A Deaf-Friendly Experience at Go Ape

It’s been a while since I’ve been high up in a forest scrambling through an obstacle course like some budding adventurer. So, when the team at Go Ape got in touch asking if I’d like to see how deaf friendly their activity is, (and bring some friends along too) of course I said yes, ready to relive some nostalgia that the experience may bring.

Young man in blue jumper holding a certificate next to a monkey statue

For those who don’t know, Go Ape! is a high-wire treetop course full of fun obstacles and challenges, swings, zipwires, and more soggy bottoms than an episode of The Great British Bake Off (let’s just say that some of my zip wire landings were far from graceful or heroic).

As well as knowing that it would be a grand day out, I was intrigued to see what changes Go Ape had made to make the activity more accessible to deaf people. I remembered reading an article about some deaf customers being refused entry to Go Ape last year, and so was curious to see what new procedures were now in place.

Even before I set foot on the site, I was sent some videos of the training that’s given to customers, with a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter in the corner of the screen. Granted, whilst I only know a little bit of BSL and am certainly not fluent, one imagines that the videos are quite a useful resource for profoundly deaf visitors. I definitely felt a reassuring sense of déja vu when I was shown the ropes – quite literally, in fact – in person when I went to the Woburn site on Monday.

So, after going through a brief training course – with instructions given by a nice chap named Adam – myself and my friend Josh were ready to do the real thing. At this point, I should mention just how great a job the instructors do at making sure the rules are clear and that everyone is confident with what they are doing. Again, after watching the videos I mentioned and going through it in person, it’s likely that fellow deaf people will feel pretty confident about things when they take on the course for themselves.

This brings me on to a discussion I was having with another member of staff whilst we were putting our stuff in a locker. I had seen that there is a whistle available on the belts we have to wear, but I saw that if you needed help and assistance, you could also shout down to people on patrol below you. However, for deaf people who are unable to speak, I was interested in finding out what exactly happens when they find themselves in a pickle.

It turns out there were a few cases where people had come to the course in advance to get a sense of things, or had an instructor follow them around the obstacles. Whilst it may be worth Go Ape having a think about a go-to policy for this, as mentioned above, all the extensive training beforehand does a good job of making people comfortable and confident – thus reducing the chances of any mishaps.

Also, a quick thank you must go to Kieran, another staff member at the Woburn site that let us skip ahead one course so we didn’t have to wait behind some slower customers. We blazed through the course like the true adventurers we are, and it certainly didn’t feel like an hour and a half since we were putting on our harnesses. Time flies!

Speaking of the course, I’ll keep my description vague (so that there’s still that sense of surprise should you wish to go yourself, and because it’s far better to describe these things in video form instead), but the pictures with clear instructions certainly help participants get to grips with each activity/obstacle, which is fantastic. Highlights included the zipwires, pulling several muscles whilst trying to conquer the stirrups, and The Tarzan Swing – where for a brief second, you can experience a sense of freefall which is incredible.

I would like to thank Go Ape such an incredible day out – I really appreciate it. The company is certainly making some great steps towards making Go Ape more accessible for deaf people, and that’s great to see.

Whilst I was offered this experience for free, the opinions within this post are my own and this post is not sponsored by anyone.

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Deaf Awareness Week 2017: A celebration of collective action | The Friday Article

‘A celebration’ is the theme for this year’s Deaf Awareness Week – something which, to me, suggests that we should celebrate the power of collective action within the deaf community. It’s now that we should celebrate the charities and campaigners, as well as their achievements. At a time when politics has divided Britain, it’s important for us to show society the power of collective action and what we, as a community, can accomplish.

Photo: Deaf Council.

One example is the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) – a charity with which I have very strong connections. In 2014, I was part of their Youth Advisory Board (YAB), a group of 18 deaf young people from across the UK who came together over the two years to discuss issues affecting deaf people. Whilst on the board, I campaigned for better audiology services and contacted key figures in the NHS about the matter, amongst other things. Now, the new YAB have launched their new campaign, calling for sign language to be taught in schools. They found out that 97% of young people want British Sign Language (BSL) in schools, and through the NDCS, they have taken to the local and national press to get their message out there during Deaf Awareness Week.

