Dealing With Deafness And Hearing Loss Abroad

Carlie: Hey there, it’s Carlie with the Expat Focus podcast. If you’re like me, you love discovering new shows to listen to. And some on my playlist happen to be created by people we’ve interviewed on Expat Focus. You can check out Sundae Bean’s ‘Expat Happy Hour,’ Melitta Campbell hosts ‘The Driven Female Entrepreneur,’ and Ashley and Jason Bartner present ‘Podcast From Italy.’ If there’s another podcast about – or created by – expats that you’re loving at the moment, let us know, we’re @ExpatFocus on social media.

One listener who did get in touch recently was Susan, and she asked if we could do an episode on deafness and hearing loss, and the challenges these conditions can present when you’re abroad. So Liam O’Dell, deaf freelance journalist and campaigner, is kindly joining me today to speak about the subject and his own experiences. You can read a full transcript of this and our other episodes at expatfocus.com.

Hi Liam. Thank you so much for giving me some of your time.

Liam: Thank you for having me.

Carlie: I want to start with a bit about yourself and your condition. I read online that your diagnosis came when you were a teenager.

Liam: Yeah. That’s about right. Yeah, the diagnosis came about… I usually kind of earmark it around 13 to 15 years of age and yeah, the audiologist kind of – audiologists being the people that test for deafness and hearing loss – turned to me and said, you might benefit from having hearing aids. Initially, at the time, just in the one ear. And then I upped it to two. So yeah, I got diagnosed as a teenager with mild deafness. So I think it was, like, mild deafness, but moderate in high frequencies, meaning that obviously, if things are a little bit higher in pitch, I sometimes struggle with that.

Carlie: And I’m curious from a diagnosis standpoint, how your subsequent experience differs, if you are diagnosed in your teenage years, as you were, compared to if you’re diagnosed with a hearing loss or deafness from birth.

Liam: I think it was always there. I think it was definitely something I was born with rather than something that developed over time. But it’s an interesting one and I don’t know if it actually most picked up. In the UK, I think there’s like a newborn hearing screening program, although I do wonder if that probably came in after I was born.

But yeah, it’s interesting kind of thinking about how it can affect you based on different stages in your life. You know, I think if you’re not diagnosed from birth, then it’s often the instance whereby it’s only identified once you encounter a significant barrier. And obviously if it was for me, diagnosis coming a bit later on in life, usually if you’re at that point, it would be through education. And so you would encounter barriers through education. And I did, but I was incredibly well supported through kind of teaching staff and kind of teachers at the school that I went to. The learning support was incredible and so perfect for what I needed. So I think the issues were found there.

And then I think my parents probably trigged a few things as well, and yeah, kind of pursued a hearing test, went in, they put like headphones on, probably like the big red headphones you’ve got now, except a little less funky! And they… yeah, they basically just put you in the room, give you a button to press. And if you hear a beep, you press it.

I should also mention that I’ve got tinnitus as well, which is for those that don’t know, it’s kind of like this… they describe it as a sound that kind of, you perceive in your head or inside yourself, which is not kind of caused by any external factors. So for me, that’s like a high pitched ringing, almost like a whistling of a kettle. Some people have like a very whooshing sound, or these different things. So this makes the hearing tests that the audiologists do all the more difficult when it’s just kind of this high pitched beeping sound, it’s a warble almost, it’s so kind of in tune, in line with the sound my tinnitus makes. But yeah, we did that test and they said that you’re mildly deaf and it’s probably best if you have hearing aids to help with that. And they do, they really do.

Carlie: So I’m guessing after that diagnosis, obviously you were given some hearing aids, and then I assume introduced to a whole community that you weren’t really part of or aware of before. Did it make things easier? Were you doing things to, I suppose, compensate for what you weren’t hearing that suddenly you went, Oh, there’s another way to get around that, that I wasn’t aware of?

