My Deaf Story: Claire Cooper-King

As part of our Deaf Awareness week series see below Claire’s Deaf story. 

My name is Claire Cooper-King for social media. I’m 43 years old; something my brain won’t accept, but my body agrees with wholeheartedly ha-ha. I’ve worked in accounts for nearly 22 years, but my main passions are in acting, movies, and the arts.

I was born with mild congenital bilateral sensorineural hearing loss, with the max loss in the -30 mid-range of the hearing graphs, which is speech sounds in general. I used to get things like the word “sweeties” wrong, instead I’d say, “see sees”, or I’d call my gorgeous black thumper rabbit “reet haw” (real name – Street Hawk from the TV series).

I managed very well in mainstream school thanks to my teachers, who offered lots of elocution lessons, speech therapy, and extra tutoring. However, through all of this, drama was my favourite subject, because I loved being able to release my frustrations through this media, by playing make believe characters and expressing myself visually.

At the age of 12 I went on holiday to Crete, but while I was there, I picked up a nasty bilateral ear infection, because the filters in the swimming pool weren’t working properly. Everyone at the hotel became poorly! I had symptoms that made me feel really poorly; painful ears, dizziness and sickness that meant I needed lots of antibiotics and an intravenous drip to help me recover.

Later in life, it was discovered that I had most likely had labyrinthitis, as my ears showed a lot of damage during an MRI scan, proving that I hadn’t received the correct treatment in Crete. Now, at the age of 43, I suffer from musical tinnitus, that can recreate the sound of lawnmowers, people talking, alarms going off, or several variations of these noises all at once.

I also suffer with vascular migraines, vertigo, balance issues and more recently “sensory & auditory processing disorders”, which causes hypersensitivity of all the senses. These are the joys of getting older with hearing loss! Lovely, eh? I actually think it’s better to be born completely deaf, growing up not knowing sound. I think fully deaf people are generally happier in life.

What is your main communication method?

My main communication method is lipreading with sign supported English. I can speak with a near perfect RP accent, and I use sign language at the same time. This helps me, because people who are hearing realise that I’m deaf and automatically slow down or speak clearer for me (upon reflection, I have to state that not all hearing people, pick up on the obvious signs ha-ha).

To keep my speech up, I use a drama accent coach. Where I found I could learn an American accent by feeling the vibrations of her face and throat when she spoke, and then mirroring these myself by using my hands on my face and throat to duplicate her vibrations. It’s really something incredible!

How do certain environments affect your communication?

Oh gosh! Good question. Where to start?

Home = peace and hearing aids out! It’s like taking a sore pair of shoes off at the end of a long day. Silence is lovely! My partner taps me and faces me, or uses his own version of sign language to get my attention, and If I have to, I put my hearing aids in. Our one to one quiet environment is bliss.

The pub, café, or social events – Before I was severally deaf, I was the biggest social butterfly ever.
I was always out, always dancing, always up for a laugh! Now, I find it an agonising several hours of; adjusting hearing aids, or ripping them out, straining my eyes to lipread, and hearing distorted music that sounds like several frequencies of radio static all at once!

After a few minutes of this I begin to really struggle and start feeling more and more isolated as the evening goes on. This usually brings on a major migraine, so you will rarely ever see me in such places these days, which makes me feel very sad, because I used to love going out.

Webinars and video meetings for work – Zoom, Zoom, Zoom… everything since Covid 19 regarding communication has been about Zoom! From Government webinars to product demos. However, most of these have no subtitles and deaf awareness has completely gone out of the window. People speaking at 100 miles an hour, because they’re nervous, or have a 30 minute deadline to get everything in.

I avoid Zoom as much as possible by suggesting “Google Meets” where possible, which has really good subtitles. There’s nothing worse than someone asking you a simple question, and you don’t answer back, because you don’t know it’s for you! It’s so embarrassing! You just want the ground to open up and swallow you.

When subtitles are available; people still speak too fast for the subtitles and so the system freezes. It’s just so difficult to keep up with anything! Apps such as “otter-ai” and “google translate”, with a separate screen in the background with google chrome subtitles on, is a good solution, but not accurate enough for work, when you need 100% listening skills.

