As part of our 40th Birthday celebrations, we asked all of our young deaf adults, who undertook the Natural Aural Approach with their families with DELTA throughout their childhood, to give us an update to their Now and Then Stories – originially made 10 years ago – and tell us what they are doing in 2021!
Our young deaf adults are our success stories of the Natural Aural Approach from DELTA, providing inspiration and support to families of newly diagnosed deaf children proving that deaf children can speak for themselves, naturally.
We have been delighted to hear from Laura Wood who shares her story.
Laura shares her story
Hi, my name is Laura, I’m 28 and I’m from Dorset. I was born profoundly deaf.
My parents say that I was a very aware and curious baby. They think that I used to feel the vibrations from their movements through the ground and watch their faces for reactions and facial expressions. So it was no surprise that it took a year for me to get diagnosed, especially as I apparently passed every hearing test with flying colours!
I had a teacher for the deaf who used to come to my home three days a week and then I started to get a taxi from the age of 3 to go to pre-school where there was a unit for deaf children. I was really lucky to get such an early intervention to encourage my speech and language to catch up with other children of my age.
Just before my third birthday I had a cochlear implant, I was the youngest child in Dorset at the time to have the surgery! I had an absolutely incredible support network over my early childhood, my parents did everything they possibly could to give me the best possible start in life which I am forever grateful for. They are adamant that one of the reasons why my speech is so clear is because I have a brother who is 16 months younger and was an absolute chatterbox. We shared lots of wonderful memories growing up, with lots of holidays and days out together which was amazing as we both were hungry to learn new things and we were very inquisitive children.
I went to mainstream school from year 3 onwards where I used to get ongoing support from a T/A or a notetaker and regular visits from a teacher for the deaf to give me any additional support if needed. I used a radio aid, which I hated with passion! I was a typical teenager who hated being different and absolutely hated the thought of asking for help.
I wanted to be able to chat to my friends or pass notes at the back of the class and not have a notetaker sat right next to me. So not cool! I did hilariously experience a few incidents where I could hear someone on the other end of the mic going to the toilet, or a teacher having a private chat forgetting they were wearing their end of the radio aid!
I remember some of my friends used to immediately turn to me and ask me to lipread other students or teachers from afar to give them any ideas of why any drama was going on! I had some great friends in school but I did really struggle sometimes in group situations.
There were occasions where I would give up trying to understand what was happening in fast paced conversation and often withdrew into myself. Some of the reasons were when friends would become a bit tired of having to repeat things and I didn’t want to feel like I was being a liability either!
My two best friends Emma & Jonquil who I’ve been friends with for 16 years have always been so supportive, being behind me no matter what and always being patient with me! I’m so lucky to have them both constantly cheering me on! As I got older, my confidence grew and I became increasingly adamant that I wasn’t going to be labelled as ‘different’.
I gave everything 100% and I believe having a disability definitely gave me an edge, I had an internal drive to prove that I was capable of achieving anything that I put my mind to.
Unfortunately over the years I did have children that were cruel to me in school, or I had adults over the years who after learning I was deaf before speaking to me would try to speak to me as if I was stupid. Some of them would make ignorant statements like ‘wow you have a job?!’ or ‘You are allowed to drive?!’. I think it’s the unfortunate medieval stereotype that deafness equals dumbness which some people apparently still believe!
One of my achievements from my school years which I look back on now quite embarrassingly is winning ‘Miss Ferndown’. I entered a beauty contest at 15 to become carnival queen, with several stages including answering questions. I held this title for two years and entered ‘Miss Carnival UK’ at Disneyland Paris when I was 16 where I came third.
Another achievement was helping to lobby to the liberal democrat party for the NDCS to ‘bridge the gap’ when I was 16. This was a campaign to banish any potential barriers for deaf children or adults in education or employment.
My family have many happy memories where we volunteered to help at the DELTA summer schools over the years. It was a great experience where we made friends with other deaf children, and their parents who were also volunteers.
We were really proud to help the charity and make sure they could hold events to help parents of newly diagnosed deaf children. I found it so helpful meeting other children who were like me, and we had a natural understanding of the struggles that they go through as deaf people.
It gave me confidence that I wasn’t alone.
I did have a second surgery on my non-impanted side when I was 17, but unfortunately after some time I found it just wasn’t benefitting me at all. I would compare it to having a limb you haven’t exercised in 17 years. It doesn’t have any muscle memory and even after a year it still sounded like white noise from a radio and I just couldn’t recognise any sound or tone.