Liam: Yeah. That’s an interesting question because yeah, when I got told that I might benefit from hearing aids, it wasn’t kind of a massive shock. I was already incredibly self-conscious as a human being anyway. Obviously, people listening won’t recognize, but I have glasses, I have little spots of of acne on my face, which isn’t very attractive. And so at that point, when I was kind of a teenager feeling very self-conscious about my appearance and all the things that I’ve got going on on my face, the idea of kind of inserting two little tubes that would kind of dangle around my ears…. And I didn’t like the idea of kind of drawing attention to something new. I  didn’t like that feeling of, Oh, there’s these two things… I mean, now people are going to see them, ask them, what it is and ask me all these kind of really loaded questions at a time where I was still trying to figure out these things for myself.

And so I’m just kind of overwhelmed by it and a bit… a bit emotional. And I should stress that that’s fine. I think that all this… you see those videos where it’s seeing people having their devices turned on for the first time and they’re overcome with emotion, and you have to remember it’s important to stress that yeah, that’s, that’s probably emotions of joy or happiness, but you also have to remember that in those moments, it can still be quite overwhelming when you’re kind of acclimatising to this new experience.

And I know when I first had my hearing aids in, you do kind of just… your eyes kind of just light up a little bit. And it’s overwhelming in terms of the sound that it amplifies. It amplifies anything, which works in most instances, but if you were in a busy, like, club environment, a pub, or somewhere where you’re in a massive group of friends, it’s all the more difficult.

But on the topic of friends, that’s, that’s a nice segue, actually. That really kind of got me through it when I was feeling quite self-conscious, quite isolated, quite anxious, it was the friends that I then came to find within the community that really kind of brought me out of my shell a little bit and kind of helped me to embrace this new identity that I was coming to grips with.

In the UK, we have the charity, the National Deaf Children’s Society, and they have what’s known as a youth advisory board. It’s basically the youth committee or a youth group that informs the charity and what they do and their work. And I was very fortunate to be invited onto that alongside 17 other deaf young people across the UK. And what was great about that was that there was people there from different backgrounds, obviously different parts of the country, and also varying levels of deafness. So I was mildly deaf, but you also had people that were profoundly deaf and use British sign language as their first language. And so it was really nice because that was kind of four residentials, four kind of away days over the course of the two years that I was on the board. And you could look back and see at the first meeting, I was kind of hurriedly scribbling down messages just to communicate with sign language users. And then at the very end of the full residentials, I was able to kind of maintain a conversation.

Yeah. That kind of really brought me out my shell and really kind of… it’s nice. And even now I’ve got like a WhatsApp group of deaf friends that I maintain contact with, and it’s just nice. It’s always nice to have the community that you belong to. And especially when they can share their lived experiences. And help you ever come any barriers that are kind of shared or anything, that they’ve obviously experienced themselves. It’s partly why I’ve been doing podcasts like this, I hope there’s people out there that resonate with what we’re talking about here, and hopefully find some comfort in that and some advice as well, hopefully.

Carlie: Yeah, absolutely. And actually, I really like what I’ve read online about your approach to deafness, which is not seeing it as disabling, but rather examining whether society has the right infrastructure in place, or whether it’s creating barriers for people with hearing loss. And on that I’m curious, you know, obviously you’re in the UK, you’ve been involved in organizations in the UK, what sort of technology and other useful tools exist in the country for deaf people and people with hearing loss?

Liam: Thank you for the kind words at the start. I can’t take credit for the viewpoint of that. It’s known kind of in disability circles as the social model. It’s the argument that, it’s not the conditions that we have that disable us, but rather, as you say, the infrastructure, the attitudes, and the kind of like societal barriers that that are in place that disable us. You know, the example that people give is, a wheelchair user isn’t disabled by having a mobility condition or mobility impairment, if that’s the term to describe it, but not that, not that, but actually the fact that if they’re going to the train station, there’s no lift to get into the platform. That’s society and infrastructure choices that affect that.

