Darren Thorman: I’m not very deaf aware. When it comes to my own deafness

Posted on September 17, 2013



My deafness is rated severe to profound, and in my life, I have worn hearing aids ranging from the ghastly 70s boxes to the latest technology – which still look huge on my small ears.

So surely I can’t forget I’m deaf.

Or can I?

Am I as guilty of a lack of deaf awareness as hearing people? Did I pretend for years that these pretty brown things were really just fashionable earrings?

I blame my ignorance of my own deafness on growing up in a hearing mainstream environment; kicking off with playing a triangle for a pre-school music group – which I still don’t know the sound of.

At secondary school, I had to do a french exam by attempting to follow what was said on a tape recorder and not surprisingly, the exam gave me my worse school grade ever.

My BBC television production career is all thanks to my first job there as (unbelievably) an audio typist for a Head of Department. Clearly, I would have done anything to get into TV! Funnily enough, I lasted six weeks in the job, before the Head’s secretary stopped laughing at my errors when she was proofreading my work and realised she was having to redo it – as well as do her own duties.

It’s a wonder how I managed to stay at the BBC for over 10 more years – even when in one job, I volunteered to be part of a on-screen team taking calls from angry and upset viewers who were being ripped off by dodgy companies.

Because I was not able to follow the sensitive issues callers were telling me about, I alerted the production. Their solution was asking me to fake my responses when the cameras were on me. An actor was born and it certainly gives the term ‘deaf nod’ a new meaning!

However, it’s not my first time. My ultimate defiance against deafness was presenting hospital radio for three years.

Hello? Radio is all about sound and listening – yet it didn’t deter me from talking live from my studio to sick patients in the wards.

It dawned on me that I couldn’t follow what they were saying so I timed and faked my reactions when they paused – only to be caught out when I faked a laugh when chatting to a female patient only after an awkward long silence (which is a no no in radio) she told me she was talking about someone else who had just died. Cue next record – quickly!

It took three years before finally a radio manager had the guts to tell me that my sound levels were all over the place – my mind boggles at the torture the patients must have endured until then, from my extremely loud to really quiet radio shows!

I never did tune in to radio again.

My first ever job after leaving college was as a bank cashier serving customers behind glass – in the days when people had to visit the bank to ask for their current balance (I’m that old).

Thinking I was being discreet by whispering through the glass to someone that they are overdrawn, it came through as “YOU’RE OVERDRAWN” so loudly that the long queue behind heard. The poor victim left mortified, with no pride as well as no money.

I lasted six months at the bank, but it turned out to be the best termination of employment I had – as went on to travel and go to university, which positively changed my life.

Of course, I have had my share of unpleasant (often subtle) discrimination caused by hearing people not being deaf aware. Yet my lack of self-deaf-awareness helped me take risks and do challenges that I might otherwise not have done.

Then, in my thirties, I became more deaf aware when it came to my own deafness.

I met other deaf people for the first time, in London, and was proud to run the London Marathon for Hearing Dogs, learn sign language and act for Deafinitely Theatre.

I now have deaf friends who know what it’s like to be deaf. As much as I love my hearing friends, they won’t fully understand. I even gave up drinking when I realise I drank too much to pass the time while struggling in a noisy hearing venue, and I now prefer going to deaf-friendly places.

And the irony of this? I am very deaf aware when it is handy – getting a freedom pass, sitting in the front seats of concerts (“I need to lipread”), concessions for the London Eye (carer anyone?) and cultural events. I also enjoy switching my hearing aids off on the London Underground.

And I’ve found that being deaf has its perks. For example, I get the last laugh when I am in nightclubs. I take my hearing aids out and I am able to follow hearing people shouting over the really loud music – but they can’t hear me!

A lack of hearing awareness? Surely not….

Darren Thorman is a London based deaf actor who worked in television and once had a go at fire eating, sky diving, running a marathon and eating sheep intestines. Having done lots of travel, challenges and adventures so far, Darren is currently developing the next thrilling chapter of his life.

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