Marathon training: Day 19,20

28 02 2013

Day 19 had a 30 minute run at the crack of dawn on the treadmill. Boring as!

So I found a local running club online and turned up tonight – only a 15 minute walk from my house! I was thrilled to discover the running group is based in a huge leisure centre with a proper training centre for elite athletes, over 30 group classes a week … this place has been quietly hiding under my nose for months! Check out that HUGE running track!

leisure centre

Coach Graham is thin as a rake – he really does look like a rake on two legs! He talks a mile a minute with teeth fighting to get out of his mouth … I really struggled to understand him against 20 people chatting loudly as he held his glasses on his nose, covering his mouth with his hand. Thankfully I can lipread and I got the gist of what he was saying.

I still can’t believe I have gone out running after a long day at work. In the dark. Crazy or what?!

We went for a ‘short’ run (LMAO) and did interval training. It was tough going up and down that hill. Up-and-down up-and-down up-and-down up-and-down up-and-down up-and-down up-and-down up-and-down I’M GONNA DIE up-and-down up-and-down up-and-down up-and-down KILL ME NOW up-and-down up-and-down up-and-down up-and-down CAN I GO HOME NOW? up-and-down up-and-down up-and-down up-and-down HEEEEEELLLLLPPPPPP  up-and-down up-and-down up-and-down up-and-down …… Everyone was overtaking me. Even the fattest person in the group was overtaking me.

Hill hell: my running track tonight

Hill hell: my running track tonight

 I kept thinking, Why am I doing all this stupid running?

I’m doing this for a great reason, I’m running to raise funds so that another deaf person can have their life transformed by a Hearing Dog, and because I’ve lost my mind.

Stu ran the last few laps with me and I found I could keep up with him …. group psychology works better for me than solo running! It was great to get encouragement from the other runners as I tried to avoid death and remain upright.

I’ve discovered muscles that I never knew existed. During tonight’s training, my right peroneus longus kept clicking as I worked that hill, a really strange sensation.  My right adductor muscle is starting to make a lot of noise, here’s hoping I haven’t caught an injury!

We got back to the leisure centre and I stopped to talk to someone, they offer what looks like a GREAT class on Thursdays – Supple Strength, using a foam roller with yoga, pilates and stretch techniques. I’d love to go to their boot camp sessions but they are on Friday mornings … bah. I almost fell over as I hobbled outside, then I really started shivering, so I ran all the way home to keep warm. I barely made it up the stairs in time to have a wee – I’m peeing every hour, like a pregnant woman!

Whittard's chai latte

A hot bath and a milky chai treat helped – check out my chai latte collection from Whittards – always so hard to find as Whittards sell out so quickly – psssstt! you’ll find these in the Wimbledon branch, next to the train station.

Today’s tip: Put the central heating on so you come home to a warm place. Wear gloves when night running, and a hat to keep your hair out of your eyes / your ears warm / your cochlear implants dry in the rain.

New pet hate: Wearing a huge water bottle on my waist. THUNK THUNK THUNK against my side or hugging the bottle as I run is no fun. Too much baggage.

Today’s chalkup: 1.5 hours running & interval training, 11 km

…. I haven’t reached the depths of Hell yet!





Doggo goes to the beach

26 03 2011

Billy sent me this video ages ago. Now he has every right to smack me for not reading my emails! My hearing dog loves the beach too, and one day he actually lost his collar in the sea. He usually wades in up to his neck and won’t come out. I don’t blame him – no alarm clocks, fire alarms, or doorbells there. Time for another seaside break soon methinks… 3 beach walks a day will do us both very nicely.





Dancing into a new life

29 03 2010

It’s been four days since switch-on and my bionic hearing is changing quickly. On Wednesday, I was able to detect a few sounds but they were all beeps. I started to pick out people beeping around me like little birds, items being banged set upon my desk, pages being turned in a series of beeps, the phone ringing in a beep. I had been given three levels of sound on my processor, which was expected to easily last me until my next visit to the audiologist’s, in five days time. On the second day, the volume of the beeps was getting quieter and quieter, and I kept increasing the sound. I started to detect my work colleagues’ voices, with an accompanying beep. I was able to detect a glass being filled with beepy water and draining down the sink’s plug hole, a kettle boiling in mini beeps and switching off with a ping, a crisp packet being beepily rustled. I was getting rather beeped off!

