Georgie Barraclough: My day at a conference…

Posted on January 9, 2013

I used to love going to training courses and seminars, my first thought would be “ooh I wonder what’s for lunch?” not, “am I going to be able to hear?” Oh how things change. Given that I don’t ‘look deaf’ (what does that even mean?!), people don’t know to compensate and in a room full of strangers how many people would be confident to stand up and say, “Right, I’m going to give a ten minute talk on induction loop use before we start.” Not likely.

I recently drove for over 2 hours to attend a one-day conference, at which I documented my struggles. This came with the added bonus of me looking like the most avid note-taker, little did they all know…


9:10am: Have arrived by the skin of my teeth, having missed three turnings and argued several times with the sat-nav, which I didn’t know how to turn up. Managed to drive round the building 3 times before finding the car park, so I know it from all angles now. Shame I still can’t find the front door.

9:30: Have had a tour of the building – I figured I might as well know the inside of the building as well as out.

9:45: Coffee is served in a corridor with double height ceiling, which doesn’t offer the best acoustics. Tried to take my coffee into the conference room but was stopped by the refreshment police, apparently only water is allowed in there.

9:50: Have downed my coffee in order to get myself a seat in the optimum hearing position. Have managed one near the back (so nobody can sit behind and interfere with my aids), facing forwards (obviously) and directly in front of the lectern.

10:00: Introduction and induction loop try out time. Yay, it works!

10:05: My ‘yay’ is short-lived. The first speaker has just waved the microphone around, asked rhetorically “you can all hear at the back can’t you?” and slammed it down on the lectern, making me jump about 5 feet in the air. I assume everyone thinks I was asleep, not that the sound is being played directly into my brain. I instantly dislike speaker number one. Cue lots of doodling in my jotter.

10:30: He’s done, thank goodness. I need another coffee already, I’m shattered. The woman in charge says she’ll just shout too, are they all microphone-phobic? I hope this doesn’t become a trend.

10:31: Coined new phrase: Micro-phobic – The fear of karaoke competitions

10:32: Woohoo! The next speaker used the lectern and mic. I could hug her. Possibly I shouldn’t, everyone already thinks I have narcolepsy, I don’t need another reason to stand out.

11:00: Break time in the corridor/beehive. I stay in the room for a short while and speak to the man next to me until we agree caffeine is in order. I converse as well as I can in the beehive and the man either tells me that he manages 5 sites or he tries to high 5 me. Either way it’s awkward. I sit on my own in the conference room thinking “what did we do in these situations before smartphones?” Oh yeah, talked to each other.

11:30: The next session is two hours long. The first guy speaks from the other side of the room and therefore sounds like he’s under a pile of pillows. What shall I doodle next?

12:25: I have headache. The next 3 speakers did use the mic but kept turning to look at the powerpoint on the screen, making their voices fade in and out. I feel dizzy.

12:30: It’s the Q&A session now with the last 4 people and they’re sat along the front, so I can’t see or hear them.

12:35: The photographer keeps taking photos of me note-taking. I really hope he doesn’t zoom in on photoshop and see what I’m actually writing. Just in case: Hi photographer! I can’t hear a thing can you? I really like your camera.

1:40: Just been out for lunch on my own, the corridor was too much to cope with, there weren’t even any tables and sitting on the floor on my own was just too depressing. Went to McDonalds and played a game I enjoy called “Let’s see if they’ve ever sold a salad in here before”. I was served by a trainee, which is even more fun because they never know where the button is on the till. I managed to spill a coffee down myself and accidentally forgot where I was before starting to sing to myself. I feel like a social outcast.

1:45: My high 5 friend asked where I was at lunch so I confessed and told him I was hard of hearing and went out for food. He agrees that the building sucks acoustically but tells me I haven’t missed much and he is going to leave at the part of the session titled “Speed dating”. I hadn’t noticed that. Shit.

2:00: No mic again. I might as well have gone clothes shopping, especially as I’m covered in coffee.

2:15: A guy just queried one of the paintings on the last presentation, basically giving an art history lesson about the artist and its symbolism. He has his laptop open in front of him, I’m sure he’s just got Wikipedia up to look it up. I’ve given him a knowing look like I’m onto him.

2:45: The last lady glued herself to the lectern, for which I am thankful. She was very interesting. Time to Skype the USA now for their take on things. Everyone is so excited, they obviously think they’re cutting edge. Bless.

3:30: Well, I heard the women in the USA better than I’ve heard anyone else all day. Clear as a whistle. Just drying my eyes after the sad news that they’re not bothering with the Speed Dating, as we’ve overrun. Naturally I’m gutted. Just the evaluation form to go now, how honest shall I be?

3:40: I went with, “Don’t worry, I don’t like deaf people either,” left the name blank and ran. I wonder how many arguments I can have with Mrs Sat Nav on the way back home?

Georgina lives with her husband in West Yorkshire, where she works as a local government manager. She has been deaf all her life and suffered a further loss in both ears in 2012. She loves going to ballet lessons, reading, listening to music and spending time with family and friends, often over a good bottle of wine. In her spare time she is learning about photography.

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