"I want to do my bit and speak up more"

Business Banking Manager Kerry Banbury was diagnosed with moderate sensorineural hearing loss in both ears during the Covid-19 pandemic. Kerry shares her story of hearing loss, the support she’s had from her team and colleagues, and her determination to encourage others to speak up about their conditions.

To be honest, it was the pandemic that triggered me to get my ears tested. I’ve always had the ringing in my ear, tinnitus, or at least since my early teens, but it would come and go and sometimes I wouldn’t even notice it.

When everyone started wearing masks though, I was getting frustrated as I felt I wasn’t getting the full story in conversations and meetings. I just felt like I was saying ‘What? Pardon? Can you say that again please?’ all the time.

It got so bad that, last summer, I popped into my local optician for a free hearing test and I was referred to audiology for further tests. These tests confirmed I have moderate sensorineural hearing loss in both ears, which I’ve either had since birth or is early onset for an age-related condition. What it means in practice is I can struggle with hearing low volumes or high frequency tones and sometimes I miss words in a sentence which then means the sentence doesn’t make sense to me.


Lots of things suddenly made sense

My diagnosis didn’t come as a complete surprise. In a way, it was a bit of a relief as I was getting so frustrated and lots of things suddenly made sense. In work meetings and conversations for example, someone would be saying something to me and at times I didn’t get any of it, but everyone else did and they were carrying on the conversation without me. I’d be really tired from having to concentrate so much on hearing things on Zoom calls that work was starting to get difficult.


A positive journey

The support I’ve had from my colleagues and NatWest Group since my diagnosis has been amazing. I got hearing aids in October and my line manager was really good throughout. She arranged as assessment with HR who then arranged a review with the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID) who did a report too. All this happened before Christmas, which felt really quick as I thought there would be a backlog because of the pandemic.

In January, I had a meeting with HR to go through the RNID report and their recommendations and, from that, I got a Roger Pen - a portable wireless microphone that is used in combination with hearing aids and can be conveniently used where additional support is needed over distance and in loud noise. It came within a couple of weeks and has been a massive help. Before that I was having to switch between speakers and headsets and if my phone rang, it was really awkward.


Speaking up can be hard

I’ve had a really positive experience with the bank and my colleagues, but I must admit at the beginning I was apprehensive about telling people. I think my biggest challenge was speaking up about it. But I told my line manager who immediately got the ball rolling on the adjustments I may want. My team were really great about it too – they’ve all done e-learning to find out more about my condition and they’re all up for doing more formal classroom training too if need be. Now, when one of my team is arranging a meeting or training, they send round an email beforehand asking if anyone has any specific requirements they need to take into account.

It’s great that my colleagues were so open minded and supportive. Having a condition can be hard, and if you think you’re going to be challenged at every step or the process will be difficult, some people will understandably decide not to disclose their condition. 

I really want to do my bit and speak up more about my condition and how people can support with specific requirements at work, i.e. live transcripts on Zoom calls, in the hope of encouraging more people to feel comfortable disclosing their conditions, whatever they may be.