Disability History Month - Valerie's Story
16 November to 16 December 2022 is Disability History Month in the UK. As part of the month, we are inviting stories from staff who have a disability or long-term condition. This week we are sharing Valerie Lazare (Team Administrator) story.
Please read on to hear her story in her own words.
I was born in Streatham in London in 1959 - 1 of 11 children. Both my parents were deaf and non-speaking.
My mother’s entire family were all born deaf and with no speech, but my father, who hailed from Dundalk in Ireland was one of 16 Children. He was the only deaf and non-speaking sibling - it was understood he had a childhood illness that caused his disability.
As children growing up, sign language was our first language and we all took turns as child carers for my parents. We also had a lot of support from the local Catholic Church. Nuns who could sign used to come in and help us with our speech.
I always suffered from tinnitus and did not do so well at school as a result. I have always empathised with disabled and their carers as a result of my experience of living with my disabled parents.
I then sought employment that would enable me to use my knowledge and experience. First I started work at a hostel in Lime Grove, Shepherds Bush. It was to house patients with Learning and Mental Disabilities who were being integrated into the community after long-term residential care. I worked here for three years. It was my Manager there who gave me the confidence to apply for more meaningful posts.
I applied for a post at Crossroads Care Attendant Scheme in Hammersmith & Fulham. This scheme was just starting up in our Borough – and I worked here for 10 years. My first post was as a Care Attendant working in clients’ homes, offering respite to carers of people with dsabilities, as well as offering Palliative Care Services for terminal patients. After 2 years, I was offered the post of Care Co-ordinator which I held for another 8 Years.
The funding for this scheme was withdrawn and I then came to work the NHS. First, as a Ward Clerk in Charing Cross Hospital in 1995 when they opened the acute admissions’ ward. I only worked there for 9 months when I was asked by my GP to joined her as Reception/Administrator in White City Health Centre (12 years) and Old Oak Surgery (3 years).
It was while here that I started to have concerns about my hearing and, after working there 8 years, the GP sent me off to Charing Cross to get a hearing test and I started to wear hearing aids. I was told at Charing Cross that my hearing was that of a seventy year old in my left ear and even worse in my right.
Everybody I worked with was shocked that I had managed to get along without hearing aid. But my problems had only just started as I was allergic to the hearing aid moulds. So I suffered recurring ear infections, which left me unable to wear them most of the time.
I then decided to change my job and applied for the post as an Administrator/Receptionist at the Walk In Centre at Parsons Green. Thereafter I went to work for the school nursing/health visiting team, where I am working at present.
I found it a real struggle to hear requests/ answerphone messages - most of the time I was working alone in the office unlike the previous roles when I was able to ask other receptionists to help with answering the phone and taking messages. Then I found that I needed help, but was afraid to ask for it that was until I really had no choice but to ask for equipment to at least be able to answer the phone and respond to messages left on the answering machine.
My hearing was deteriorating fast and when conversations were taking place in the office and I felt could not participate as I was not hearing clearly - so I started to live in a very silent bubble, which does leave you feeling very isolated. I would be talking very loudly as I could not hear myself and people would say, 'Stop shouting at me'! I was continually asking people to spell or repeat on the phone. It left me feeling really inadequate.
When you have these sensory impairments, it has a detrimental effect on you as a person. At the same time, I was suffering with arthritis and was on the waiting list for a total knee replacement. Things were looking very bleak.
It was when my team lead sent me off to Occupational Health and they suggested that Access to Work came out to do a workplace assessment that I can honestly say changed my life.
I was given equipment to help with my hearing issues and workstation aids and adaptions that help with the arthritis issues. I also got help at home from the local council with a flashing door bell and fire alarm as I was unable to hear either.
As a result of the deteriorating hearing and the allergic reaction I was put forward last year for a cochlear implant.
On my 60 birthday, I received the letter to say I was going to have a super dooper cochlear implant - it was a top of the range and would be the answer to my prayers.
Well I can say that it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I was able to hear birds and for the first time, the washing machine bleep at end of the cycle and I knew when I left the fridge door open and the clock was ticking. It was all so amazing - I just didn’t realise just how bad my deafness was, until I started to hear these things.
There was some funny moments too when a colleague of mine once asked if I had collected the post, what I heard was - did I want toast? I kept saying no I don’t eat breakfast. And the time I asked my son if he wanted some pie, when he was asking what time is it and I kept saying chicken, thinking he was asking what what pie it was!
But a lot of the time it was very frustrating - not just for me but also my family and colleagues.
Next month, I will get a new aid for the left ear which will work alongside the cochlear implant, so hopefully I will be able hear things in stereo.
I can’t thank the Trust enough for the help with all the adaptions and that’s why I stress that if anyone has disability issues you make the Trust aware of them and receive the help to continue doing your role to the best of your ability.
I would also like to thank my colleagues for their patience, help and support.
I decided to write this blog as I wanted to inspire others not to suffer in silence, reach out and ask for help. I left it so long that it started to affect my mental health and I had severe depression. Since getting the help it has given me so much confidence, I am able to speak up more and participate in conversations and join meetings. I just wish I had done it years ag, I would have had the courage to improve my chances of applying for courses/further education and better choices in my career journey within the NHS.
There is such amazing technology out there to help each and every one of us.
Explore the UK Disability History Month website to learn more about the campaign, how to get involved, and access an array of resources.