My Plus is that my deafness has made me into a great communicator. This might seem strange, especially as I was completely deafened by meningitis as a toddler and spent nearly two years in silence until a cochlear implant operation reintroduced me to the world of sound. People often think of communication as being just words: spoken and heard. In fact, modern linguistic researchers have shown that 55% of communication is through body language, with a further 38% depending on the tone of voice used. This leaves only 7% for the words themselves.
My deafness forced me to be an observer and I became an expert in non-verbal communication. My friends and family call me an ’empath’ because I perceive so much more than the words they have said. However, hundreds of hours of speech therapy have also taught me a great deal of respect for words and how to produce them and choose my statements carefully, both in speech and in writing. This training guided me through my undergraduate and post-graduate studies at Oxford University, resulting in a First Class degree in Physiology and Psychology and an MSc in Neuroscience.
Listening for tone of voice and the words themselves remains very hard work. Indeed my PhD research is attempting to measure the cognitive cost of processing speech for hearing impaired individuals because the process can be exhausting. However, empathic ability is a wonderful gift of my deafness, which I treasure. – Helen Willis