By Thursday evening, I didn’t have any more volume to add on my processor and I didn’t want to wait until Monday’s audiology appointment and miss out on any progress. So there I was on Friday morning, banging on my audie’s door, and she gave me a big increase in sound levels on the processor. She can’t believe how fast I am progressing and has told me to slow down, that my brain needs time to take it all in or I might hamper my progress. She thinks it is because I have done so well with my hearing aids that my brain is very well developed at listening so is able to make sense of the new cochlear implant sound more quickly. My audie said a lot of people take a month off after switch-on to relax at home and take in the new sounds, then they have a shock getting used to their usual routine when they go back to work. Considering I am facing a month of crappy sound whilst my brain adjusts, I reckon returning to work is the smartest thing to do. Just before I left the audie’s office, I realised she wasn’t beeping when she was talking to me.

*hurrah!*

It was Friday afternoon and I was back in the office. I was shocked to find that I could make out my colleagues voices without beeps over the top, their voices sounded distant, in high tones, but I could make them out. It was happy tears all round and a very emotional day. I was amazed that I was able to hear through a computer in my head.

I received a very kind gift from Patrice, Bob and Kirby – a pretty seashell for my New Ear Day, very appropriately reminiscent of a cochlea – and beautifully polished until it shone. I have spent the three days since activation working as normal and that means listening and taking in sound from clients all day, chatting to my interpreter, colleagues and friends, going to the usual noisy cafes for lunch. I think all this has really helped me to ‘acclimatise’ to listening through a computer. It was wonderful to hear a voice and not a beep, and it really helped with my lipreading – which I found a lot less stressful.

Voices now sound quite weird as my brain adjusts to the new sound, and I am having great difficulty understanding what is being said today. I expect to go backwards sometimes as I adjust but to carry on moving in the right direction. I can see that there are so many different shades of hearing. Moving from silence, to sensations or beeps, to detecting some environmental sounds, detecting voices and life around me, moving on to comprehending sounds and then – finally! – understanding speech. My Holy Grail is to understand speech without lipreading. A bonus gift would be to enjoy music. I’m on Advanced Bionic’s HiRes-S with Fidelity 120 program and will get an additional program in May 2010 called ClearVoice, which is revolutionary in having the ability to reduce background noise or the ‘cocktail party effect’. So now I have my goal in sight.

My sound database is now constantly being populated with a drip-feed of familiar, new and sometimes surprising sounds. Familiar sounds I can now hear are the dog barking next door, cars passing me, and sometimes footsteps. When I walk through a busy place such as the cafe in our office building, I don’t experience the usual wall of indecipherable echoey loud white TV noise that hurts my ears and makes me want to scream very loudly, but instead I detect the quiet chirping of people’s voices. (I know from Amanda, the cutlery will become my new sound from hell). At the moment my window of sound is still quite small, because I would not be able to cope if the audie let me have it all at once. It is a mountain that I have to climb slowly, take a rest now and again, acclimatise myself bit by bit. So at the moment, I am only able to hear high frequency sounds that are not too far away from me. I have tried listening to my iPod and music sounds absolutely rubbish, however the volume is set much lower (my hearing aid required the maximum iPod setting and hearing aid setting). I’ve bought my first audio book, Harry Potter’s first book, and find that very hard to listen to as the sound makes no sense – what I am hearing sounds like a long wail with gaps. But I’m holding the faith! Here’s why ….

New sounds from my cochlear implant are the Blackberry / Mac / remote control keys clicking, cutlery on plates, plastic bags rustling, scissors cutting plastic, clicking fingers, bus doors thumping shut, my dog panting and whining (he sure whines a lot!), using an eraser, the bathroom door lock and light clicking from the room next door, the doves and pigeons making a racket in my chimney, my own breathing and sniffing, zips, Amanda’s jaw cracking every time she opens her mouth – all these tell me that the cochlear implant is already outperforming my hearing aid. And it’s only been FOUR DAYS! I am realising that when something moves, it makes a sound. The first sound I could hear clearly, sounding normal and without any pesky beeping, was my shoes scraping on the tarmac when I walked my dog yesterday morning, and I took great pleasure scraping my shoes (and dancing) all around the park. Unfortunately, I now need a new pair of shoes.

