I won’t let going deaf get in the way of my dream

Reporter:

Staff reporter

Genevieve Isherwood is a remarkable young woman.

The 24-year-old from Flintshire is working hard at a top Cheshire law firm and aims to qualify as a solicitor within the next two years.

She is also a dedicated single mother to five-year-old Venetia.

But, for the past seven years, Genevieve has suffered with progressive hearing loss which means she can no longer hold a telephone conversation and it is difficult for her to discriminate all speech.

However, far from letting her disability hold her back, it has only made her more determined to further her career and to ensure that others who are deaf or hard of hearing don’t miss out on employment opportunities.

“I’m very lucky here (at Eastham-based solicitors BBH),” she said. “I think, if I hadn’t had this job I’d still be struggling.

“I used to panic about interviews – you don’t want to disclose that you have hearing loss because, unfortunately in some cases, that might mean that you don’t even get an interview. Most employers don’t have deaf awareness training and I’d panic about how I will hear the questions.

Genevieve has found her ideal job and workplace. The increasing popularity of email correspondence has enabled her to communicate with clients as has a text phone service, provided via Access to Work, a government-funded scheme which assists both the employer and employee through financial support and advice.

She said: “More needs to be done to increase disability awareness.

“More needs to be done about workplace courses, employment courses, raising awareness that a person with a hearing impairment is able to do the job with the right support.”

But while technology may have made things more straightforward, Genevieve continues to face obstacles on an already tough career path.

She said: “It’s difficult with things like office discussions.

“Sometimes I feel I’m missing out on things like that. They are lovely here but sometimes they forget and to access that information I have to really concentrate.”

Genevieve has been facing and overcoming these challenges since she was a teenager.

“It was when I was studying for my A-levels I realised that during group situations in the common room I noticed that I couldn’t distinguish between conversations.

At first she thought it was just a build up of wax but doctors told her it was an impairment.

She said: “At that stage I was at the beginning of my second year and was able to
complete my A-levels with the use of a hearing aid.

“After that I took a gap year when my daughter was born. My hearing loss accelerated very fast when I was pregnant.”

When she was 19, Genevieve started at Aberystwyth University, where she studied law.

As Genevieve points out, hearing aids will only amplify what little hearing you have left, and by the time she came to start her degree course her hearing had deteriorated further so she had to rely on additional support through the Disabled Students Allowance.

However, she is full of praise for the support she received at Aberystwyth, in particular for the institution’s disability officer who assessed her specific needs.

“There was a fantastic disability officer at Aber and he helped me enormously,” she continued. “I had the assistance of a note taker, my FM Genie loop system and there were microphones in seminars.

“I was really lucky to be at Aber because the tutors were aware of disability needs and would keep you behind after a seminar to make sure that you had got everything.”

Whilst at university Genevieve became chairman of Aberystwyth Conservative Future, a role which she enjoyed but one which, like other social activities, had begun to present problems for her.

“The social effect of hearing loss is very detrimental,” she said. “What should be a relaxing experience, becomes a very stressful experience. Background noise can really interfere – one-to-one it is not so bad but in a group situation it is almost impossible.”

One thing that Genevieve is keen to see, from a social aspect is the introduction of subtitles in cinemas – “It wouldn’t have to be on the screen itself,” she suggests.

“It could be a flip down screen on the back of the seat in front.” Being able to enjoy a film in the cinema is one of the things that Genevieve misses greatly since her hearing deteriorated.

Born in 1985 said said: “I’ve been told that if I’d been born with this hearing loss I would have been brought up as a deaf person without the use of a hearing aid. I began to lose my hearing in 2002 so I know how words sound from hearing them and how to say them so I haven’t had to struggle with that. But, at the same time I also know what I’m missing out on.

“I can’t appreciate new music whereas I can appreciate old music because I was once able to hear it.”

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