A hospital volunteer is improving a crucial service for deaf people across Teesside by leading on deaf awareness training for volunteers at our Trust.
67-year-old Val Tait, from Bishopsgarth, is training our volunteers in communicating with deaf or hard of hearing people.
A volunteer herself, Val has had hearing loss since she was a child – a disability that runs in her family. As she got older, her hearing got progressively worse and she now cannot hear sounds below 80 decibels.
A former teacher, Val called it a day in the classroom when she found she was struggling at work. She ‘lost a lot of confidence’ in leaving her role but retrained in hearing therapy. She later became a hearing therapist at Freeman Hospital in Newcastle and took on a freelance role as a lip reading teacher.
Val’s journey as a volunteer
Following stage 3 breast cancer treatment, Val retired last year. Ever since, she has volunteered her time in our chemotherapy unit where she received treatment – where she now calls herself the ‘Macmillan tea lady’.
Val said: “The first thing that struck me when I was having cancer surgery and treatment was how marvellous all the staff were.
“I wanted to do something for them in return. If I was a millionaire, I’d have handed over a vast amount of money but I’m not so I thought to myself that if I got well, I’d like to volunteer and give something back to the hospital.”
Val’s surgery and chemotherapy treatment was successful so, committed to her promise to herself, she filled out an application to become a volunteer at the hospital.
“When I was applying to be a volunteer, I was worried that being deaf might impact my chances. But nobody minded at all – nobody batted an eyelid.Val Tait, volunteer
Val continued: “Obviously nobody suggested that I spend all day answering phones. It’s mostly just sitting down and talking and listening to the people undergoing chemotherapy. That can be so helpful.
“It’s been fantastic so far – it’s been a really positive thing for me to do.”
Launching the deaf awareness training
Val is just shy of her first anniversary volunteering at the Trust. She has now taken on leading a deaf awareness training session to support other volunteers. And her ultimate goal is to enhance patient experience.
Her main priority is focusing on basic communication tactics. She is training the volunteers to speak a little more slowly and making sure they are face-to-face when speaking to facilitate lip reading.
However, she also covers:
- How to identify deaf people – for example, hearing aids and white sticks with a red band
- The British Sign Language fingerspelling alphabet
Val said: “I left work where part of my job was running courses on deaf awareness. I wasn’t planning on doing it here but when the opportunity came up, I thought ‘why not?’
“It’s had a really positive response from the other volunteers so far.
“I’ve had a number of people over the years say to me ‘Oh, I didn’t realise you were deaf’. And it just goes to show how easy it is for deaf people to walk into a hospital and for volunteers to not know.”
The feedback from volunteers across the organisation has been wholly positive and the volunteers have taken Val’s training on board.
One volunteer in the chemotherapy day unit has gone so far as to make a tea chart. It features pictures of tea, sugar and milk for a deaf patient to communicate how she prefers her tea.
1 in 6 people in the UK is deaf or hard of hearing. This makes Val’s voluntary work an integral part of improving the volunteer service at our organisation.
Paul Wharton is the volunteer coordinator at our Trust. He said: “Val is the perfect example of how versatile and adaptable volunteers can be.
“Bringing their own skills and experience with them, they have become an integral part of our organisation and are an incredible asset in improving the impact our service has for the benefit of our community.
“Val’s fantastic work is proof of that and we’re proud that she’s chosen our organisation to make a difference at.”
For more information about volunteering at North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, please visit our volunteers page.