And in terms of technology, there are some great tools out there. One of the kind of big areas where I kind of campaign on is around online access. And these tools are great for not only making online content accessible, but they also have offline uses. So for example, there’s an app that’s… I don’t think it’s just exclusive to the UK. It’s called otter.ai. I’m also a journalist, I should have said in the introduction, and that is a godsend when I’m having to spend ages transcribing interviews or kind of listening in to something, which I know when you’re probably going to transcribe this interview later, it’ll probably be very helpful!

Yeah, you can record sound into that. And the voice recognition accuracy is pretty good, and it helps with those sorts of things. I sometimes use it in situations where I need to listen to a lecture, or something like that, or a workshop or a session online, I can leave that running. And if I miss something, I can scroll back up quickly and check.

In the UK – it’s got other names elsewhere – there’s also what’s known as like a speech to text reporter, or a Palin typist. I think the US call it cart, CART. It’s essentially like when you’re watching TV and the news comes on, and you see subtitles almost appear word by word, that is someone sitting there, using almost like a shorthand keyboard and tapping away, transcribing what is said. That’s more kind of like human technology as opposed to computer technology.

But yeah, you have a lot of captioning software. Mixed Captions, I think is another app, Clips. I think Instagram and all of these other social media platforms are now finally rolling out software that allows for that. I think more recently TikTok was finally, after years of being a thing, has suddenly gone, “maybe we should make our app accessible to deaf and hard of hearing people!” which better late than never TikTok, you know, welcome to the party, welcome to the club. So yeah, there’s a whole load of of like technology that kind of helps. And for the most part, it is kind of captioning tools, because… or kind of ways in which spoken verbal communication is kind of translated into another medium, because of course verbal conversation isn’t always the most accessible to us.

Carlie: All of these technologies, which are for the most part universal probably take a good amount of the headaches away when it comes to going abroad, because my next question was going to be, what are your considerations when you’re choosing a country to visit? Do you have to put a little bit more thought into it?

Liam: That’s a very good question. Gosh, I have to actually think far, far back to when I last went abroad, because obviously, the times that we’re in obviously kind of prevent that from happening anytime soon.

[laughter]

Liam: I think it’s more that I would judge it based on situation rather than by country, or by, like, anything kind of geopolitical. I wouldn’t necessarily consider the issues on that wide a scale. I’d kind of hone it down to a conversation that I might need to have. If I’m abroad and I need to go to the local shop to get some groceries, to have, have a croissant in the morning if I’m in France, for example, it would be, how would I negotiate that? How would I… because accents for me can be incredibly difficult. If there are especially very thick accents, I can sometimes struggle. It goes back again to that idea of kind of translating communication to another accessible form.

So I think, I wouldn’t necessarily do countries on a wide scale. I go more into, okay, how would I approach the conversation in Germany if I’m going to a newsagent? How would I approach this conversation if I am going to Spain and I need to have a conversation with someone that’s selling ice cream? You know, all of these kind of conversations like that. And in those instances, I would probably use gestures. It’s kind of… I’d imagine it would be the same sort of tips that you hear when they’re kind of national level in the country that you decide. So the usual things that I and other deaf advocates kind of say about deaf awareness is, use gestures where you can, if you don’t know sign language, just basic gestures. You know, if you want to go for a drink, you’d probably kind of curve your hand into a cup and say, do you want a drink and lift it towards your mouth, for example.

And so then there are kind of things that, again, it’s kind of universal. And I think that’s probably a point where I should stress that some people might say, well, why isn’t there one universal sign language, that would obviously make it a whole lot easier?

Carlie: That’s actually going to be my next question, because little miss ignorant, you know, growing up in Australia, I knew of Auslan through a little bit of exposure to it in school. I didn’t realize, though, that there are something like more than 300 different sign languages around the world, which makes sense when you consider how many countries and how many spoken languages there are, but I just hadn’t really thought that it was that deep, I suppose.