I am amazed that I put up with such crappy hearing for so many years.

Bye bye, Crappy Hearing Aid.

Hello, ‘Borg with new shoes.

New, polished, and shining with pride. ~ Come dance with me!






Look! Look! LOOK!

7 02 2010

I guess a lot of people wonder what a cochlear implant looks like. This photo is of the CI made by Advanced Bionics, it is the same as the one which I am getting (and the same colour). The CI comes in two parts; one internal, one external. On the left is the internal part; the larger disc (1) houses the computer technology with a ‘tail’ for the electrode array, the smaller disc (2) is the magnet which is removable for MRI scans if needed. On the right is the processor. The processor (3) is the part that is updated with new software by the audiologist. The battery (4) is rechargeable and I will get a set of 4 batteries so I can rotate them each night – a battery charge will only last a day. The processor is connected by a wire to a magnet (5), which has an orange cover in this photo. I’ll be supplied with a set of covers in interchangeable colours to jazz up my CI or to match with my outfit. Advanced Bionic’s CI microphone is patented, which means no other CI manufacturer is able to produce a similar microphone. This is called the T-Mic (6), and is situated at the end of the ear hook to mimic normal hearing at the entrance to the ear canal, rather than at the top of the ear as in hearing aids and other CIs.

The external magnet connects to the internal magnet through their placement, creating the connection for processed sound to reach the auditory nerve. Here, they are placed similar to how they would be on a real person …

Putting it on, it is a little bigger than my current hearing aid (Oticon Spirit 3 SP) and about the same size as my last pair of hearing aids (Phonak Supero). I pulled my hair back for this photo but my CI will be hidden by my hair.

And if you’re bald or have very short hair? There’s nowhere to hide – but should you be hiding? Meet Scott, who says “It rocks my world every day”.

It’s probably like having a hearing dog – a few people stare but more people are lovely, they come up and talk to me and ask questions, they show an interest, they are aware of my hearing loss and make the effort to look at me and speak more clearly. I’ve made lots of friends this way. It’s helped me to stand up tall and spit in the face of deafness.

For some, it’s a choice between vanity or decent hearing. Hats? Wigs? Attitude? Two-fingers-up-at-the-world? Hmmm, food for thought. Fortunately, I don’t really need to make this choice, but if I had to make it, I would choose the opportunity of having decent hearing.





Clear voices

20 01 2010

voicesI have been getting to know a lady called Amanda with a cochlear implant and seeing how she copes. She has a blog about her cochlear implant, Journey Through Advanced Bionic Cochlear Implant UK, but it’s so much better to hear about the CI experience at first hand.

I have been amazed as she is just like a hearing person.  Before her CI, she was just like me, profoundly deaf and lipreading what she could. She has had her CI for one year. What has been interesting to see is how she interacts with hearing people and I … um… don’t.

I worry about talking to hearing people because I know it is likely I won’t be able to understand them. Plus, they might not be able to understand me. So when I go to social events or have to network for work, I am petrified.  Lipreading is soooo hard. Most people mumble, talk with food in their mouth, look away when talking, maybe they have a moustache or beard, there is too much distracting background noise, the list goes on and on. When networking, I don’t know what to do, how to behave, or what to say, because I have never heard other people network a crowd.  Why doesn’t someone teach deaf people how to do this? It’s not a skill that I can just pick up by observing other people, I have to be told how to do it.

We went to the SWPP exhibition in Hammersmith.  Amanda is a wedding photographer and offers a unique service producing captioned wedding videos. Amanda was networking with the exhibitors, networking with a capital N. She made it look so easy. She had no trouble hearing people and she was firing responses right back at them. Afterwards, she said it was so funny, I was stood there like a rabbit caught in the headlights, watching them, back and forth, back and forth. I didn’t have a clue most of the time what was being said.