I eventually gave up, but to be honest, I didn’t know any different. I have never had ‘surround sound’ so how do I know what I’m missing? Children nowadays tend to have bilateral implants which is amazing! I was off school for about a month as I had complications due to my surgery but I still managed to pass my AS levels!
I completed my GCSES and A-Levels, then before I went to Uni I went inter-railing around 13 countries in Europe which was incredible! I went to University to train to be a primary school teacher, however it wasn’t for me and I decided to go to New Zealand for 5 months on my own to figure out what I wanted. While there, I was working as a live in home school teacher with one of the perks being that I was given a car, which enabled me to travel on weekends and then for the 6 full weeks at the end of my stay to explore the country.
I made so many friends who I’m still in touch with today and I have so many wonderful memories including a sky dive and a bungee jump! It was one of the first times in my life where I had gone somewhere where people weren’t aware of my disability and I made friends based on my personality as opposed to having to deal with any assumptions or stereotypes. I have always found that if people met me first before I explained that I was deaf, there was never a problem as they were already aware that I was very capable.
On my return back to the UK, I decided to become a hairdresser because I love making people feel good and I love getting creative. At this point I was 20, I went round 13 salons within a 15 mile radius who were hiring only to be knocked back for being ‘too old’! The next day I went round a 20 mile radius of salons that were hiring and finally found a salon to take me on!
I worked full time in the salon while going to college one day a week and I had two extra part time jobs on top because I was trying to save up for a house. I have always worked ever since I was 13 years old, which I feel gave me that determination to be independent from very early on. I completed my 2 year course in a year and won apprentice of the year. I then took on a more technical 2 year course which again I completed quickly to get onto the salon floor quicker so I could build up my clientele. Only I could find a career where the workplace happens to have the worst possible acoustics!
However, I always found ways around the barriers. The mirrors were always handy while doing a blow dry as I was able to lipread, whereas my hearing colleagues would usually be struggling in that scenario! I didn’t find the need to warn people that I was deaf unless I actually missed or misunderstood something. Then I would explain and clients were usually very understanding. I learned not to take myself too seriously and to laugh at myself.
I have a few hilarious stories of times where I got the wrong end of the stick, but I have no shame in it. I remember once it was Christmas and I asked one of my clients if she would like a mince pie. She said she just wanted a quarter, so I cut quarter of a mince pie and bought it back to her thinking it was a bit of an odd request. She burst out laughing and told me she had asked for water!
Another time, I had two sisters from out of town having a blowdry and I typically asked them what they were visiting for. Their reply was interrupted by my colleague turning on their hairdryer but they were smiling, so I replied ‘oh that’s nice!’. They both stared at me and said ‘its my sisters funeral…..’. I could have died! They thought it was absolutely hilarious when I explained that I was actually deaf and I missed what they said due to the noise disturbance! I have so many stories and I always look back at them and smile. I had about 5 years there before I moved to a salon closer to home, moving my clientele that I had spent years building up.
I met my husband Dave when I was 23. I never found dating a problem and I always found icebreakers or humour to disclose my deafness when I felt it was the right time. When I admitted my deafness to Dave on our first date by making a joke, he didn’t bat an eyelid! We bought our first property after a year of being together and little did I know that it was the start of a whirlwind adventure!
After a year of working at the salon closer to home, the owner announced that she was selling the business after 23 years of being open. I went home to my husband worrying about it. We share a very light hearted sense of humour where we both don’t take ourselves very seriously at all, so we typically started taking the mickey out of ourselves pretending that we were going to take over the salon.
As weeks followed, we continued the joke and we found ourselves actually considering buying the salon. I doubted myself as the salon is a double shop with a beauty side attached, it was just too big for me to take on as a first business.
I had no management experience and no experience of how to run a business. I slinked into my boss’ office sheepishly asking her how she would feel if I told her I was interested. She laughed and said ‘finally! I’ve been waiting for you to approach me!’. I remembered that I had spoken to her about my dreams of running my own business when she interviewed me. I made a deal that I would love to buy the salon as long as she mentored me and taught me how to run the business while the sale went through.
At that point, my wedding was about 11 months away and we were told that the sale would take between 8-12 weeks. It took 10 months!! The positive was that I had 10 months of invaluable mentorship while I managed the salon and learned how to run the business.
I got handed the keys to my salon in February 2018 and was an amazing feeling that it was now mine and all of the years of hard work and sacrifices I had made had finally come to this point. 9 weeks later, it was my wedding! It was an absolutely crazy, busy time as you can imagine, we had to hit the ground running learning how to take the reins with the business and figuring out everything as we went as well as any last minute wedding plans.
