Skip to main content

Life with a hidden disability - Disability History Month

Carly Powell

Carly Powell, a Project Officer here at Health Education and Improvement Wales (HEIW) tells us about her experiences of life with a hidden disability.

  • What is your disability?

I have a hearing impairment with requires me to wear hearing aids in both ears.

  • Were you born with your disability?

No, I developed my hearing impairment when I was 2 years old after numerous ear infections which required several hospital admissions and surgeries.

  • Given your disability is ‘hidden’, do you feel people act differently around you once they know about it?

I have had mixed reactions to my disability as often many individuals are not aware that I have one, because I am a very chatty and confident person. When some individuals find out that I do have a disability they are often unsure what to say and sometimes feel uncomfortable to ask me more about it, while other individuals are very supportive and eager to find out what they can do to make things easier for me.

I just want individuals to know that it is ok to ask me questions about my disability. I would rather someone ask what they may feel is a silly question rather than not acknowledge it at all.

  • Do you feel your disability restricts you in anyway, either personally or professionally?

There are occasions where my disability does restrict me.

Growing up, my disability did affect my self-esteem. I struggled to accept my impairment and felt ashamed and embarrassed when meeting new individuals, especially when my hearing aid would be squealing (and they were very big and obvious back then!). Hearing aids have advanced dramatically over the last 30 years, so I don’t have these problems now.

I also suffered with speech and language difficulties as a child and therefore needed additional support from a range of therapists in order to keep up with my peers. This affected my confidence and I would often give up on tasks due to fear of failing due to my disability.

Professionally, there are times where I find some tasks more difficult such as participating in large meetings. If individuals talk over each other or there is lots of background noise this can make listening very difficult. I have never felt restricted professionally as since the introduction of the Equality Act 2010, there are lots more opportunities and accessibilities available for disabled people.

  • Do you require any adaptions to enable you to do your job?

I do not require any adaptions in order to carry out my role effectively, however I find the following helpful; hearing loops, informing others of my disability so that they are aware of my needs, understanding the layout of meeting rooms prior to meetings so that I can position myself to hear effectively and recording sessions so that I can replay meeting to make sure I understand what is being said.

  • What would you say to anyone out there with a disability worried that it will stop them achieving?

I would say that having a disability has empowered me to push myself and embrace my differences. I would have never of thought during my younger years, when I struggled to accept my difficulties and felt embarrassed because I could not speak correctly, that I would years later be standing in front of a class of 40-100 higher education students, educating them about the importance of effective communication.

Surrounding yourself with positive individuals and organisations are vital to help you grow and develop. At HEIW, I feel proud to work for an organisation which promotes equality and embraces individuals’ differences. I am very fortunate to have supportive colleagues and feel confident in raising suggestions to improve my accessibility within my role.

I have learnt that the only one thing that can stop you achieving is yourself! Embrace your difference and highlight to others your strengths and uniqueness.  Having a hearing impairment may mean that I find certain situations more difficult than others, however, it is how you handle these difficulties which allow you to develop new strengths.