The same thing happened in a pub. We went to a large brewery-run pub and I had my hearing dog with me. The bar staff said I couldn’t bring my dog in. I explained he is a hearing dog and just like a guide dog, he is allowed everywhere. She kept saying they have food and don’t allow dogs. I couldn’t really understand her as she had a foreign accent, so Amanda did the talking. The bar staff kept going to speak to the manager and she said we could go elsewhere or sit outside. Outside? In the freezing cold, snow and ice on the pavements, and it was dark …. why should I want to?? I said you are discriminating against me, because you are telling me I can’t have my hearing dog with me, and I need my dog for my disability. She said she isn’t discriminating against me. I don’t know how she worked that one out. In the end the manager came out. I couldn’t understand him either so Amanda did the talking. In the end he apologised and said he had looked up hearing dogs on the internet and it is okay to have him in the pub. He said, however, that the bar staff was only doing her job. Oh really…..  ! It is up to them to know the law and that there are 7 different kinds of assistance dogs and they are all allowed into places with food, as long as they have their coat on. I tried to explain but both the bar staff and manager kept talking over me and talking to Amanda. Amanda said my voice is too quiet and they couldn’t hear me, so they wouldn’t respond to that but prefer to respond to her, as she could speak more clearly and loudly than I did. I always forget that you need to raise your voice in noisy places as I can’t tell if someone can hear me or not, I can’t tell if my voice is too quiet or too loud.

So how we project ourselves and how we respond to other people talking, really affects the communication between a hearing and deaf person. The hearing person needs patience and understanding of the difficulty and communication tactics, they need deaf awareness; and the deaf person needs understanding of what is difficult for the hearing person and how to project their voice, they need hearing awareness. Not enough training going around, is there!

The CI will really help to bridge this communication gap as I have seen with Amanda. With the CI, there is still difficulty for a lot of people with discriminating voices in noisy environments. Advanced Bionics, who I have chosen for my CI, have a new software programme coming out in the UK in March, called ClearVoice. This automatically analyzes and adapts to different situations, separating noisy sounds from speech. Just what I need!  I tried listening to a ClearVoice demo with my hearing aids and I could tell the difference even through my crappy hearing aids. I’m really excited and can’t wait to try it out for real. Whoo wooo wooo!

To find out more about ClearVoice, go to ClearVoice demonstrations.





Groundhog Day

20 06 2009

I am deaf and to assist me, I chose to have a hearing dog. A hearing dog is classified as a registered assistance dog with Assistance Dogs UK (ADUK), whereby hearing dogs should be afforded the same access to public places as guide dogs. With the DDA now in place, service providers need to show they are compliant with the regulations. But are they complying, or merely paying lip service?

I went into a large local supermarket with my hearing dog Smudge. It’s not my favourite store, but it’s on my way to work and handy to pop in to. As always, my dog was wearing his official purple working coat which specifically states “Hearing Dog for Deaf People” in bright white lettering on the side, and a white ADUK logo on the top. You can’t miss the dog (he’s beautiful!) and you can’t miss the coat either.

Whilst I was shopping, a store assistant approached me, and told me that dogs were not allowed in the store. I explained to him that my dog is a “Hearing Dog for Deaf People” which is a registered assistance dog like guide dogs for blind people. He enables me to get around more safely. The assistant did not believe my explanation and insisted that I leave the store. I requested to speak with the manager and he referred me to one of his colleagues (who, obviously, was not the manager). He also told me to leave. I explained again, that my dog is not a pet, but an assistance dog. I once again requested to speak with the manager.

This second person took me to another person, who turned out to be the security officer! The security officer ordered me to go outside. I refused and explained yet again that my dog is an assistance dog and deserves the same treatment that applies to guide dogs for the blind, and that they are allowed by law into all food stores in the UK. He would not listen. I requested, yet again, to speak to the manager.

I was taken to this lady who turned out to be, from what I could gather, the Customer Services Supervisor. I explained again about my dog. I produced the official identity cards which I hold for my dog: one certifying that he is a trained hearing dog, and one from Hearing Dogs for Deaf People with a statement from the Institute of Environmental Health Officers which says,

Hearing Dogs are allowed entry to restaurants, supermarkets and other food premises. Their very special training means they are not a risk to hygiene in such premises.

