THE managing director of Chiltern Railways went deaf for a day after being challenged by a Saunderton-based charity to experience the train service his company provided - both with and without the help of a hearing dog.
Rob Brighouse agreed to the gauntlet set down by Hearing Dogs for Deaf People and travelled to and from London Marylebone after having gel moulds inserted into his ears.
These gave him a temporary 60per cent hearing loss which he said immediately gave him the experience of the sudden effects of deafness, leaving him feeling isolated and out of control.
He said: "As soon as the gels were in my ears, I felt cut off from everyone around me. I knew that people were having a conversation, but I had no idea what they were talking about. I’ve become accustomed to the everyday sounds of the hustle and bustle at London Marylebone station, but suddenly everything around me was silent. I had lost completely control of the situation, I felt isolated and alone."
Rob quickly learnt that he would need to rely on lip-reading to communicate, but struggled with conversations especially if people turned away whilst talking to him. He said he also came to realise how challenging it can be to cross the road, find the right train platform and buy a train ticket.
He said: "Deafness is an invisible disability and therefore it is impossible to see if somebody is deaf. When I tried to buy a train ticket, I had to repeat myself to the member of staff behind the desk. Once he realised I was deaf, he turned the speaker up to full volume which, although helpful, made it feel like everyone around me was listening in to my conversation and staring at me, which made me feel uncomfortable."
But Rob said everything changed when he was given hearing dog Rosie, who not only alerted him to important sounds around him, but made him feel visible and brought him back into the hearing world.
He said: "Having Rosie completely transformed my situation. She wears a burgundy jacket which made people aware that I was deaf so as well as alerting me to sounds I could no longer hear, Rosie encouraged people to come and talk to me which is so important when you are feeling isolated. I can only imagine what an amazing support these dogs provide to people with severe or profound hearing loss."
Rosie is trained to alert a deaf person to many important sounds such as the telephone, doorbell and fire alarm, but she also helps to alleviate the loneliness and isolation that deafness so often brings. Rob added: "I was incredibly humbled by my deaf for the day experience, and amazed by the incredible difference that a hearing dog makes. Although Chiltern Railways has measures in place to accommodate deaf people such as staff training and visual aids on trains, we can support our staff even further with additional training to understand specific challenges deaf people face when using the railway."
Every day in the UK, more than 10 million people with hearing loss are faced with the communication barriers and isolation that Rob experienced. Chiltern Railways have been working with Hearing Dogs for Deaf People for the last year, and recently chose Hearing Dogs as their Charity of the Year.
To text donate to the charity, text HDOG05 to 70070 to give £5. For more information visit: www.hearingdogs.org.uk Watch Rob’s deaf for the day video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=btSAviyNpY8