Deaf Awareness and abuse

Did you know that deaf women are twice more likely to experience domestic abuse than their hearing peers?

My name is Joan and I am a Refuge Manager at Solace and a deaf woman. To mark Deaf Awareness Week I would like to draw attention to the realities of being deaf and the additional vulnerabilities it presents when faced with abuse.

Five years ago when I started to lose my hearing my world suddenly became a frightening place. I feared I would lose the job I loved, that my social life would be shut down, and that even normal conversation would be a problem. With the help of Access to work, the patience of my team and support from my managers I have grown in confidence and this has allowed me to overcome these fears to move forward.

In my day to day life I still have to make a lot of adjustments. When I go to the gym I have to inform a trainer when I take a shower just in case the fire alarm were to go off. I tend to drive rather than take public transport, as I cannot hear the tannoy systems. I have to ask for subtitles during training sessions and presentations.

My work involves helping women and children find safety and security in refuge after fleeing abuse. Abusive relationships can be so frightening and tightly woven, it is difficult enough to break free without adding a disability into the equation. I feel strongly that we should all understand the reality deafness brings, and how we can better support women who may feel trapped without the support they need.

Whether a deaf person wears an implant or relies on lip-reading, conversations where people talk quickly or all at once in a group can be confusing and it is easy to lose the thread of dialogue.  Background noises can also greatly disturb, as these locale sounds are not as easy to filter out in the same way a hearing person can.

This can create an additional need for a deaf person to rely on a hearing person to speak or answer questions on their behalf, or interpret what has been said.  You become used to other people speaking for you, and others engaging more directly with your carer rather than you. These relationships of care can often be exploited, and difficult to detect. Predators prey on those they perceive to be vulnerable, and succeed by further isolating their victims from seeking support.

If you are concerned about a deaf person who may be experiencing abuse, take the time to speak to them in private if possible. Keep face to face contact, speak loudly and clearly and give them an opportunity to write if necessary. We too must make adjustments, and they could make all the difference.