Lindy is quite unlike your average sexagenarian: whether she’s jet setting across the globe in pursuit of her modelling career or dressing up in her 14th costume of the day, the Anglo-Italian-Irish actress and model’s life is a veritable whirlwind. More to the point, so is she – full of vim and vigour, she talks excitedly and passionately about her latest projects, her personal history and the things that delight her.
However, her joie de vivre was borne from great difficulty. As a child, she suffered through enlarged adenoids and a burst abscess in her ear which would go on to affect the rest of her life. There’s a slight twinge of sadness in her otherwise bright eyes as she reflects:
“I think I have always had some difficulty with hearing. I was sometimes thought of as ‘slow’ because it took me a little longer to process things (as a result). It wasn’t until my 50s that I began to realise I was missing a lot of things due to my hearing loss. I had the volume on the television really loud. I had my hearing checked thinking I just needed my ears syringed, but I needed bilateral hearing aids. I’ve worn them every day since – they really help.”
These formative years and the way that she was treated may go some way to explaining her confident, amiable and open nature today. The proverbial trial by fire has, so it seems, formed a diamond.
The past 18 months have been particularly difficult for Lindy, rendering her unable to pursue her passions as she normally would, and, like the rest of us, enjoy those little moments that we otherwise take for granted.
A particular point of adversity she mentions will seem familiar to those of us who also suffer from hearing loss: the dreaded Zoom call. She says what many of us think about the ubiquitous (but admittedly useful) app: “It’s not always easy to lip read people on Zoom and the background noise can be very distracting”, with a palpable sense of irony, she continues “but I’ve been attending weekly lip-reading classes on Zoom during the pandemic anyway!”
Not only does this give you some idea of the plucky, never-say-die attitude that Lindy has in spades, but she’s also absolutely right – lip-reading can be a real boon for people living with hearing loss. It can help take the strain away from the ears, as you’re using visual cues rather than going from sounds alone and is especially useful for those who have yet to learn American or British Sign Language (ASL/BSL) or Sign-Supported English (SSE).
That said, the pandemic has certainly made things more complicated for those who rely on lip-reading as a means by which to effectively communicate. As Lindy herself puts it: “Going out and about has been very difficult due to everyone wearing masks. It makes it impossible to lip-read. Likewise, having medical appointments over the phone has been very stressful.”
Indeed, the hearing loss community has been one of the hardest-hit over the course of the last year-and-a-half, with surveys both in the UK and the US highlighting the ongoing struggle that deaf and hard-of-hearing people have faced during the pandemic. UK deafness charity SignHealth discovered that a staggering one in three (35%) deaf people have reported struggling with their mental health and up to 61% of these highlight anxiety as the biggest single factor in their ongoing difficulties, followed by stress (60%), worry (60%) and depression (35%).
Moreover, 74% of respondents found it more difficult to access healthcare than before, while a further 36% have found it challenging to get the medication that they need. Couple this with the astonishing 89% who are worried about being able to communicate effectively with Britain’s NHS staff if hospitalised with the Coronavirus, and it’s easy to see why mental health issues have disproportionately affected the hearing loss community.
Perhaps most damningly of all, however, is that up to 78% of deaf people surveyed found that the information provided by the UK government was either partly or completely inaccessible for them. In Britain, this culminated in a sustained social media campaign that has managed to gain significant traction, the #WhereIsTheInterpreter movement, which aims to challenge the government’s stance on BSL access to COVID-19 briefings.
The story in the United States is similar, if not worse: according to the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), up to 95% of people in the hearing loss community have found face masks and coverings to seriously inhibit their ability to communicate, while 70% purport to be far more aware of their hearing loss due to the pandemic.
Despite these struggles, Lindy remains ever the optimist. Her attitude towards her hearing aids (and her hearing loss), has never been more upbeat – especially with the addition of her new hearing aid jewelry. She beams:
“Generally, I have found a stigma towards wearing hearing aids. We are encouraged to hide our hearing aids or to buy ‘invisible’ ones that are not easy to see. I have felt that we shouldn’t hide them. Wearing hearing aids is not something to be ashamed of and I have often thought they should come in funky colours with accessories! (That’s why) I was absolutely delighted when I saw the new trend towards customized hearing aid jewelry”
“At last, hearing aids were being celebrated, coloured, accessorized and not hidden! I love the fact that the designer (of DeafMetal jewellery) started to design jewellery for hearing aids when she started to lose her own hearing. She knows first-hand what it feels like and wants to break the stigma that surrounds deafness. I love my hearing aid jewellery and call them my ‘hearrings’: earrings for hearing aids! I hope to continue to challenge the perception of hearing aids being made ‘invisible’”.
Her advocacy doesn’t stop there, though, as she’s been particularly active across social media, campaigning for increased visibility for those in the hearing loss community, “I like to promote hearing aids in a positive way. I have shared photographs of myself wearing my jewellery on social media and had really positive responses.”
“I also try to raise awareness about hearing loss and deafness. People with hearing are not always aware of how they can help a deaf person by looking at them when speaking, keeping their lips visible and not covering their mouths and checking that the deaf person has understood and is included. I personally hate someone shouting in my ear, it hurts! It is also upsetting to a deaf person if they ask for something to be repeated and gets the response, ‘Oh it doesn’t matter!’ It matters to us.”
How true those words are. In many instances, it isn’t malice that makes things uncomfortable for deaf and hard-of-hearing people, but indifference and ignorance. The little things that able-hearing people barely think about, such as keeping your mouth visible, are incredibly important for the hearing loss community. Lindy is looking to broaden her horizons in that regard, too: “At present, I am doing a taster course in sign language. I want to do what I can to help myself as well as to be able to communicate with others in different ways, such as fingerspelling”. While it can be daunting at first to learn an entirely new language, Lindy’s bright determination gives me the feeling that she’ll succeed. Furthermore, it shows exactly how committed she is to keep the dialogue going; to exploring new options as an ambassador for the hearing loss community. This sense of inclusivity is also reflected in her modelling work:
“I feel privileged to be signed with Zebedee Talent, a model agency specialising in models with disabilities and differences. They are absolutely wonderful at pushing for representation in fashion and the media. It is like one big family and pre-lockdown we had events such as a catwalk show and party. They represent children and adults of all ages and are fully inclusive. I think things are changing for the better!”
With her sense of ceaseless optimism, one cannot help but agree.
About the author
James A. Grindlay is a writer, blogger and hearing health advocate from the United Kingdom. He currently writes for six companies and a charity, including retailer Hearing Aid Accessories. He is a long-standing soccer fan, amateur archer, and avid reader. He currently lives in Warwickshire, England, with his Labrador, Mia.