Liam: Yeah. It’s… the culture around it is fascinating and marvelous and beautiful. And yeah, so you get a few people saying, well, why just not combine it all into one? You know, and everyone speaks the same language, sign language. It’s surely… again, if you wanted to tap into that kind of mindset, you’d be like, Oh, well, you know, it’s just the gestures. It’s just a load of handshakes, which, yeah, is horrifically ignorant. And you have to remember the smell that each of these sign languages, Auslan, which has a lot of similarities with British Sign Language and any other sign language too, for that matter, they are kind of closely wedded to the language structures, or the kind of language of that country.

So even though they rely on gestures rather than the kind of spoken word, when you’re doing a sign in that respective country, you’re still… because the way that sign language works, you’re relying on facial expressions. You’re relying on lip patterns, you’re relying on all the kind of body language and all the visual cues you can get. You still have to sign when you’re saying a word in whatever language it is, whatever sign language it is. You still have to mouth the words as you sign it. And obviously if you’re signing in French sign language, for all of these other kinds of foreign language sign languages, if that’s the phrase, the things that you would mouth on the face to help lip reading wouldn’t be universal language.

And if you were to kind of pursue that hypothesis further, then you would ask about, if that is the case, you have to kind of almost lip speak a word so that it can be read on the lips, which one language would you choose? And then you go into the whole debate of English, you know, being the kind of universal language, which is a little bit dodgy because obviously again, there’s loads of languages in the world and each one of them has a beautiful culture that should be respected in its own right.

Carlie: Well, how much sign language do you know, out of interest, considering you would have started learning it later than someone who was diagnosed when they were quite young?

Liam: So, as I said, I’ve kind of learned it through friends. I didn’t really have any kind of formal teaching. Yeah. I kind of know it on a very conversational level. I can’t really ascribe it to any real kind of level of competency. So in the UK we have almost kind of like a qualification system that you can go and take exams, and then you kind of get graded on different levels of expertise. So level one, two, three, and I think four, then it goes up to six. They don’t like the number five for some reason that I’m yet to find out.

Carlie: Like level 13 in buildings or something.

Liam: Yeah, I don’t understand it. I still need to find out why they just don’t like the number five. And level six is interpreter standard as well. I haven’t taken any of those exams because they’re incredibly expensive, sadly. And it’s unfortunate that if you want to learn sign language you really have to kind of invest quite a lot of time and, of course, money into doing that. So I know it on the conversational level, I wouldn’t say I’m fluent, but if I was to come across someone who is a British sign language user, I’m able to hold a conversation with them. And I would know if maybe there’s a word, I don’t know how to sign, or a conversation or something I’m struggling to express, I can find other ways of getting around it, whether I revert it to a sign language word that I know or finger spell it, which sometimes isn’t ideal. But yeah, I guess there’s workarounds that I can do.

Carlie: Being abroad, I always appreciate – in a place where I don’t speak the language, it let’s face it, most places – when restaurants, for example, have picture menus and useful things that are not just for people who are hard of hearing, but for everybody that might be in these situations. I am curious about what tools or technologies or infrastructures you’ve seen or observed in other countries that are examples of best practice, I guess, or that are really quite innovative for the deaf community.

Liam: Wow. That’s another great question. And yeah, I think you’re right about images to begin with. You know, I think it’s about kind of, again, finding those kind of universal ways of communicating, and… this is a real and bizarre example, but you think about stuff like, I’m just thinking of Mr. Bean and how everyone can laugh and poke fun at Mr. Bean because it’s so visual and there’s no language and you can kind of get it all from what you see alone. So yeah, like the example that you gave of a menu where you kind of look at a menu, see a picture, and even if you don’t necessarily understand the language, you can look at it and go, okay, I have a vague idea of what’s in it. And I mean, you would hope that you could have more to go on than just looking at the picture because  you could completely misjudge it and, you know, something that you’ve what you thought was noodles was in fact spaghetti, you know, like that, that that’s not…

Carlie: Snakes, or something.

