from my family, but at the time I was happy because I could communicate easier with my friends than with my family. 

At school I was confident, happy, and really embraced my deaf identity. I was learning BSL and communicating with my friends using BSL, which is my preferred language. 

In year 9 my mum moved me back to a local comprehensive school that had a deaf unit as she felt I was not interacting with my family. 

At the local comprehensive school, I was still able to use BSL as there were other deaf children, but I would spend most of my time writing or reading in the library. I love reading, as I can escape from life for a while. And I really love writing poetry, as it is a great way for me to express my feelings. Having hearing aids helped at school but, most of the time, I couldn’t hear what people were saying. But because I could catch the context, or I picked up some words from lip reaping, I would be able to guess what was being said.

Deciding on having cochlear implants

Sarah stands outside, facing sideways to the camera. Her assistive hearing technology is visible at her ear. Her pink braids are over her shoulders. Her parents stand in the background, blurred.
Sarah wearing assistive hearing technology

knowing that I was going to lose my hearing during the operation didn’t bother me because without the operation it was going to happen anyway.” 

After I completed my A-Levels, my audiologist discussed the possibility of a cochlear implant. My mum is against operations unless it’s a matter of life or death. I respected my mum’s opinion, but I wanted the opportunity to be able to hear more than what I could with my hearing aids. At the time when I was considering a cochlear implant, there was no guarantee that my hearing would be better after the operation, but that was a risk I was willing to take. I was told that there was a risk I could lose my hearing during the operation, but that didn’t bother me because without the operation it was going to happen anyway. 

I had my cochlear implant operation in 2019. I just remember waking up and not being able to hear anything, as I had lost my residual hearing. But once I put the cochlear implant on, I could hear, which came as a relief as I was not sure I’d be able to hear after my surgery.

My hearing is so much better now than it was with my hearing aids. My cochlear implant has been the catalyst for my development, my identity and has made me who I am today. It has also helped immensely in my role as an audiologist, as I am able to hear my patients more clearly. 

I also love the fact that I can listen to my music and answer my phone whilst wearing my cochlear. Listening to music through my cochlear is completely different to how it sounded with my hearing aids. It’s like the music and sound is in my head, like your internal voice, whereas with my hearing aids it was more acoustic.  

When I am at home, I don’t use my cochlear implant because I really enjoy being able to sit in complete silence. As a deaf person, I get concentration fatigue having to follow verbal conversations all day, so it can be nice to have a break.  

My family and friends know that if they want to talk to me when I take my implants off, they need to find a non-verbal way to do that. So, they generally text or WhatsApp me to see if I have my cochlear on before calling me. 

Communicating with the general public

When someone learns I am deaf they seem unable to communicate with me and say it doesn’t matter.” 

Even though I have cochlear implants, there are times when I do miss what is being said. Friends and family will just repeat themselves, as they know this happens. When someone I don’t know finds out I am deaf they seem to prefer not to speak to me, it’s as though they think I can’t understand them.  

One time, Someone came up to me and asked for directions. I said, ‘sorry I did not hear everything you said as I am deaf’, and they said, ‘oh, no worries, it doesn’t matter’. I said, ‘no, I can help, just repeat what you said,’ and they said, ‘oh, sorry, it doesn’t matter’ and walked away. This happens so often. Yes, I am deaf and will sometimes miss things. People are not always aware of how to communicate with a deaf person. Please speak to me directly, speak slowly but not so slow, as I do understand, I just can’t always hear everything.  

Becoming an audiologist and a role model

Sarah sat at her desk in her bedroom, writing in a notepad and smiling. Her pink braids fall over her shoulder.
Sarah writing at her desk

Audiology wasn’t my first career choice, but it feels right.”

I love writing, acting and dancing but when it came time to choose my GCSEs I was stuck. I had a conversation with my mum, and she said, ‘why not become an audiologist?’ as I always asked questions during my appointments and seemed really interested in what audiologist work entailed.

Having been to so many audiology appointments over the years, I realised that none of my audiologists had hearing loss and none of them looked like me, so I could become a role model to so many people. 

As part of my GCSE’s, I worked at St Thomas hospital. I was sitting in an appointment with a first-time mum and her baby, who had been diagnosed with hearing loss. She was explaining to the audiologist that she was not sure how to look after her baby. The audiologist gave her a leaflet, but I explained that I was deaf, and my mum just looked after me the same way she looked after my siblings. I signposted her to local support groups and sites where she could learn BSL, and she left much more confident than she came in. That was when I knew that becoming an audiologist was the right choice for me. 

Being deaf allows me to really understand and empathise with my patients, as I have first hand experience of what it is like to be deaf. By pursuing a career in audiology, I have shown that being deaf does not stop you from working in a medical field or achieving your dreams.”  

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