Belonging at Swan: Ian's Story
When did you find out about your hearing impairment and can you describe it to us?
About 10 years ago, after being referred for a hearing test by my GP, I discovered that I had gradually lost over 80% of my low-level hearing, which means that I’m officially deaf. The idea of being “deaf” seemed odd at first, because I can still hear a bit, but a lot of deaf people can actually partially hear. My loss of hearing may come as a surprise to some people because out of all the people at Swan I know and speak to, it’s only the few I tell who know it’s a problem. I’ve never felt the need to tell everyone and I cope in my own way and never see it as a big problem for me.
I see myself as lucky because I can hear enough to not miss out on anything. I can still listen to music, although you do find that your music taste changes slightly if you have loss of low-level hearing and you tend to listen to higher pitch stuff. Bronski Beat is a lot more appealing now than heavy metal, which doesn't sound like anything. Fortunately, I never liked heavy metal in the first place, so that wasn’t too bad!
What are the main things you struggle with day to day because of your hearing impairment?
To be honest, I've never found it to be a particular barrier to me. One example where it can be a bit of a challenge though, is if people are talking behind me. Hearing aids are not unidirectional like our ears, so if somebody talks right behind you, it sounds like they're in front of you in a hearing aid. I also find it difficult to work when people play music in the office because my hearing aid picks it up making it hard to concentrate. Despite these examples, I've never really been sorry for the loss of my hearing or made it a big part of my life and I certainly don’t let it affect me or impact on my job. I suppose when faced with challenges, you can decide yourself how to not let it impact your life. Luckily, I feel comfortable enough at Swan that I can speak up if something is bothering me. There are also some situations I may take myself out of to avoid it being a problem. For example, you don't often see me standing in groups of people talking because that is a struggle.
How has Swan supported you with your hearing impairment?
Although I don’t feel I need much support, Swan has made sure that I have everything I need to make my life easier. For example, the headsets we previously used weren’t very good for me so Swan actually made sure I tried out the new ones and checked they were compatible with hearing aids and now these are the ones we all use, which was very considerate. They also got a speaker for me and made sure I had the option of using my phone on hands-free, which I find much easier. If there was ever anything additional that I needed, I definitely feel comfortable enough to ask and know it would never be a problem.
Do you consider yourself to be disabled?
I don't personally consider myself to be disabled on the whole because I feel that I've just had a change to my senses and whilst one is a bit dampened down, others have probably improved as a result. At the same time, I do have something that means I struggle in some situations, so I think it can be positive to sometimes let people know that, and then they can help you if you're struggling. No matter what term you use, I think it is important to let the company know and if you don’t want to use the term ‘disabled’ you can just say “this doesn't work quite so well for me.” I do classify myself as disabled on certain paperwork and on some of Swan’s online systems for this reason, but I don’t identify with this label outside of these situations and I don’t tell people that I am disabled. This is possibly down to my character, or just the way that I feel.
How has your hearing impairment impacted you as a senior director at Swan?
As a director, it has never been an obstacle but if anything, it’s just given me a high level of empathy. Certainly, in my area where you're dealing with customers, it allows you to appreciate that everybody is different and made-up of a number of facets. I’d say that it helps in my job rather than hinders and I feel it is probably a good thing that we have a senior director at Swan who has a disability and sometimes needs to work around this. I can fully empathise with others who may feel in a similar position, whether it’s a customer or colleague.
I suppose, as I mentioned, the only times it is slightly difficult is in a very loud setting and I probably don't engage quite as much as some other people would. If we have a lot of people together, I won't get right into the thick of it and talk to lots of people at once because then I will struggle to hear what people are saying. However, that's the only time I can think of where it would slightly hinder my behaviour. I am less likely to attend conferences and busy networking events, although, I just see this as an opportunity for other people that I work with to be able to take that on, not as a limitation.
What advice would you give to anybody reading this who may have a disability or impairment that they’re apprehensive about sharing?
My message to anybody reading this who has a disability or impairment is that if you feel it would make your life easier by speaking up, please just say something; speak up if you need to, no matter the impairment. If anybody was to refuse an adjustment, it would be more on them than on you and this is very unlikely to happen. I know first-hand that having a difference doesn’t affect your ability to do your job and I feel very strongly about this. My advice is that there's always a solution that can be found and while it can feel nerve-wracking or awkward, please don’t feel frightened to ask.