I showed these cards to her and she obviously had not a dippy clue about access rights for assistance dogs and did not believe me. I requested that she contact Asda Head Office and confirm my rights and the appropriate treatment of my assistance dog. In the meantime, all the other staff involved were standing there and staring at me and even laughing at me. It was horrible treatment which was extremely offensive. I had done nothing wrong, except to be unfortunate enough to have a disability!

This lady returned after making her phone call and confirmed that my hearing dog was allowed into the store, and I was allowed to continue with my shopping, albeit very unhappy with the contemptible treatment I had received.

Is it my responsibility to train their staff in diversity awareness? No. It is their responsibility as a service provider to have equality and diversity procedures and policies implemented across the company, and to ensure that members of staff at all levels comply with requirements at all times. I had gone into this particular store in January (without my hearing dog) and spoken to the floor supervisor about disability access, and explained the situation. She had assured me that she would inform all staff and at my next visit – with my dog – she came up to me and informed me she had told all the staff. Unfortunately, she seems to have missed out on at least the Customer Services Supervisor, the Security Officer and two members of staff.

So I wrote to Asda’s CEO and Diversity Manager, and told them what had happened. I told them that I felt aggrieved and very upset at such discrimination against me, for reasons relating to my disability. That I did not want to encounter any further barriers preventing me from having full access to all goods, facilities and services on offer. That it is unacceptable for restrictions to be placed upon me due to the attitudinal barriers on the part of staff who are dealing with me.

Did you know?

  • Under the DDA it is unlawful for a person with a disability to be discriminated against, or treated less favourably, because of their disability.
  • The Act requires all employers and service providers covered by the DDA to take steps in applying reasonable adjustments for people with disabilities.
  • The Act requires that people providing goods, services or facilities, and owners and managers of premises, should comply with the requirements.
  • In addition, the Act includes an anticipatory duty on providers. They should work with disabled people to explore what reasonable adjustments can be implemented.

I had no reply from Asda.

Two months later, I went into the store again, accompanied by my hearing dog, wearing his working coat. I did my shopping and as I was about to leave the store, a security guard approached me and told me dogs were not allowed on the premises. I requested his name and he refused to give it to me. Eventually, one of the assistants gave me his name. I was apologised to by staff and told that it would not be a problem to bring my hearing dog into the store if he wore his coat when he came in.

Can you believe this?!!

I explained that he does wear his coat every time he comes into the shop and that despite this, I have been stopped on numerous occasions. I was then told that the security guard had seen the dog but did not see the coat. Huh! I was so annoyed, an assistant came over to me and tried to give me a bunch of flowers and apologise. I don’t want apologies or sodding flowers, I want things to be PUT RIGHT.

I fail to understand why someone can’t see a hearing dog’s coat as the coat is almost the same size as the dog and clearly visible, it has a white assistance dogs logo on the top, and Hearing Dogs for Deaf People written in large white letters on the coat. Am I expected to explain to staff that I can’t hear and the reason for the assistance dog every time I come into an Asda store? Am I expected to walk around with a placard explaining why I’ve got a dog with me in a food store? Or hand out flyers? As a disability awareness trainer, I’d be very interested to know of the current ways of training staff that companies utilise these days, as I seem to be completely out of touch.

Clearly, no action had been taken since I wrote to Asda so I wrote to the CEO and the Diversity Manager again. This time, it was a much longer letter. During my research when writing this letter, I discovered some interesting information. Asda’s diversity strategy is clearly outlined on their website, where it states;

At Asda, each of our stores offers a wide range of disability and family–friendly services, and all of our colleagues are fully trained to help make the shopping experience as easy as possible. From the Braille guns we use on packaging, and our hearing loops and Minicom text service, to the baby changing facilities with free nappies and feeding rooms — we aim to make our stores accessible to all.

Obviously their staff have not been fully trained, as they claim. They constantly make my shopping experience inaccessible. My hearing dog cannot be left outside the store for their convenience. He is fully trained to Institute of Environmental Health standards and to Assistance Dogs UK standards.