Liam: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Again, technology is really kind of your best friend. My mind’s kind of showing me an image of an iPhone app that you can get where you just kind of put your phone camera over a menu and it will start to translate it. So in terms of, if people are listening to this thinking, okay, how do I make myself accessible to deaf people from other countries? It’s really about, again, trying to convey as much information visually as possible. Then there’s the kind of backup to that. It’s about written communication. and I understand that’s going to be quite difficult to list all of the languages on a menu, that would be a very long menu, almost turned into a book.

Carlie: An encyclopaedia menu.

Liam: But you’d take, probably, 500 pages just to get to the fish menu, and then you’d be like, Oh no, I’ll just order a salad!

Carlie: What do you need to consider when booking accommodation? Because I know there are accessible rooms in hotels, for example, accessible apartments. I’ve stayed in some and I observed, okay, bathrooms are bigger, can fit a wheelchair, hallways are bigger, might not be any stairs, for example. But for someone with hearing loss or deafness, what sort of tools do you look for in accommodation that is going to be helpful?

Liam: Yes, that’s an important question. When I’ve stayed in hotels before, something that’s kind of been highlighted to me that I should probably start doing a lot more as well as we come out of the situation that we’re in at the moment is around basic alarms. Hotels, when you when you go into them, should… well, I say should, but in the UK, at least as far as I’m aware, it should offer kind of vibrating alarms or something that’s kind of hooked into the hotel alarm system, so that obviously if the worst situation happens and there’s an emergency, ideally you’re alerted by vibrating alarm, additionally, they are aware that they need to they need to find a way of maybe having someone who’s on the floor or someone who’s in the vicinity to come to your door and say, look, we’ve got to get out of here. Obviously that would depend on the situation.

But yeah, I think that’s something that I would… I’d go straight into reception and again, use whatever technology needed to get the message across saying, you know, what fire evacuation procedures do you have for your deaf… tenants? Is that the right word? Residents? I can’t…

Carlie: Guests?

Liam: Guests! There we go! That was the word that somehow had slipped my mind and… thank you. Guests. But I think then also if you consider the kind of booking process, online forms, emails would be much more preferable. I mean, the idea of me staying in hotels in other countries, and I would actually have to ring up the phone and ask them to make a booking. I’m already just thinking, gosh, that’s going to be a lot of hassle, because again, it goes back to the fact that accents for me are very hard to make out. And then also when you consider the fact that telephone conversations can sometimes be varying levels of quality, you know, muffled, or if it’s one of those things, sometimes they’ll have the voice really far away from the microphone. So it’s really hard to make out. And it’s just, it’s just terrible.

I think I’d be comfortable if there was an email or an online form in which you can just write your request and send it off. I think we’re still in a position in a lot of services around the world and kind of, just in general, that kind of rely a lot on phones first. It is the world in which we live. I’m not going to kind of shake my fist and say, ah, phones. They’re so unnecessary and so unhelpful, because  of course we live in a majority hearing world and that is a tool that is incredibly helpful to to hearing people. But I think you just have to be considered, but that is isn’t necessarily everyone’s favoured or most accessible medium. And you have to accommodate for that, pun definitely intended.

Carlie: And I’m curious about in emergency situations where you might be somewhere unfamiliar. I’m assuming in the UK, you know, that if you need to call 909, you probably know the accessible way to do that, as someone with hearing loss. But what if you are in Germany or in France, is that something that you actively sort of prepare for, or do you just accept that you’ll have to figure it out if you’re in a situation where you need it?

Liam: I think I would always prepare myself for that. I think if there are barriers that I could identify beforehand, then I would always almost definitely kind of have plans in place to mitigate for that. And that’s not just necessarily in my experience from a deaf perspective, but that would also be for me, from a kind of neurodiversity perspective. Because I’m, dyspraxic, I’ve got traits of Asperger’s syndrome, which is on the autistic spectrum. I’m still meaning to try and figure that out. Because that that’s not really a diagnosis by a doctor.

Carlie: One thing at a time!

