Tag Archives: Enhance the UK

“Sex can be awkward if you are hard of hearing” #100days100stories

Jennie Williams, director of disability charity Enhance the UK, shares her awkward sex and dating moments as part of our End the Awkward campaign. Two thirds of people who are not disabled feel awkward around disabled people. We want to put an end to this, break down barriers and maybe even fall in love.

Update: Jennie’s story has inspired Malteaser’s to create an advert based on her story. Watch the advert on Youtube.

Jennie Williams, founder of Enhance the UK
Jennie is the founder of charity Enhance the UK

I have degenerative hearing loss, which is believed to be linked to a heart condition I have called long QT, also known as sudden death syndrome.

For communicating, I wear two hearing aids which I rely on a lot. I am also an extremely good lip reader and use British Sign Language (BSL).

People tend to associate hard of hearing with old people, so people often say to me, “Oh, yeah, my Nan wears a hearing aid, we shout at her. I think she has selected hearing… Chuckle chuckle.” I would be a very rich woman if I had a pound for every time I heard that, and yep, I mean ‘heard that’ because I can still hear things.

Telling people about my disability

When I am at work, I tell people from the off that I am hard of hearing and for them to please look at me when they are speaking to me or keep their hands away from their mouths. When I am in a social situation, however, things can be very different for me.

I tend to just struggle on a lot of the time, laugh when everyone else is laughing, strain to keep up and, even worse still, I apologise. I guess I don’t want to embarrass people and make them feel like they are not including me.

Dating with a hearing impairment

There can be some real perks of dating someone with a hearing impairment – we can get you into the theatre for free or cheap – same with the train. A lot of us can lip-read conversations that you were never meant to know about and get all the gossip. Winning!

Though dating someone with hearing loss can be awkward at times. When you are getting down to things and having a good old snog, the last thing you want is your hearing aids whistling every time the hot man – in my mind he is always hot – puts his fingers through your hair.

And then your aids end up flying out of your ears, onto the floor and the dog runs in and eats one of them. That is a true story, killed the moment I can tell you.

My favourite awkward date

I was single, living in London and looking for a boyfriend, so I did what many people do – I joined a dating site. I was chatting to a guy who looked cute and we had a bit of banter by email.

We met on the South Bank and went onto one of the boats on the river and had a drink. We chatted about work as you do. I may or may not have been twisting my hair and trying to make my lips look all pouty and thinking, ‘I really fancy this guy.’

I went to get my lip gloss from my bag and out fell both of my hearing aid batteries. They are really small and the guy said, “what on earth do they power?” I explained my hearing loss and he replied, “why do deaf people do this?”

Cut to him waving his hands in the air, scrunching his face up with the tongue in his bottom lip making weird groaning sounds. I thought about throwing my drink in his face but that would have been childish, and a waste of a drink, so I explained about British Sign Language and the culture behind it.

I don’t think he got it at all but he was embarrassed. He didn’t know what to say, so he offered to take me for a ride on his massive motorbike – not a euphemism – around London and buy me dinner. I am very shallow.

My next favourite subject… sex

Sex is great. But it can be a little awkward if you are hard of hearing and someone is trying to whisper sweet nothings in your ear. You can mishear totally which results in jumping up, turning on the lights and saying, “you want to do what to me?!” Again, true story, and I won’t tell you what I thought he was saying.

When I was younger I was having a fling with someone who was deaf and we always had to have sex by the door in case his olds came in. Or we would put towels down against the door to try and block it from being opened, but always having one eye open just in case. Real romance.

Undressing disability

Jennie with her partner Jonno and a dog
Jennie and her partner Jonno

I started the campaign Undressing Disability three years ago.

It’s about challenging misconceptions around disability and ensuring that better access to sexual health, sexual awareness and sex education is granted to disabled people.

Most people I know and talk to want a loving relationship, to feel loved and to love. Any sense of intimacy between two people who care about one another is so important. Even if it’s a one night stand – let’s face it, most of us have not only slept with people we ‘love.’

We all want to be found attractive and sexual relationships are the most natural thing in the world. Sadly, Scope’s new research shows that that only five per cent of people who aren’t disabled have ever asked out, or been on a date with, a disabled person.

Am I surprised by this? No, of course I am not. Am I motivated to keep pushing the campaign until these statistics change? You bet I am!

Help us End the Awkward this Valentine’s Day.

Find out how you can get involved in our 100 days, 100 stories campaign

Find out more about Enhance the UK on their website.

“So, did you walk into town? Oh! I meant ‘wheel into town’ – well, you know what I mean…”

Guest post from Zoe Lloyd, a disability awareness trainer with Enhance the UK.

Disability awareness trainer Zoe LloydWell, this is awkward. As a wheelchair user, I have been in this kind of situation many times. Personally I don’t find it awkward,
but I’m pretty sure the person who says it wants the ground to swallow them up.

When trying to talk to a disabled person, lots of people feel hyper-aware about the words they are using, and worry about saying the wrong thing.

It really doesn’t have to be this way – most disabled people I know don’t have a massive chip on their shoulder about language and terminology and can laugh about things. (Obviously offensive language and derogatory remarks are another matter).

I’ve also experienced the ‘does she take sugar?’ scenario. I had been going to the same hairdresser for years. But when I became a wheelchair user, suddenly one of the workers couldn’t look at me and had to ask my mum how I liked my tea!

To think she had known me before, yet the fact I was sitting in a wheelchair made her act differently towards me, was quite hard to understand.

No wonder, then, that some strangers in the street find it hard to meet your eyes.

I am a trainer for Enhance the UK, a charity which – among other things – delivers disability awareness training to schools and workplaces.  All of our trainers are disabled, and we are successful, fun, positive people.   We make our training fun and interactive – and as honest as possible. We can give candid answers from our own personal experience and help people challenge their fears, concerns and awkwardness around disability.

Most fear is a product of ignorance, and we hope our training helps people to look past their colleagues/pupils/clients’ disability and see them for who they are as a person.

Honest, open communication with disabled colleagues is far better than making assumptions. That way we can get over any awkwardness within minutes, rather than worry about it for months.

And stumbling over those everyday phrases usually makes things more awkward rather than less. For example, people have said to us that they’ve felt bad after saying things like ‘Do you see what I mean?’ to a blind person.

Maybe over time, you might end up avoiding such phrases automatically with your blind colleague – but if you forget, it’s fine!

The greater inclusion of disabled people on TV over the past few years has helped show people that disability isn’t something to be scared of. Channel 4’s The Last Leg is a perfect example. Barriers are being broken down, and long may that continue.

Now, I’m just going to take my dog for a wheel – sorry, a walk.