A wild reminder…

Walking into Paradise Wildlife Park in Hertfordshire, I have absolutely no idea what to expect. I’ve been too busy to look it up properly on the Internet and my hands are way too occupied right now to grab a detailed map of the park. So I decide to just wander around and see what we can find. 

In the beginning it looks like pretty much any zoo or wildlife place. Until, of course, we stumble upon the lion enclosure. There is a path all around the lions which we follow until we come to a small crowd gathering. Turning to see what has their attention, we see a magnificent white lion feeding from the hands of a visitor. Yes, a white lion.  

  
Everything about it exudes power and beauty. It isn’t any wonder this visitor has paid for this intimate experience and that so many have stopped to watch – this is extraordinary. 

Continuing to follow the path around we come to some glass panels and a couple of lionesses move towards us.  They embody grace and power all in one. Edging closer to the panel they appear to look at me in the eye. A shiver runs through me. I have no idea why I feel the way I do  but boy do I have goosebumps…

Even after we leave this part of the park and traipse over to see the camels, wolves and alligators, the White lions remain on my mind. 

One of the saddest things for me was discovering that they’ve been extinct in the wild since 1994. Man have purposely hunted them for too long the only way we can see them now is in a park such as this. Isn’t that a tragedy? 

It reminded me of where I was in 1994. Back when I was at primary school and quite the little campaigner. I wrote poems and songs urging people to “save the rainforest” to “save the animals” and I even contacted the charity Greenpeace to ask what I could do to help. 

Fast forward into 2015 and I’ve been way too busy of late to give the rainforest a second thought. And the same can be said of so many of us. We become too wrapped up in our safe, western lives that we forget the rainforest is responsible for pretty much everything we take for granted. 

The earths oxygen. Rain patterns. Protecting us from the greenhouse effect. Keeping us alive basically. 

I may be side tracking a little bit but as we cut down more of the rainforest it’s not only affecting us but it’s also causing more and more species (like lions) to become homeless and worse – extinct. 

I won’t lecture you. All I will say is that ive been inspired. And if you’ve been touched in any way then there’s so many things you can do to help the cause. 

Visit places like the Paradise Wildlife Park. Support their conservation efforts. Google search charities that focus on things you feel passionate about. Wake up to the contribution you are/not making on Earth. 

It’s not just about giving money. But more simply reawakening to what really matters on planet Earth and being conscious of the actions we take to help or hinder it. 

The indigenous tribes where the White Lions originate in the Timbavati region of South Africa refer to the lions as Star beings. In actual fact, the word Timbavati translates as ‘the place where the star lions came down.’ 

This may be fact, it may be folklore but all in all it reminds me of the absolute respect those people have for Earths creatures. Something we would do well to remember too. Perhaps if we did, our rainforest wouldn’t be in the state they are now. 

Let’s wake up. Let’s remember. 

Www.savetherainforest.org 

http://www.rainforestfoundation.org

http://www.worldlandtrust.org 

http://www.pwpark.com 

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Mind your language…

I’ve written about this before… the choice of words medical professionals use when discussing deafness and the impact it has on those who are already deaf. 

Yet it seems to be a recurring theme for me lately, with inappropriate comments becoming increasingly prevalent. So my time discussing this topic is not quite over. 

A couple of weeks ago I was minding my own business at a soft play centre with my children when a lady approached me. She was a regular there and simply wanted to say hello. She soon realised I was deaf. 

To her credit she didn’t scarper but sat down beside me to continue the conversation. But what followed were a string of awkward statements and questions that led me to think there are way too many assumptions about deafness. 

She raised her voice and spoke in the direction of my ears, indicating her elderly Father was the same. She said it must be terribly hard for me but at least it wasn’t as bad as being blind (!) 

She then asked about my son and when I told her he was hearing she responded overly pleased for me, “oh that’s brilliant!” 

I tried to tell her that it wouldn’t matter if he was deaf as having deaf parents and there being such a large deaf community where we live it wouldn’t be seen as a negative thing. But her face drew a blank. 

And that’s not the first time this has happened. I often meet new mums at play groups and a lot of the time they seem fascinated by my deafness and desperate to know if my children are the same.

They respond far too positively for my liking if I say they can hear. It’s kind of offensive to me. Would it be quite so bad if they were deaf? 

Yet of course deafness would seem like such a catastrophe to them, they’re hearing and have never known anything different. They only see the things we can’t do like, erm, hear! 

They don’t see the cultural significance, the language, the community we belong to. They frankly have no idea. And it isn’t a surprise. 

Not when audiologists send out letters like this to mums with new babies, urging them to get their hearing assessed to rule out any permanent hearing impairment. 

  
Of course it’s better to know if your child is deaf and to be prepared but the phrasing of that sentence is just doom and gloom. 

Rule it out? – like its something to be feared. Impairment? What happens if parents discover their child does have some kind of deafness? They can’t rule it out and their child is now ‘impaired.’ They’ll feel like the worst parents in the world with no positive prospects for their poor deaf child. 