Liam: Yeah. But I need to look into that. If I am in a situation where… like an emergency situation, and I’m not aware of the accessible solutions available, that’s just not going to be ideal, you know, like, it’s already a high pressure, intense and quite distressing environment anyway, because, well, you’re having to ring up the emergency services, of course it’s going to be, you know, no one’s ringing up 999 saying, Oh, I’m just a cat stuck up a tree. I’m totally fine. You know?

Carlie: Well, they do, but whether they should…

Liam: Yeah, exactly, exactly. I mean, yeah, the cat might be stuck up a tree, but I’d imagine you’d still be quite alarmed by it. I think I’d still have that in my head as to: right. I need to see what kind of text-based version there is. I need to know whether or not I need to rely on having another person there with me. And if that is not the case, if I am alone, what I can do next. I’d like to think that other countries out there have kind of text-based versions or text-based approaches to contacting their local emergency services.

There are tools available. I know that you can kind of get textphones that enable you to text, and then that kind of gets relayed. You can use a video relay service if you’re a sign language user and you need to you need to sign to an interpreter who would then relay that down the phone to someone. So yeah, I don’t think I would ever go into an environment knowing that there might be barriers that arise and not doing my best to mitigate them. I would always do that.

Of course, some things can’t be prepared for. You may be in a situation where a barrier just comes along and you haven’t prepared for it because it’s just completely impromptu. But there’s like things that you’ve got in your kind of like repertoire, shall we say, of past experiences that you can go, okay, this has kind of happened to me in the past, here’s how you can do it. Because yeah, a lot of the barriers that deaf people face are kind of repeated barriers that, you know, they happen a lot of the time, and they kind of often fall into the typical categories that I mentioned before: infrastructure or attitudes or any of the other kind of wider categories of discrimination.

Carlie: In light of those repeated barriers, the COVID-19 pandemic and what we have experienced in the past 12 months. Obviously every country has handled it a little bit differently. I’m here in France where, you know, the number of lockdown lights that we’ve had that haven’t really seemed to do much is getting a little bit old at this point. From a deaf and hearing loss perspective, how do you think authorities have performed in being able to convey essential information to this community and accommodate them during the crisis?

Liam: How long have you got?

[laughter]

Carlie: I’ll make another cup of tea…

[laughter]

Liam: Yeah, no, it is quite damning that the UK is really, really behind in this area. I’m not just talking about the catastrophic death toll that we’ve seen in the UK. There’s that side of it. But obviously I’m thinking first and foremost about sign language interpretation of coronavirus press conferences. Because, you look at France, they have interpreters, you look at all of these other countries. Gosh, I’m trying to think of some off the top of my head, but you look at some of the main European countries, they have an interpreter. There’s a graphic that’s gone around that… I’m trying to remember all the ones that they have on it. But at the time, this was obviously back in late 2019, 2020, and then now. In the kind of early stages, when we were in the age of Trump, he didn’t provide interpreter and it was just the UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, and the US president Donald Trump, who weren’t providing interpreters.

The National Association of the Deaf in the US sued the white house to get that sorted. And I think now we are seemingly one of the few countries now that doesn’t provide an interpreter. So in terms of other countries, they’re making it accessible to their deaf and hard of hearing viewers with an interpreter; the UK government has said… they have not. There’s currently a judicial review, which is like a legal procedure here in the UK. There’s currently a court case coming up where hopefully lawyers involved in that are able to get the government to change their mind. Without getting too much into UK politics, because I appreciate this has got an international reach, the UK government basically argued that they can’t have an interpreter on the stage because of the limited confines of the room that they were in, which when you consider that the government-

Carlie: Oh, come on!

Liam: Exactly! It has… come on, government, you have a lot of buildings at your disposal! Not only that, but they-

Carlie: A lot of big, empty, vast buildings.