Elsewhere, Action on Hearing Loss’ Subtitle It! campaign called on on-demand TV services to provide subtitles for deaf and hard of hearing people. Through an amendment to the Digital Economies Bill, the broadcasting regulator Ofcom has the power to ensure on-demand programmes have a ‘minimum level’ of subtitling.

Then there’s the landmark achievement in Scotland back in 2015, where the BSL (Scotland) Bill became an act, calling for its Parliament to ‘promote the use of British Sign Language’. Now, the fight continues to make British Sign Language a legally recognised language in the UK.

Yet, it’s not just deaf people coming together which we should celebrate, it’s the creative talent of the deaf community, too. Entertainers such as John Smith and Danny’s Skits offer funny videos which promote deaf culture at the same time, and, of course, the deaf website The Limping Chicken offers individuals a platform to air their views on deaf issues.

Every year, the theme for Deaf Awareness Week is different (last year’s was ‘a common purpose’, for example). However, whilst these topics are subjective, it can always come down to highlighting the power of the deaf community. As a strong subculture, we can make positive changes in society and ensure our voices are never ignored.

Silence isn’t always golden | Tinnitus Awareness Week 2017

My life is never silent. You may believe that my mild deafness would provide me with some tranquillity in a loud world, but when those opportunities arise, thinking occurs. Moments when you can observe the environment around you always leads to your mind quickly searching for something else to focus on – be it someone in the distance, the wildlife, whatever. Unfortunately for me, my attention always shifts to the same place.

taw2017
Photo: British Tinnitus Association

Everything is silent. Where is the noise in the room? Things are too quiet. At that point, the ringing starts.

My tinnitus reaches boiling point as two whistling kettles scream into my ears – at least, that’s what it sounds like. It’s the common description I use, yet to every sufferer, the sound is different. A specific tone we can only hear in our heads is hard to convey, but for me, by far the most annoying thing is that a simple thought about tinnitus can lead to it being at the forefront of my mind.

Even as I type this article now, the whistling is going on in the corner of my head (or in my ears, wherever). I can pay attention to it, in the hope that that will make it go away (it doesn’t), or I try to ignore it. Both have the same problem, though: I’ll look over there and try to distract myself from tinnitus and I’ll pay attention to my tinnitus to make it go temporarily mention the word tinnitus, and that is all you need.

It’s this weird thought process that continues ad infinitum until an important activity or task distracts you. However, when in bed and trying to get to sleep, I don’t have anything to use to divert my attention. For me, silence isn’t always golden.

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This week was Tinnitus Awareness Week, and ran from February 6 to February 12. Unfortunately, a busy seven days full of university assignments, lectures and other commitments meant I couldn’t create a YouTube video sharing my thoughts. It would have been perfect (since my channel is somewhat orientated around sign language, deaf awareness and so forth) but I just couldn’t find the time. Then again, this blog post allowed me to flex my writing muscles and hopefully it gave you somewhat of an insight into what life with tinnitus is like.

I’ve never really known what caused my tinnitus or indeed my mild inner-ear deafness, but what I do know is that the former is a pain in the backside, and something you wouldn’t want others to suffer from.

The British Tinnitus Association has lots of useful information on their website, including this page on how to prevent tinnitus from developing.

Action on Hearing Loss also have some helpful resources available on the topic. These can be found here.

The Additional Challenge of Shorthand

Next week, I’ll have an idea about whether or not I should take my NCTJ 80wpm shorthand exam at the end of April. It was whilst thinking about this decision, that I realised how beneficial learning the written language can be for a deaf person like me. Since then, I thought today I would talk about how shorthand could help the hard of hearing, or those with a mild/moderate hearing loss like myself.

Shorthand Pen and Notebook
With shorthand being as much of a listening skill as much as it is a writing skill, deaf people may find it challenging. Photo: Wannabe Hacks on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/legalcode.

For some deaf people and those with auditory processing disorder, it can take a while for us to ‘hear’ a word. In my case, when I am talking to someone with an accent, it’s often a matter of picking up the sounds, identifying them as words and then applying them to the context. But, when it comes to shorthand, the time pressure means you don’t have time to process what you hear – writing in shorthand is very much a thoughtless action.

