Home Dental Disability Pride Month – meet the siblings working in healthcare with impaired hearing

Disability Pride Month – meet the siblings working in healthcare with impaired hearing

by adminjay

‘We are no different to you’: Walid and Nada Hassoon, a dentist and junior doctor, share their experiences of working in healthcare with impaired hearing and discuss how it can be made more accessible.

Walid and Nada are two siblings who live with a hearing impairment. They were both diagnosed with Pendred syndrome at the age of two. They have been wearing bilateral hearing aids ever since.

Pendred Syndrome causes sensorineural hearing loss and an enlarged vestibular aqueduct. It accounts for 5-10% of hereditary hearing loss.

Both working in healthcare, we asked them to share their experiences of the challenges they have faced and how we can make the profession more accessible for others living with impaired hearing.

Walid Hassoon – dentist

How did impaired hearing impact your time at dental school?

I accepted that I had to work harder in dental school. During my group teaching sessions, I often had to sit at one end of the table to ensure I could lip read my colleagues.

Sometimes I would have to ask my peers to repeat themselves if I missed any comments. This felt tiresome and occasionally embarrassing after a while. In addition, I always sat at the front of the lecture hall to ensure I could hear and lip read the lecturer. This was sometimes difficult in a dimly lit theatre hall.

When interacting with clinical tutors, I have often felt that I have had to concentrate harder to lip read and listen intently during patient led teaching sessions in the clinical area. Often tutors would have their backs facing me when demonstrating practical procedures. This has meant I have had to try harder to gain the clinical knowledge compared to my peers.

Tell us about your experience with impaired hearing in dentistry

My hearing impairment has often felt like a silent disability. There is no obvious, visible clue to my hearing impairment to colleagues and patients alike.

I don’t normally volunteer this information as I have often tried to hide my hearing impairment to avoid differentiating myself to others. Thankfully most patients and colleagues are very understanding and accommodating when they find out. As I have progressed in my career, I have realised it is good to be open with my hearing impairment from the start. This is so my nurses can kindly point out if I missed anything important mentioned by patients.

Moreover, patients are often interested to ask questions on how I made it to dentistry. In addition, they are complimentary of how I have managed to make it into the profession. It can sometimes feel that I am challenging preconceptions of the public what a hearing-impaired individual can achieve.

What has been your biggest challenge?

My biggest challenge by far has been managing the changes and disruption the Covid pandemic brought to healthcare. In particular, the dramatic increase of PPE used. Prior to the global pandemic, masks were only used by colleagues during treatment. This meant for the vast majority of times, I could still lip read and communicate effectively.

However, since Covid-19, masks are routinely worn in the clinical space. This made communication much harder and stressful. The use of FFP-3 mask for aerosol generating procedures further heightened my anxiety and difficulty of communication. This is because they further muffle speech and cannot be removed during treatment.

I have often had to deal with exasperated colleagues getting visibly frustrated who have had to repeat themselves when interacting with me.

What support is available for you within dentistry?

Prior to starting dental school, I had a study needs assessment, which recommended a note taker for lectures. As well as this, I had provision for a radio aid system to pick up the voice of the lecturer by a microphone attached to them. This directly transmits sounds to my hearing aids.

During my employment, a government funded initiative called ‘Access to work’ provided support to me. It assessed my needs and provided funding for equipment. This was invaluable for recommending the use of a Roger system to help with receiving telephone calls in my oral and maxillofacial job role last year.

To access this employer or government-led support frequently requires individual determination and perseverance. This is because the system is slow and bureaucratic to navigate.

Often the support within my occupation relies on goodwill, understanding and sympathy of individual colleagues. These are the colleagues who are happy to accommodate me by pulling down their masks, speaking clearly and checking I have understood any instructions.

What changes need to be made in dentistry to make it more accessible for others with impaired hearing?

Support can be improved by prioritising the needs of all employees with any disability. It is important to ensure support is in place well before they start the job and not after, which can demoralise and negatively impact the individual.

The greater and more widespread provision and usage of clear masks will greatly improve access to individuals with hearing impairment. This can make dentistry accessible for all people besides the hearing impaired community. More people subconsciously rely on lip reading and non-verbal body language and expressions that are lost behind the veil of a mask.