My husband is my business partner and he manages some of the behind of the scenes work alongside his full time job elsewhere. I looked after my clients full time whilst managing a team of 12 and doing the behind the scenes work on top of that when I had finished my clients at the end of the day.
I have a private room in the salon which I moved into with the realisation that it’s so much easier to have a conversation with my clients, therefore making our relationships closer, especially since we can speak without anyone eavesdropping! I branched out into the hair loss side of things, such as wigs and hair replacement options, utilising the private room which was beginning to really take off before COVID began.
I have always been proud to be deaf, and as I have said before, I only felt I had to disclose my deafness if I needed to. You can’t imagine me going ‘hey I’m Laura, I’m deaf, now how can I help you?’ to every client can you? It’s just not natural at all! Interestingly I did have a couple of people who doubted me as a salon owner and as a deaf woman.
Luckily I am the sort of person who learned not to care about other people’s opinions too much, unless it was someone who I cared about. However, remember that really annoying personality trait that I have where I constantly feel like I need to prove people wrong? It comes in handy sometimes!
I had the flexibility of utilising my team, I have full time reception staff who handle all of the phone calls for me. If it’s urgent I use my iphone as the sound quality is really good and overcomes that barrier. I have hired two managers who work alongside me to make sure we don’t drop the ball, and my employees are absolutely amazing. We are all constantly learning and adjusting things to what we feel works best. In terms of deaf awareness, I feel this is very individual to the person as we all have different needs.
In my own experience, I have always told people to treat me no different and I’ll let them know if I need anything. For example, pulling a staff member in to a room to chat if it’s noisy, or asking someone to stand out of the bright light so I can lipread if their face went dark, or asking someone if they can look at me when talking to me.
To add to all the excitement, after a 6/7 year wait I finally got a phone call in October 2018 that my hearing dog Bea was ready to be partnered! She is an absolute light in our lives!
She is the most affectionate and intelligent fur baby ever. I applied with the purpose of giving me peace of mind when I’m home alone, as I love to take my hearing aid off when home. The best way to describe it is relief!
If I was offered a miracle cure to be able to hear, I’d really struggle to give up my opportunities to have pure silence. I love being able to think really clearly, to sleep soundly and to be able to easily put myself in a bubble to get away from the stress of work and cocoon at home with my husband.
Bea’s job is to alert me to the doorbell, any timers that I set for her, smoke alarms, burglar alarms and even the morning alarm! She very adorably has been trained to enthusiastically nudge me if she hears one of these sounds, to which I have to ask ‘what is it?’ and then she will take me to the sound or she will react appropriately to let me know what it is.
For example, in the event of a fire alarm she will lie down rather than take me through the fire to the alarm!
In public she has a uniform that she looks adorable in to alert people that she is a working dog. I don’t need her in a public scenario, as I can hear the fire alarm or the traffic with my cochlear implant, however it’s important that she is with me at all times to keep bond strong so she knows it’s me that she has to alert to sounds, rather than my hearing husband!
At work she is our salon dog, she greets everyone at the door (before COVID happened obviously!) and she has a real thing for men especially! She just fits in to our lives so perfectly, she is very spoilt and adored by all of our family, friends and clients.
I’m very lucky because I have found an amazing partner in my husband, we have the sort of relationship where we can be completely ourselves without fear of judgement. We have grown so much in the last two years and we have learned so many lessons. COVID has obviously hit us hard, only being open for 20 weeks in the past 12 months. And as we were a ‘new business’ we weren’t eligible for any self employed help which has meant that we have had to survive off loans which has been really tough.
However, we are really proud that we have managed to keep every single one of our staff employed. 1 in 4 salons are expected to go bust by march but we are prepared to keep fighting and we have many plans to grow the business to get back on track. We have learned how to manage our stress by taking the mickey out of our situation and to not stress about the small things. We are both very calm people who have a glass half full mentality. We have learned how to have a healthy balance between work and home by always making time for the important people in our lives, and we have learned how to be as productive as we possibly can be without burning ourselves out too much.
We’ve managed to have some incredible holidays together over the last 6 years, such as Florida, Thailand and Morocco. We hope to go to Japan next when it’s possible, and we try to let ourselves dream as much as we can for the future to give ourselves hope. We have many plans which we have been planting the seeds for in hope of the salon surviving, and with our sheer determination not to fail which is inbuilt into us, watch this space!
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