When I think about it like this, I remember how learning to play the drums 10 years ago helped me and my co-ordination. Back then, it was terrible but I have since achieved Grade 8 and played at many concerts. If this was a motivational post, then you could say that I’ve overcome a challenge and proved that ‘anything is possible’.

But when it comes to shorthand, this time I’m testing this ability to process information quickly. Learning to play the drums improved my co-ordination, but it’s unlikely that learning shorthand will ‘cure’ my deafness or greatly improve my processing skills. First one thing, deafness cannot be ‘cured’ (at least not yet) and for another thing, this ability to ‘process’ what I am hearing is very much tied into my deafness, so that won’t change either. That being said, it’s certainly helped with my listening skills and thought processes.

At each level, the speed of the speaker reading a passage increases by 20 words per minute (I have to take my 60, 80 and 100 words per minute exams). This therefore means that I have less time to think before the next word is hurled at me out of nowhere. If I think too long on a certain word or mistake I’ve made, then I could then end up losing an entire sentence.

Thankfully, I passed my 60 words per minute shorthand exam earlier this year. At that speed, taking a message down should be instinctual – where all of the three steps I previously mentioned, plus converting the word into shorthand – should all take less than a second. Thankfully, at 60wpm, that is currently achievable. Now it’s a matter of increasing this to 80wpm.

On the whole, I suppose it comes down to not letting your disability stop you from doing what you want to do, but I promised that I wouldn’t get motivational…

What is your biggest challenge, and what have you learnt from it? Do you know shorthand? Comment below!

Liam

Deafinitely Challenging: The Constant Ringing of Tinnitus

Imagine a kettle that never stops boiling. This is perhaps the best way to describe tinnitus. In medical terms, it’s often described as being a whistling or ringing in the ear which is permanent. Personally, I’ve had it for as long as I can remember. It is permanent and with this week being Tinnitus Awareness Week, I thought it would be interesting to share my experience of living with tinnitus, as well as what you can do to prevent yourself from developing the condition.

Man covering his ears.
Photo: Coty Schwabe on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/legalcode.

Admittedly, the origins of my hearing loss and tinnitus have always been a bit of a blur. However, since the early teens I can remember struggling to get to sleep at night because of tinnitus. Almost like reverse psychology, your mind tells you not to think about the loud ringing inside your ears, but naturally you only focus on it more. Whilst my hearing aids have masked the ringing during the day, not everyone is in my position.

For that reason, I cannot stress how important it is to listen to music safely. I have often seen cocky teenagers eager to show off their tastes in music on a busy train to London. The worrying thing about it though, is that if I can hear their music from the other side of the carriage, then God knows how loud it must be in their own ears.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to the fact that tinnitus is currently incurable and once your hearing is gone, it’s gone. There are many articles online which state the loudest volume – usually 80dB – which you can expose your ears to. Granted, music can be a wonderful thing – but is it really something to lose something as important as your hearing for?

Do you know someone who suffers from tinnitus, or do you have it yourself? Let me know about your experience with the condition by commenting below! 

Liam

Tinnitus Awareness Week runs from the 8th February to the 14th February. If you would like to find out more about tinnitus, or learn how to fundraise for the British Tinnitus Association, then you can click here. This blog update is also part of my ‘Deafinitely Challenging’ series, where I explore the main difficulties for deaf/hard of hearing people in the UK.

Thoughts on Tinnitus

This week is Tinnitus Awareness Week. For those who don’t know, I’m mildly deaf and have tinnitus. Tinnitus itself differs for each person, but for me, tinnitus is a loud ringing in my ears that appears whenever it is silent or there is no background noise.

Imagine this: you are about to go to sleep in a peaceful environment when a loud ringing noise emerges in your ear. You cannot ignore it. It distracts you, and deliberately focussing on it does not make it disappear…

Thankfully, I wear my hearing aids all day, which helpfully cut out tinnitus with background noise. However, that does not cure tinnitus, and some people still live with tinnitus in their daily lives.

Action on Hearing Loss have loads of useful information about tinnitus on their website. You can read more by clicking here.

Liam