This is where my loyalty to my deafness comes in. I refuse to be ashamed of it or see myself as unable to achieve because of it and I feel very protective towards any parent offered apologies or sympathy simply for having a child who is deaf. 

So if there are any parents out there who have recently discovered their child has a deafness, I’m speaking to you now.

Your child’s deafness does not summarise your whole child. It’s a quirk they’ll have, a characteristic that shapes them and makes them who they are. You’ll get to know them as they grow and form your own way of communicating whether that’s with speech, sign or both. 

It’s your child. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad and most definitely do not accept strangers ‘sympathy.’ If they say sorry – ask them what for? You have a beautiful child whose senses are going to be marvellously heightened, they will have a unique way of seeing the world and most definitely will not be excluded from it. 

There will be challenges – that’s life. But take it from me, deafness is not the end of the world. They will still live, love, laugh and its up to you to show them that it’s okay to be different, it’s okay to stand out. Everything happens for a reason. So give it time and you’ll discover yours. 

I know that without my deafness I wouldn’t be half as resilient or determined and I would never have achieved all of the things I have. I wouldn’t be quite so open minded or accepting of people’s differences or disabilities because I know first hand that behind appearances we are all the same. 

Audiologists, professionals or just general hearing people haven’t had the life experience with deafness that I have. They see it on an audiogram and view it as an impairment, something we’ve lost. Yet I and the deaf community refuse to dwell on what we don’t have and instead we celebrate what we do. 

This is what separates the medical model from the cultural model of deafness. It’s all about perspective. We could sit around saying its hard and see ourselves as impaired and therefore unable to do anything worthwhile with our life. Or we can grab life by the horns, accept our deafness and the unique view it gives us and just enjoy our days. 

We are all different in one way or another. And we don’t need anyone trying to make us feel less than or as though we’re a sufferer. Life deals you a hand and you deal with it. 

So if people speak of deafness as a terrible, terrible thing, I say let them. If they panic at the prospect of your child being deaf and try helplessly to “correct it” I say leave them be. 

I refuse to waste any more energy assuring people that actually being deaf isn’t quite so bad. That it doesn’t mean I have “bad ears” or “less than satisfactory hearing. ” Or that I’m a bad or less than satisfactory person. 

Instead, I’m just going to show them.  After all it’s true that actions speak louder than words. They will see as I live my life that I’m here and I’m deaf and its okay. 

My first taste of TV…

For most people, the first time they saw me on their TV screens was during my time as an actress on Grange Hill between 2005-2007. But in actual truth, I’d dipped my toe in the pool of television back in 2000 when I was 14 years old. 

  
I’d won an online quest to appear on BBC 1’s Live and Kicking, answering questions about my favourite band the A*Teens in an attempt to meet them and avoid the gunge tank! 

To cut a long story short, I won it. I met the A*Teens as well as boyband Blue (who were unheard of at the time) and returned to Walsall from the Glasgow studio that day with tons of amazing goodies. I should have been thrilled right?! 

Well… As much as I loved the day, I remember feeling incredibly disappointed when it was all over and even more disheartened when I dwelled on how I’d never be a singing dancing popstar like the ones I had met. 

You see, I was in that awkward teenage stage of not quite knowing who I was or how I fitted into the world. I still went by the name of Beckie (as you can see on my name tag) and despite my formal, confident appearance, inside I was a bundle of nerves.  Mostly due to my deafness. 

This was live TV after all. So there were no rehearsals, no repeats and no way of me being able to guess what anyone was going to say. Cue lots of intense lipreading and serious stares. 

  
The cameras were directed in such a way that the audience didn’t notice the presenter Sarah Cawood holding my hearing aid each time I stepped into the gunge tank but you do see her show me the question card when the other presenter speaks with his back to me. 

  
I noticed how back then I appeared overly formal, strong, confident and mature for my age. Standoffish almost. This was most probably due to the front I felt I had to put on to get by in a hearing world. I didn’t want any sympathy and I most definitely didn’t want to appear weak. 

Even the singers in the band were fascinated by the fact I was deaf because I didn’t “look it.” They probably wondered how I enjoyed their music and so it was pretty ironic to them that out of all the thousands that applied, a deaf girl won it. Go me.
Watching the video back, aside from asking the presenter to repeat one question, I did a pretty good job of “looking hearing.” I spoke, I responded, I lipread. And I guessed and bluffed my way through the conversation backstage with the Swedish stars too. 

Apparently I was asked by one of them if I was from Glasgow – but her Swedish accent meant I couldn’t understand her and back then I was too embarrassed to ask again. So I just said yes. Cringe. 

So on the 4 hour train journey home I promised myself that this would just be the beginning. That despite being deaf and feeling SO different I would most definitely have a career in performance, no matter what. 

And now over ten years on, I can say I’ve achieved that. But this time, I’m not pretending, I’m not acting “hearing” or covering anything up. I speak and I sign and if I dont understand Ill always make it clear. 

I’m being me. And that is good enough indeed.