For seven years of her life, Louise Goldsmith experienced life with sound. Then her hearing mysteriously started to deteriorate. Now 25, she’s on a mission to show that life with hearing loss can be lived to the full.
At first Louise, was “excited about having hearing aids” and would “show them off” to her classmates at primary school.
But things changed when she got to senior school, where her peers were unkind and would bully her.
Louise, from Melton, Suffolk, says she would conceal her hearing aids by wearing her hair down and her confidence became “really bad”.
But since going to City College Norwich, she says she has worn her hearing aids “with pride”.
“My bad experiences make me want to help others. I face daily barriers. I want people to see that deaf people aren’t people with two heads, they are normal people,” she says.
Louise’s bilateral sensorineural hearing loss is now classed as severe to profound, and she relies on two hearing aids and lip reading.
No-one else in her family is deaf, and genetic testing has revealed no clues as to why she lost her hearing.
She says the challenges she faces on a daily basis include services where she needs to use a phone, a lack of subtitled films at cinemas and people who work in public-facing roles not knowing how to react when she says she’s deaf.
Louise says the challenges she faces have made her more determined to help others and raise awareness.
“I’ve had so many things happen,” she says. “One time I went to go on the park-and-ride and this bus driver made me cry.
“I didn’t hear him and he was really horrible and it was really embarrassing.
“Mum wrote a letter to complain and they apologised but it’s bad experiences like that, you think, ‘this can’t happen again’ – you have to do something about it – so that’s why I do what I do.”
Louise works as an outreach officer for Deaf Blind UK, a job she says she thought she’d be good at as “I know everything there is to know about being deaf”.
She also hopes to inspire “young people to realise it’s fine to be deaf and it’s nothing to be ashamed of”.
Louise says there needs to be more awareness among those who work with members of the public.
“Like in shops, for example, if I don’t hear how much money I have to pay, the specific change, I ask them to repeat again but sometimes I don’t hear the last bit, and I tell them I’m deaf and then they have this face of shock, and you know they feel awkward.
“People need to understand there’s different levels of deafness,” she says.
In addition to her job at Deaf Blind UK, Louise campaigns for improved services for deaf people, is an ambassador for Relay UK, an app that helps deaf people make phone calls, and is a volunteer Action on Hearing Loss.
As part of her crusade, Louise has set up her own website, is active on social media, gives presentations and makes YouTube videos.
Some people’s responses to deaf people can be “cringey” or funny – and some can be downright offensive, Louise says.
So she created a list of “Things Not to Say to a Deaf Person” on her YouTube channel, including:
- “Wow, you speak so well for a deaf person”
- “Can deaf people drive?”
- “Oh my best friend’s sister’s neighbour’s dog is deaf too”
- “Does that mean you use Braille?”
- “Do you really have to have subtitles?”
- “I couldn’t live without my music”
- “I don’t think I could live with being deaf”
- “You don’t look deaf”
On Twitter, she talks about the realities of life as a deaf person, from how tiring lip reading can be, to her joy at being able to make a vet’s appointment over the phone for the first time for her pet hamster.
She also shares images and videos of herself enjoying nights out with her hearing friends, going to the gym, embarking on a charity skydive and her journey of learning sign language.
In her YouTube videos, she goes on adventures with a friend who is also deaf.
The pair can be seen having fun at outdoor activity centre Go Ape, taking a trip to Ikea and go-karting with friends.
“Being deaf does not actually suck – if I wasn’t deaf I would not have met the wonderful people in this unique deaf culture,” says Louise.
“Over the years I’ve learnt that we are actually experts in adapting to different circumstances and we can still actually enjoy life without sound.”