The words – “better than nothing” instantly irks me and sends me into deaf awareness mode, with 10 reasons why they’re NOT better than nothing!!!! However, I’m getting better at asking for things and collaborating with people to find solutions to some of these problems.

Like! Hey, this doesn’t work, I need an interpreter for this meeting – a lip speaker with level 3 sign language and subtitles please. Also, can you please ensure the hands up button is clicked by everyone, so the interpreter can keep up. confidence is key!

Acting – despite social anxiety, this is where I seem to excel. Everyone is amazing and make a point of studying what I need while on set. This is the one place I can truly be me! I can pretend to be hearing on screen or be fully deaf and use sign language. I have the best of both worlds.

I can’t always understand the director, or others, but I know if my partner is around, he can help me to communicate, or I find the easiest person to lip read and ask them to step up and interpret for the director.

To me, acting isn’t just about learning a few words in a script, or being on camera in costume, it’s about the social interaction, mental health, losing yourself in your passions, and the release of frustration, plus the ability to keep my speech and English skills on a high level. Post filming blues is real and so if I could find a well-paid TV regular job, I’d leave accountancy in an instant!!

Travelling

Train stations – I am forever getting on the wrong train, due to change of platforms and get severe anxiety from it. If I had a pound for every time I missed my train or tube I’d be rich!! Let me get a cab any day!

Cars – I’m always getting lost! As a deaf person I can’t communicate properly in the car and “sat navs“ are a big no-no now, because my eyes are generally fixed to the road all the time and I can’t hear anything that’s being said. All of this because, in 2016, I crashed my car on the A1 and wrote it off, while trying to read the “sat nav” – oops!

What I found really frustrating at the time, was not the crash itself, because the people were amazing with me, but the fact I had no way to communicate with the recovery services! Everything is telephone based and the text message service was rubbish – nobody responded! A lot more needs doing to make motorways more accessible, although you can tweet highways and say help! Who knows that?

What tips would you give to someone who needs to communicate with you?

Another great question –

• Please face me when speaking.

• If you have a heavy accent – please try using RP or London accent – This works great with actors, not so much the public.

• Please speak normally, if you try to over enunciate your words, I can’t read your lips.

• Please don’t shout! I can’t hear you any better and this really distorts your lip pattern!

• If you talk to me in the dark and I can’t see your lips, you’ll get my mobile phone light shone into your face, regardless of whats happening at the time ha-ha… I have lovely humour! Someone needs to invent glow in the dark make up, to help ha-ha…

• Please don’t call me on the phone, text me please or you’ll be speaking to the equivalent of a lamp post… 10 mins later phone rings…. Me! Sighs…

• Please email me.

• Please use proofread subtitles for all videos and ensure all your speakers work clearly without rushing along.

• Please slow down when speaking on web chat, give the subtitles a chance to write and stay up with the conversation for at least a second or it will crash!

• Please do gesture, this helps.

• Trim your beard please! Gentlemen or gentlewoman… 😉

• Never say don’t worry about it! I’ll pester you till I do know! Lol..

• Please be patient whilst we work on the best way to communicate… I’m a fast adapter and willing if you are. I love being a social butterfly still.

• Please do keep talking to me so I can eventually understand your lip patterns making it much easier for future… silence makes me feel awkward and want the floor to open up!

• Please do learn some signs! This makes communication so, so much easier for my eyes and takes the pressure off me. I am open to being asked, so ask away! But please don’t ask me about swear words only…

Ohhh I could go on… most I know listen once, then forget lol..

I am a real pro for sign supported English, or mixed communication as some call it, I know this isn’t always appreciated in the Deaf community, but it has really given me hope and confidence to start socialising again from time to time. Esp with others who can sign a bit or who are clear with their words, or those who know I didn’t get whats being said, and automatically include me again stopping everyone else.. My Hearing dog Ringo has given me confidence to talk to strangers in the street as he is so social… people take their masks off or gesture. It’s amazing! learning sign language to help support my English spoken voice and having a hearing dog is changing my life for the better!

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