The challenges of navigating a hearing world
by Nikki Burridge

We’re so proud to introduce Nikki, a valued member of the Cavalry Compliance Team. Nikki recently shared her powerful story about the challenges she has faced living with hearing impairment. 

Nikki’s story underscores how much untapped potential exists when people with disabilities are denied equal opportunities. Her success shows what’s possible when employers look beyond disabilities to see people’s true capabilities.

We’re grateful to have Nikki on the Cavalry team and inspired by her example. Please read her story below and join us in celebrating our remarkable colleague and friend.

Nikki's Story

Living with hearing impairment has many barriers. Simple things that other people take for granted, such as making telephone calls, watching television, hearing fire alarms and even listening to conversations on the bus are a challenge.

It wasn’t until I was 4 years old when it was noticed by my preschool teacher that I wasn’t hearing them properly. My brother and mum were both deaf, but as I talked so well (and so much!) it had been missed in me. We all share a genetic condition which affects our hearing, as well as being visually impaired, suffering balance issues and having no reflexes.

I had a hard time in school as I was shy. Other kids would make fun of me, mouthing ‘can you hear me?’ and using the microphone from my radio-aid to make noises down to see if I could hear them. Even the teachers were not very supportive. I had a few who would pick me to answer questions, and then shout at me when I gave the wrong answer because I hadn’t heard what they had been talking about. I got into an argument with my PE teacher who was trying to make me do trampolining, something I knew I was incapable of, but she was insistent on making me do it.

I had a small group of friends who were very kind. They would fight the teachers to sit next to me in class so that I could copy from them. I was clever, but my lack of support in school meant that I was in the lower sets for most subjects except English. I had a wonderful English teacher who was supportive and did all she could to help me. I left school with two As in English Language and Literature, then Cs and Ds in everything else.

I went to university to study English and Creative Writing… something I am immensely proud of. I couldn’t hear the lecturer properly and seminars were stressful for me as I lived in fear of being asked for my opinion when I didn’t know what I was supposed to be having an opinion about. I had a notetaker, but I needed more support, I needed someone to help me join in. It was tough but I got through it and my dad was so proud of me.

I hoped that finding a job would be easier.  I had applied for a HCA job in a nursing home, but they interviewed me and decided that my hearing problem was just that – a problem. So, they felt it might be kinder to me if I was to work as a domestic. ‘It will help your confidence grow, and if you do okay, we can move you on to the HCA role’, was the promise I had been given. 10 months later I was still a domestic. I made the decision to leave. I worked for two weeks at the NHS as a cleaner but was told to leave as they felt I was putting myself and the patients on the ward at risk as I couldn’t hear them. I felt very deflated and decided to take some time away from the pressure of work for a bit.

After a while, I got an internship at The Reader, where I worked with Kate McDonnell, who was very keen to find ways to help me fit in and feel supported during my time with them. My confidence grew, I learnt new things, taking part in shared reading groups, helping to organise children’s books, and supporting with the move to the new Mansion House. I even got to do some writing, doing blog posts and newsletters. It was a wonderful experience, and I was sad when the internship ended.

Two years later, whilst working as a cleaner in a church, Kate contacted me to ask if I’d like to work with her again. I was so happy that I cried. To someone like me who had struggled for so long, it was a relief to finally leave cleaning and get stuck into a job I enjoyed. Five years later and I am still here, still happy, and still feeling very much well supported with my hearing. It really pays to work with people who care about their colleagues, and Cavalry do just that.

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