The adaptation of subtitles for videos and clips used can also greatly improve access for individuals with hearing impairment.

Walid Hassoon

Nada Hassoon – doctor

Tell us about your experience with impaired hearing as a junior doctor?

My experience as a junior doctor working in the NHS has been equally challenging and rewarding.

Like everyone else, starting as a newly-qualified doctor comprises of a steep learning curve. However, couple that with a global pandemic, you are thrown in the deep end from the very first day.

In my case, I was facing an even bigger hill to climb. I was suddenly having to navigate the murky waters of mask wearing. For a hearing impaired person who relies heavily on lipreading, this was incredibly frustrating. I was struggling to hear what my peers were saying and hence felt isolated from the team. Although the majority of my colleagues are very understanding, there were few exceptions whom refused to demonstrate basic empathy. This made me feel alienated from the group.

I work in an MDT environment whereby I am encountering different people every day. Therefore, I find myself repeatedly mentioning my hearing impediment and reminding people to pull down their masks so I can communicate with them. As someone who does not consider themselves as having a disability, this constant daily reminder of my limitations and differences to everyone else is frustrating.

How did impaired hearing impact your time at medical school?

During my time in medical school, I was well supported. I received equipment which made my learning more accessible. During lectures, I would use a radio FM system which would pick up the voice of the lecturer and transmit it directly to my hearing aid. This made the lecturers voice clearer to hear and I would not miss as much speech when I look down to take notes.

During PBL group sessions, I would place the microphone in the middle of the table which would pick up most sounds. However, it also picked up additional sounds such as paper rustling and bags moving, so it wasn’t always effective.

Whilst I felt very well supported during my non-clinical years, I got a taster of the hurdles I would face once I was exposed to the hospital environment. The combination of beeping machines, the buzz from computers and the hum of background chatter made it all the more difficult to catch conversations. In addition, the high pressured environment of the wards brought less compassion to my difficulties.

To the outside observer who does not know about my hearing impairment, it was very easy for them to dismiss me as not paying attention and ignoring calls from behind me. Whilst demoralising at first, I realised that I had to be more forefront about my disability.

How does it affect the day to day of your job?

The impact it had on my day-to-day job was evident when I used the phone to communicate with colleagues. As I rely on lip reading, I find it difficult to pick up everything that is being said over the phone. In addition, during a large group handover when multiple people are speaking with masks, it can be challenging to pick up everything that is being said.

During ward rounds, particularly fast-paced ones, it can be difficult to pick up everything being said. I would have to clarify several times to ensure I got all the information. However, on medical ward rounds I am usually seeing patients with one senior doctor who will put down their masks when speaking. This is much easier for me.

The challenges I have had to face seem daunting. However, they have built up my resilience and determination to succeed. In addition, they have forced me out of my comfort zone as I come up with creative solutions to provide the best care for my patients.

Whilst on-call, I often get bleeps from nurses on the wards asking for advice about a sick patient. Instead of trying to get all the information from the phone, I go directly to the ward and speak to them face-to-face. This ensures that I get all the information and the issue is dealt with promptly and effectively.

Sometimes, I get phone calls from other hospitals, which I can’t physically go to. In that case, I ask someone on the ward to listen in on the conversation to ensure I don’t miss any information.

What support is available for you in healthcare?

The support available in healthcare includes the occupational health team who will assess your needs before you start your job. In my case, I was supplied with an electronic stethoscope. It amplifies sounds so I can hear lung and heart sounds more clearly.

Additionally, I was provided with a Roger Pen radio aid system. This can be connected to phones and used to make phone calls.

However, while this technology has not been very effective for me, it has worked well for other hearing impaired people. Luckily, there are now clear masks available to use on the wards, which aids lip reading for both myself and hearing impaired patients.

At the start, I thought that I was the odd one out and was the only one having to deal with these unique difficulties. However, I have come across more and more people who have shared similar experiences, both patients and colleagues alike.

There are 11 million people in the UK who are hard of hearing. There is a misconception that those with disabilities are not capable of achieving the same goals as someone else. However, this is not true. They are simply not given the same opportunities and adaptations to allow them to thrive in their chosen fields.

So, the next time you encounter a hearing impaired person, take the time to listen to their experiences. You’ll realise that we are no different to you!

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