I wasn’t very good at languages at school. I could do the reading and writing bit, when I had time to reflect and think, but the spontaneous conversation (definitely the most important aspect) was quite frankly my worst nightmare. I remember sitting in nervous anticipation of being summoned in for my French GCSE oral exam. My palms were beyond sweaty and anxiety levels at a peak. That said one of the highlights for me of studying French was the introduction to the brilliance of the French farce. Our teacher would often show us French films twice once with subtitles on and a second time without them to help us improve our abilities to interpret. It built a passion for me that continued past my school days and my favourite French comedy is one I discovered at University called Le Dîners de Cons. If you can get hold of a copy I highly recommend it…

Le Diner de Cons, a fabulously funny French film

Anyway I digress, this week’s blog post is a day early and in recognition of Disability Time to Talk Day (4th Feb). With all of us wearing masks indoors I have missed the ability to connect with others through facial expression when I have made rare forays to the shops. With meetings taking place on Zoom, WebEx or Microsoft Teams the body language signals are missed, especially when we choose to turn off our cameras (often because we are virtual meeting exhausted).

So what does all of this preamble relate to? Misgivings about my ineptitude with foreign languages. Failed attempts to connect with other shoppers. Virtual groundhog day throughout the working week. The sum of my reflections is that while I have recognised that lockdown has been tiring for me – it must be incredibly difficult for my colleagues with hearing loss.

There have been a number of colleagues who have confided in me that they rely on lip reading to ‘hear’. At work it has taken us time to use subtitles on videos as standard. Some friends and colleagues had never disclosed they had hearing loss before but lockdown and mask wearing has immediately posed them challenges. What compounds this issue is when they have had to constantly remind colleagues to keep their cameras on or not cover up their mouths when speaking in work meetings. I cannot explain how draining and demoralising it is to be compelled to repeatedly ask for something simple to enable your engagement and involvement. If you want to empathise though try watching a foreign language film you’ve never seen before without the subtitles on…

Parasite, a wonderful film that would have been totally wasted on me without subtitles

So a small ask this week. Speak to your colleagues. If you are the type of person that prefers to turn your camera off for Zoom meetings ask others if they would mind. Take some time, especially today, to reach out and ask others if there are any changes or adjustments you could make to help them feel more included or aid their involvement. Be curious, be open, be kind. Choose empathy over sympathy. Let’s all work together to turn this year’s Time To Talk Day into a positive conversation about how we can work together to support our disabled colleagues.

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