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15 October 2020: Hearing Help EssexOutline of the side of a head with a question mark superimposed

Today we heard from Sophie Ede of Hearing Help Essex, which helps those in Essex with hearing loss, especially through helping them with the maintenance of hearing aids. Sophie herself suffered profound hearing loss in her twenties. She was able to hear us during the meeting because she could feed the sound from her computer directly into her hearing aid. She has a hearing dog, Rusty, but we didn’t hear from him as he was fast asleep in his basket throughout.

Hearing aids need cleaning and retuning every six to eight weeks. Before lockdown Hearing Help Essex was holding numerous walk-in sessions where people could bring their hearing aids for attention. This avoided them having to attend audiology clinics at their local NHS hospitals, reducing both demand on NHS audiology departments and the distance sufferers had to travel for help. There was also a home-visiting service for those who couldn’t get to Hearing Help.

This became impossible with the lockdown in March. However, Sophie and the Hearing Help staff, most of whom have experienced some degree of hearing loss themselves, were determined to keep the service running.

Life without a hearing aid is difficult for those with hearing loss and particularly so during lockdown. It means they cannot, for example, carry on a conversation over the phone. Sophie said Hearing Help had received phone calls from clients whose hearing aids were no longer functioning but it was impossible to communicate with them. The NHS currently offers a postal service for those whose hearing aids need maintenance but this can mean someone will be without a hearing aid for a couple of weeks. There have also been cases where someone has received back the wrong set of hearing aids or only one hearing aid out of a pair.

Hearing Help Essex has been able to resume its home-visiting service. When the Covid-19 rules have been more restrictive (as they will be from this Saturday), it has to be a doorstep service. Sophie said that the hearing aids are passed over on the doorstep by putting them on a tray. She has discovered that they can easily be moved by the wind and she is not looking forward to the winter weather.

Hearing Help is a local charity, based in Chelmsford’s Moulsham Street. They have recently been able to expand into a shop, giving them more space for drop-in sessions, which have now resumed with reduced opening times.

She explained that their work complements that of the Royal Association for Deaf People, with whom they work closely. The Association mainly helps those born deaf whilst Hearing Help Essex helps those who suffer hearing loss later in life.

She was asked about the practicalities of lipreading at Zoom meetings. She said it depended on the quality of the picture from the speaker’s camera and how well lit they were. Those born deaf often find it easier to communicate via the Internet because they learned British Sign Language from an early age.