Their website stated they are Two Ticks accredited by JobCentre Plus for being positive about disabled people, they are a partner of choice for Remploy, and that they aim to treat all customers exactly the same;

We aim to treat every member of our diverse team exactly the same — and our customers too for that matter — regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, nationality, ethnic origin, age, beliefs or whether they have a disability. Career opportunities and promotions at Arseda are based entirely on merit.
In fact, we’ve been awarded the two–tick disability symbol from Job Centre plus for making sure that people with disabilities are fully supported in the working environment. And we are also the proud partner of choice for Remploy, the organisation that helps overcome barriers to employment for disabled people.

I wonder does their policy exclude people with assistance dogs? Making a branch accessible is as simple as telling all the staff that work there about access rights for disabled people and their assistance dogs, whether those dogs be a guide dog for the blind, a hearing dog for deaf people, a dog for the disabled, a support dog, a canine partner, or a dual purpose guide and hearing dog.

I question the value of their membership of the Employer’s Forum on Disability (EFD). The EFD’s agenda on customers states, under ‘Policy and top level commitment’;

Service to disabled customers will form an integral part of the company’s product and service standards. A company-wide policy will be agreed by the top team and communicated to the rest of the company.

The service to disabled customers at Asda is clearly not up to the expected high standards of service given to non-disabled customers. Why has their company policy on services to disabled customers not been communicated to this Asda branch’s staff? Has such policy been communicated to other Asda branches?

The EFD’s agenda on customers states, under ‘Staff training and disability awareness’;

Specific steps will be taken to raise awareness of disability among employees involved in developing, marketing and delivering products and services to customers. Training will be made available to communicate service standards and to equip employees to achieve these.

Uh. When? Where? I would be most interested to know what steps were taken to raise awareness of deafness and hearing dogs among the employees involved in delivering products to customers, i.e. the staff at this particular branch. Clearly, no deaf awareness training was delivered that I can see evidence of. Deafness might be invisible but ignorance isn’t.

I wrote to my local MP and told him what had happened. His reply;

Thank you for keeping me up to date on your correspondence with the Co-operative store as well as Asda. I was pleased to learn that the former complaint with the Co-Op has been resolved, whilst the latter store remains unable to train its staff appropriately.

As you state, how can someone see your dog, but not his distinctive coat indicating he is a working dog. With or without awareness training, I still feel it difficult to believe someone wouldn’t use their initiative and think for themselves. Or are we raising a generation of robots who cannot make the link between a working dog and a policy of no animals in a food store. It is surely not difficult to have a policy of no animals, except for and then list (with pictures if needed) the exceptions. I despair.

I got a (rather unprofessional) reply from Asda’s customer services, claiming that they had written to me in February but clearly I had not received that letter. They apologised and said all their staff are trained and they take discrimination very seriously.

Then I received a letter from the new manager of the Asda branch concerned, apologising very nicely and asking that I ask to see her when I next paid them a visit, and she would apologise in person. She also included £20 in vouchers. She said it appears one of her colleagues made an error of judgement and that they had not been laughing at me. Colleagues cannot pass their probation without completing disability awareness training; the colleagues involved had been re-briefed. At that particular store, they even have a profoundly deaf member of staff, and they have also had collections for assistance dogs. So they really are very aware of accessibility and won’t tolerate discrimination.

Problem sorted. Or so I thought.

I went into Asda today and was stopped by a stroppy young girl who informed me dogs are not allowed into the store. I told her to fetch the manager. While I was waiting, one customer told her my dog is an assistance dog, and she retorted that dogs are not allowed into the store. Another customer said to me, he doesn’t know what is wrong with people these days, why don’t I just carry on shopping. While he made a fuss of my dog, I replied that no, I’m going to complain. Absolutely right, he said!

The manager came out and I thanked her for her letter, and explained that I had been stopped yet again. She apologised, she had told all the staff, and I said it’s simply not good enough. I asked for an explanation from Miss Stroppy who said my dog was touching the shelf. Which was empty. The manager explained to her that my dog is a hearing dog and is allowed into the store. I really do think young people are so insolent these days. The manager couldn’t apologise enough, and I told her that I am EMBARRASSED. I walked away and carried on shopping.