Liam: Exactly. And they said social distancing was an issue. And I refuse to accept that. And then, to make matters worse, there was another instance where they had to do a press conference and they did outside in the rose garden. Why not do that with the other things, if you really have to? And then more recently, they actually did move to another room, splashed out, like, £2.6 million, which is a ginormous sum on kind of building this like custom built studio. They could fit a Henry Hoover in there — they could fit a hoover  into the space — but they still, as of yet, haven’t provided an interpreter.

And it’s distressing, you know, in the UK, at least 60% of coronavirus deaths were disabled people. The impact that can come from accessible communications, during a time like this, on disabled people, including deaf and hard of hearing people is astronomical. Inaccessible communication can put people’s lives at risk, because they’re not receiving the same information as everyone else. They may well think that they are in a stage of the lockdown process, or the process of restrictions where they think that, you know, things have eased up, or there’s this rule or that rule. And then they may not know that things have progressed and that the situation has changed. We would have to rely on friends who’ve heard from a friend who’ve heard from a friend that the situation has changed.

And obviously as that process goes down, it’s almost like a ripple effect. I’d imagine that as the information gets shared, it gets distorted more and more. It’s like that, you know, that game you play as a kid where, you know, you pass it down the line and it gets more and more distorted as you go on. It’s just baffling to me and infuriating. And it’s a shambles and it’s damning. But yeah, the situation more widely in other countries is better. And the UK is falling behind on this. Which, when they describe themselves in any opportunity as being world leading it anything, world leading in vaccines, they are not world-leading in accessible communication!

Carlie: Liam, at the start of our conversation, we talked about when you were diagnosed and then finding and joining the deaf community and how much support you found in that. I’m curious what your advice would be to people, because obviously hearing loss and deafness can occur at all stages of life, whether you’re in your home country or you’re in a foreign country where everything is that much more difficult. What’s your advice for finding your community, connecting with other people that can support you?

Liam: That’s a great question. You would then have to find organizations that can kind of connect you and kind of allow you to dip your feet into that community. Charities by and large are a good way of doing that, because they kind of pool everyone together around this common cause. So, you know, if you’re in the UK, we have, like I said, the National Deaf Children’s Society, the Royal National Institute of Deaf People, there’s other kind of charities dedicated to specific issues like Sign Health, which is a health charity for deaf people. People gather around these charities and try to support them in what they’re doing. And also these charities will have goals to engage in conversations with the community, these kind of outreach projects. If you find a charity that kind of caters to these issues in your country, that’d be the first place that anyone would go, especially when you’ve got a diagnosis, that’s often what people would direct you to.

And yeah, through that you would be able to find people. Again, social media is great as well, especially in the UK. I know that there is an international reach with these sorts of things. Online communities are incredible for them. The disability community online — #DisabilityTwitter – is ginormous and incredibly supportive. And I have no doubt that that is the case regardless of where you reside in the world. There’s probably a community out there in that country that is available to you that can either be found offline, through speaking to charities, or online by searching online on social media, search engines, things such as that.

And if not, and if you are struggling to find your people, sometimes it is just a case of getting a platform on social media. I have Twitter, I have a blog, I have a website and just of getting your thoughts out there and sharing your experiences. Because then people will gravitate to that and it will eventually reach the right people.

When I did my kind of early works as a campaigner, I had my own website that I was just posting for the most part, rubbish and garbage. But then started to talk about deaf awareness a whole lot more and use the relevant hashtags or any sort of keywords that you would need related to deafness: deafness, sign language, hearing loss, access. And then people will come to that. Other people that are in the same position as you, that are looking for content to consume, looking for people to connect with, will find you. So I wouldn’t despair if you can’t find your community, because if you are being active, vocal, and actively looking for ways to connect, they will find you.

Carlie: Liam, this has been a really fascinating conversation. I’m so glad we had this discussion. Thank you so much for your time.

Liam: Thank you for having me. It’s been wonderful talking to you.

Carlie: That’s it for today. Remember to head to expatfocus.com for the text version of this interview. Be sure to subscribe or follow us on your favorite podcast app so you never miss an episode. And I’ll catch you next time.

Photo credit (c) Ant Belle.