“I do things because of her, and with her. She’s amazing.”
Posted by Matt Sadler
Even before lockdown, many deaf people felt isolated. During the Coronavirus crisis, loneliness became even more of a challenge. British Sign Language teacher Jill Hipson describes how she stayed connected to the world, with help from hearing dog Kit.
“I was born hearing but had Meningitis when I was five and became completely deaf. My parents moved to nearby Hull so that I could attend a school for deaf children. I did well, passed the 11-plus exams and went to the only grammar school for deaf children, in Newbury. I had a wonderful education and went on to read English Literature at Durham University and then work for the Civil Service in London.
“The next four years flew by. I changed jobs to be a computer programmer with British Telecom, got married, had two children, got divorced, and re-married to Chris, my husband for 23 years. We moved to Berkhamsted in 1997. I have since re-trained as a Further Education teacher, eventually teaching British Sign Language (BSL), including at Hearing Dogs.
“It’s fair to say I have managed with my deafness throughout my life. However, like most deaf people who have had an oral education, I have always felt that I am between two worlds – the hearing world and the Deaf BSL world – and not fully accepted in either. I have found it especially difficult that people cannot ‘see’ this ‘invisible disability’.
“It was while teaching BSL at Hearing Dogs that I learned about what the dogs do. I particularly liked how safe they make deaf people feel. I’ve always hated being unaware of dangers around me, or even thinking that people might be trying to get my attention. I know there have been occasions when people have thought I’m very rude because I didn’t respond. It’s just not a nice feeling at all.
“Today, I have my beloved Kit, a beautiful pale yellow Labrador with golden ears, whom I describe as ‘always into everything’ because she loves accompanying me and being part of whatever I’m doing. She’s wonderful. I don’t worry about missing the doorbell, or my alarm clock, or even Chris calling me from another room. Kit alerts me to all of these things.
“She’s also a fabulous companion. I can go for a walk and feel secure. Her burgundy Hearing Dogs coat makes my deafness visible. It’s such a relief that people know about my deafness, because they can ‘see’ my deafness. It makes them so much more understanding and accommodating.
“There is also a warm, welcoming community of hearing dog partners. It’s like you’ve joined a brand new club!
“Up until the first lockdown I was meeting local hearing dog partners and taking part in collections at our local Tesco. We were due another one the very week lockdown started back in March. Then, everything stopped.
“Unexpectedly, a positive side to lockdowns was that I had more mental energy. I read books, tended the garden, and found space to live inside my head more. It really brought home how draining it is trying to communicate with people.
“But face coverings were more than draining – they gave me very severe anxiety. If I couldn’t see people’s faces, I didn’t even know if they were talking to me, let alone lipread. I vividly remember the trauma of having to lipread when I was young, and I’m still not very good at it now.
“So, it was extremely hard when I had to go to the supermarket. At first we were unable to get our home delivery slot so I had to go myself (my husband has diabetes and did not want to remotely run the chance of contracting Coronavirus).
“It was a nightmare. So many staff were wearing face masks. I felt completely bereft – anxious and unable to communicate with people. After that, I bought almost everything online and avoided shops.
“Before lockdowns I would meet up with some of my hearing friends and have the most marvellous pen-and-paper conversations, which I really missed. However, we are so lucky to have all these electronic forms of communication now. A lot of deaf BSL people use Zoom, and I also communicate with hearing friends via email, Messenger and WhatsApp.
“I also had superb support from Hearing Dogs. They sent out advice telling deaf partners what to do about vet visits, medication, exercise, food… everything was so well covered. They even helped with advice on keeping dogs mentally stimulated and entertained, which I daresay was also fun for their human partners too!
“Hearing Dogs was great at staying in touch via email. They also advised me on how to introduce a cat to the home, as my son had to move back in due to the economic impact of Coronavirus, and has a cat. The ‘Pawtal’ has also been an extremely useful resource. It’s a new online hub full of ideas, advice and support which Hearing Dogs developed in extra-quick time when Coronavirus hit.
“Despite the challenges, life continues to be much, much better with Kit. We are definitely closer now because we’ve been together 24/7 for such a long time. I do things because of her, and with her. She’s amazing.”
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