Five minutes later, she came up to me with a huge bunch of flowers and apologised again. How moving. How nice. Hopefully, this new manager will teach her inherited team of almost-humans that disabled people can’t be treated like shit.

Or in other words, How to get a Huge Bunch of Flowers for Free without Giving Your Man the Eye.

(Ouch)





Trying to be co-operative?

12 04 2009

I went into a supermarket which is part of a national chain called The Co-Operative Group. I had my hearing dog with me. He was wearing his official purple working coat which says “Hearing Dog for Deaf People” on both sides and has the Assistance Dogs UK logo on the top. I went to the till to pay for a loaf of bread. The shop assistant told me repeatedly that a dog was not allowed into the store, that it is a food shop. I kept explaining that my dog is a hearing dog, an assistance dog for deaf people, and that he therefore is entitled to the same access benefits as a guide dog for the blind. Unfortunately, the assistant clearly did not want to listen to what I had to say, and he refused to serve me. In the end, I asked to speak to the store manager.

A young man came out and he was incredibly rude and offensive towards me. Other customers in the queue were visibly shocked. He told me he was the junior manager and refused to listen to my explanations and kept talking over me and interrupting me. I explained that my hearing dog is an assistance dog, which is one of six different kinds of assistance dogs; there are not only guide dogs for the blind which most people are familiar with but other types of assistance dogs too. I showed the manager the official identity cards which I carry for my dog: one certifying that he is a trained hearing dog, and one from Hearing Dogs for Deaf People (the organisation which trained him) with a statement from the Institute of Environmental Health Officers, stating that;

“Hearing Dogs are allowed entry to restaurants, supermarkets and other food premises. Their very special training means they are not a risk to hygiene in such premises”

The manager said he was not interested, he did not want to see them, and told me to go outside the store. I refused to go outside as I know my rights and I was very offended by the manner in which he spoke to me. As a customer, I expected a certain level of courtesy and professionalism, but I was met with an unwillingness to listen, rudeness, and an offensive attitude towards my disabled status.

I was humiliated.

I joined the queue of customers at the till and the manager came over to me and asked to see the cards. He snatched the cards out of my hand, read them and then apologised. He then told the shop assistant that I was right and that he was to serve me. I asked both of them for an apology. I asked the manager why he had not listened to my explanation. His reply was that he had never seen a hearing dog before. Well, pardon me! Before I left Ireland, I had never seen a black person, but I still knew that people can’t be treated differently on account of their colour. I had never seen a guide dog for the blind either, but I also knew that they are allowed to go into places selling and serving food because of their special training. So no, that poor excuse didn’t wash with me.

Ignorantia legis neminem excusats.

Ignorance of the law excuses no one: this is a legal principle holding that a person who is unaware of a law may not escape liability for violating that law merely because he or she was unaware of its content.

I visited The Co-Op again later that day with a leaflet for the manager, which explained the different types of assistance dogs. He said he would put this up on the wall behind the till counter. When you think about it, it’s a good way to cut training costs, just stick a poster on the wall and hope everyone reads it. That’s what I call lazy, passive ‘training’. Or is it my responsibility to train their staff in diversity awareness?!

A few days later I visited The Co-Op again. There was a different assistant at the till. As soon as he saw me, he told me to leave the store. The manager happened to be nearby and said it was ok, my hearing dog was allowed. Clearly, the other staff still had not been trained. Or should I say, no one had bothered to read the leaflet stuck on the wall.

I was disappointed.

To make matters worse, I was very surprised, and disappointed, to see The Co-Op were displaying posters around the store stating that the RNID (Royal National Intsitute for the Deaf) is their charity of the year, with large RNID-branded collection buckets at the tills. My guess is that this was just a token PR exercise.

Does RNID = Really Not Interested in Deaf?

Recently, I went into The Co-Op again (I don’t scare easily), accompanied by my hearing dog, as always, wearing his official purple working coat. I was immediately approached by a shop assistant who told me that dogs were not allowed in the shop. I explained (again. YAWN) that my dog is a hearing dog. He clearly did not understand what I was talking about and went over to his colleague.

