A north-east social worker has spoken of her experiences of being deaf and her role in supporting other people with hearing loss, as part of Deaf Awareness Week.
Durham County Council social worker, Claire Hoggeth is raising awareness of the challenges faced by the deaf community and the support offered by her team, during Deaf Awareness Week, which runs until Sunday 8 May.
Claire, from South Tyneside, supports deaf people and British Sign Language users with hearing loss to live as independently as they can. Her role involves providing information, advice and support around all aspects of deafness, including language and communication, assistive equipment and technology, and social and emotional wellbeing.
Claire said: “I experience challenges on a daily basis due to my communication needs, having to adjust to many situations to ensure that people feel comfortable with my presence. I want people to see that I am able to do things, that I don’t want sympathy or pity due to my deafness. I want to be treated fairly, with respect. Independence is very important to me.
“Life as a deaf person has its pros and cons; it is a hard journey which has made me a stronger person. There are situations where deaf people feel excluded which is no fault of theirs, people do not know how to deal with deaf people and tend to get frightened or panic when they are put in situations out of their comfort zone. This can be extremely hard for us to deal with, but I believe that I am quite laid-back and resilient – I always find a way to climb back up and continue to be the person that I am today.”
Claire is passionate about ensuring that people who are deaf have equal access to opportunities and that their contribution in a diverse society is embraced – a philosophy shared by her employer – and is keen to share her experience, to show that being deaf does not have to stop people pursuing a career that they love and enjoy.
Ensuring people feel included is a key step to improving confidence in the deaf community, says Claire: “Increasing awareness can be as simple as having more representation in mainstream media. When I don’t see deafness being portrayed correctly or at all I can feel isolated. Even small changes like this can make a big difference to people and their lives.”
Although challenging, Claire describes her work at the council as rewarding and enjoys seeing the positive difference its Sensory Support Team makes in people’s lives.
She added: “People with hearing and/or vision loss have unique needs, it can be quite complex and this job requires a lot of patience and flexibility. But, as outlined in the Care Act 2014, we need to empower and promote deaf people’s wellbeing and our team is imperative to this, from improving people’s personal dignity and treating them with respect, to protecting them from abuse and neglect.”
As well as supporting County Durham residents with their own needs, since joining the council in March, Claire has also experienced first-hand the strong support offered by her colleagues. “When I first started in this role, I was overwhelmed to find that the council’s Sensory Support Team members have various levels of sign language ability. This was a huge relief and is a unique situation that I have not come across for a long-time. It feels a very supportive environment,” she said.
Cllr Paul Sexton, the council’s Cabinet member for adult and health services, said: “We are looking forward to celebrating Deaf Awareness Week 2022 and highlighting the positive aspects of living with deafness. The event aims to raise awareness of the isolation that deaf people can sometimes experience and promote the importance of social inclusion within the community.
“We are very proud of our Sensory Support Team, and the person-centred approach they take to support people who are deaf and their families, ensuring that their individual needs are met, and promoting and maintaining people’s independence.”
Further information about the services which the council offers to deaf, blind and partially sighted people can be found at www.durham.gov.uk/deafblind