I was annoyed.

A few minutes later, I was approached by his colleague who also told me dogs were not allowed in the shop, citing the reason that there is food on the shop shelves. I explained – yet again – that my dog is a hearing dog, a type of assistance dog, therefore he was allowed into the shop. I asked him how many times he had to be told? His poor excuse was that he had never seen a hearing dog before. They trot this one out on a regular basis! The manager was not present so I was unable to discover why the staff had not been given training, a whole month after the original incident in January when I had been promised that staff would be given the appropriate diversity training.

I am disgusted.

I did some research and discovered that The Co-Op is a member of the Employer’s Forum on Disability (EFD). The EFD’s agenda on customers states, under ‘Policy and top level commitment’;

“Service to disabled customers will form an integral part of the company’s product and service standards. A company-wide policy will be agreed by the top team and communicated to the rest of the company.”

The service to disabled customers at this particular branch of The Co-Op is clearly not up to the expected high standards of service given to non-disabled customers. I wonder why their company policy on services to disabled customers was not communicated to this branch’s staff? Was such policy communicated to other branches? Or, dare I say it, was a company-wide policy on service to disabled customers never agreed in the first place?

I am dismayed.

The EFD’s agenda on customers states, under ‘Staff training and disability awareness’;

“Specific steps will be taken to raise awareness of disability among employees involved in developing, marketing and delivering products and services to customers. Training will be made available to communicate service standards and to equip employees to achieve these.”

Eh? HELLO? I would be most interested to know why specific steps had not been taken to raise awareness of deafness and hearing dogs among the employees involved in delivering products to customers. Clearly, no deaf awareness training had been delivered to staff. Never mind that they were supporting RNID for a whole year …. Who Are They When They’re At Home?

I am frustrated.

Making the store accessible is as straightforward as informing all the staff that work there about access rights for disabled people and their assistance dogs, whether those dogs be a guide dog for the blind, a hearing dog for deaf people, a dog for the disabled, a support dog, a canine partner, or a dual purpose guide and hearing dog.

I am tired of explaining my rights.

Looking at The Co-Op’s website, I discovered that 2009 marks their Disability step-change programme, and they are Two Ticks accredited for being positive about disabled people;

“We will also continue to pay attention to customers, and the audits to ensure that all our branches and stores are accessible as they can be for customers with disabilities.”

“By diversity, we mean we value the attributes and the experiences of every individual, be they employee, member or customer. These attributes include, but are certainly not limited to … physical ability”

“Externally, we mean that we will provide easy access to goods, services and facilities and actively seek to engage diverse elements of society.
Therefore:
• We value people for their contribution and will encourage their diversity in all aspects of our business.
• We will not tolerate bullying or harassment in any form.
• We recognise that we need to support the needs of our diverse customer and community base and will work to ensure that we exceed their expectations of us.”

Huh.

However, The Co-Op have tried to make good. They sent me a letter of apology, stating they would be giving their staff training in disability awareness. They also enclosed vouchers to the value of £50.

I had told RNID’s Legal Casework Service Team what had happened. Their response? Zip.

I had also informed the Co-Op charity of the year project manager at the RNID. Zip response.

I had copied in my local Member of Parliament and I received a letter the next day; his response was one of incredulity at the lack of common sense of these shop assistants.

Most helpful were Royal Association for Deaf people Legal Services (RAD) who responded promptly and advised me on my course of action. Kudos to them!

I had (note: past tense) a deaf friend who always said I shouldn’t complain when I came across discrimination in shops and restaurants but should just leave and go elsewhere. How would that improve access for disabled people? We need to fight for our rights. Why should we be treated as second class citizens? Why does he think the Disability Discrimination Act was set up in the first place? Just to make the government look good? Just so companies can say, “Oh yes, of course we’re accessible!”.

Let’s make it simple. Just substitute the word ‘disability’ for ‘black’ and the discrimination becomes clearer.

It pays to complain.

It pays to stand up for your rights and be counted.

I might be deaf, but I’m not invisible.

Hell, no.