Can Hayley stand the heat of the kitchen?

Hayley has a new job and is experiencing the real world of work – but can she stand the heat of the kitchen?

Sunday night, waiting in the car

Here she comes, emerging from the dim light cast from the pub windows and climbing into the car. She’s happy, cheeks flushed from a hectic night in the kitchen, looking very professional in her black mandarin collar uniform shirt.

Hayley’s got a new job and she’s in her element. She’s a part-time kitchen assistant in a fine dining pub. On busy nights it’s pot washing and clearing up, on quiet nights the two chefs let her help with the food preparation so she can learn her trade. It’s a great job to go with her college course in hospitality and catering; the students are expected to find a part-time job to build their experience and supplement their college skills. The pay’s not bad either, and the girl is rather partial to earning money.

Teacher Helping Students Training To Work In Catering

I have wondered before now whether Hayley’s chosen career in catering will pose problems. A commercial kitchen seems to be a very noisy, hectic place with challenging acoustics: pots and pans clattering, food preparation equipment making a racket, blending, mixing and chopping, cooking food hissing, bubbling and crackling, and stressed staff under pressure, too busy to think about deaf awareness. There’s likely to be no time in the heat of the moment to make sure they turn to face a colleague with hearing loss in order for them to be able to lip-read.

It’s something that’s been an undercurrent of concern but of course I’ve never voiced my worries to Hayley. Where there’s a will there’s a way and I’m sure there are many deaf chefs and other kitchen staff who manage really well.

Hayley’s been in the job for two months now and it doesn’t seem to have become a problem. It’s a very small kitchen, though a very busy one, so that probably helps. And the chefs are kind, friendly and patient and so far they’re really pleased with Hayley’s progress. She’s willing to learn and enthusiastically gets on with all the tasks they set her. And she seems to pass muster when the kitchen’s at its frenzied peak, when the food orders hit the fan and the chips are down, so to speak.

Though Hayley did surprise me when she came home shocked by some of the ripe language and outbursts that fill the kitchen when the going gets hot.

“Hayley, have you really never watched any of the chef programmes on the telly?” I ask her.

“Well yes but that’s on the telly,” says Hayley. “And the chefs are really nice so I didn’t expect it.” Not that she’s bothered, just surprised; she finds it quite funny. And none of it has been directed at her so far, so that’s a bonus!

Hayley’s loving being in the real world of work and she knows what to do if she can’t stand the heat – but I don’t think that’s going to be a problem.

Please note image is not of Hayley

Hayley’s broken hearing aid

A broken hearing aid throws life into chaos for Hayley… thank goodness for a helpful audiology department

Wednesday evening, in the car

Hayley’s just got into the car after finishing a day’s work experience placement at a hotel, as part of her college course. Before I can ask her how it went, she’s launched into a full-on rant, on the verge of tears.

“Oh my god, you’ve got to do something! My hearing aid’s broken, I can’t hear anything, I’m not going into college in the morning if I can’t hear! I don’t care if I get into trouble, I’m not going!”

Teenager girl taking off hearing aid

I try to calm her down, but there’s not much I can say because we can’t do anything until tomorrow when the audiology department will be open and hopefully sort us out.

She’s really upset because she’s struggled to hear for six hours, including instructions from the chefs and front of house manager, and she’s embarrassed. Normally she manages so well that the issue never comes up anywhere, even at work where she’s a part time kitchen assistant in a pub restaurant; no-one’s even asked about her hearing aids.

It’s funny how you get to take things for granted, especially when you’re seeing it from the outside.

Hayley is moderately deaf in both ears, wears two hearing aids, and without them – and a bit of lip-reading – she struggles desperately. In her waking moments she’s never without them, you almost get lulled into forgetting she’s deaf. I still get surprised when I go to wake her in the morning, and talk to her and she can’t hear anything I’m saying, until she reaches over for her hearing aids and pops them in.

We’ve grown to take it for granted over the 10 years since she’s worn them, whereas at first we were more aware of whether she could hear, of how exhausting a school day was for her straining to hear in the chaos of the classroom, corridors and playground.

Hayley’s become so independent with it all, now we don’t give it so much thought – until a blip like this.

She’s done well really, she’s had hearing aids since she was eight and she’s only broken one once before, and lost two (one left on a train after she took it out to put headphones on, the other got eaten – well thoroughly chewed anyway – by the dog).

I know what the problem is this time. It’s the hook that’s broken – the little bit attached to the electronic part of the hearing aid which the tube pushes onto.

What’s happened is that after much nagging, she finally re-tubed her hearing aid this morning and because she’d left it so long the tube got brittle, was hard to pull off, and the pressure cracked the delicate hook.

Next morning I call the audiology department and they say bring it in. It’s 45 minutes’ drive and sure enough the lovely staff sort it, and within two hours I hotfoot it back to deliver it to Hayley.

“Yes I’ll re-tube it sooner next time,” she promises as she runs off for her train to college.

Even Hayley takes her hearing aids for granted, but I think this time maybe she will do it!

Sticking with college

Hayley’s been struggling with college, but there’s good news on that front and a change of direction avoided

Thursday evening, in the hall

Hayley’s just come in the door and she’s smiling, which is surprising given that she’s just done an hour of maths tuition.

Student drawing a chart

How was it, I ask.

“Yeh, good,” comes the fairly shocking reply.

Hayley hates maths with a passion; I’ve seen her often reduced to tears by a page of algebra or trigonometry. She really struggles not just with maths, but most academic subjects. It’s due in part to her deafness, I guess, being left behind to flounder throughout school, especially as she has other learning issues such as slow processing skills and poor auditory memory.

And this is why she’s been so anxious recently – she was told by one of her college tutors that she needs a C grade in both Maths and English in order to pass her level 2 diploma in Hospitality and Catering.

Some of you may remember from last month that while Hayley loves the cooking and front of house part of her course, she’s become so frustrated and fed up with the academic side, the written assignments as well as English and maths that she was desperate to leave and get an apprenticeship instead.

I’d tried to talk her out of it as it seems a better, more higher salaried option to enter her chosen career with as high a qualification as possible.

Well since then, I’ve been in touch with National Deaf Children’s Society about it and they told me it could be discriminatory if a vocational diploma pass was dependent on English and maths results.

So I contacted the college and they confirmed that the diploma is a separate qualification, not dependent on maths and English grades. It turns out that it was one misinformed tutor who misled Hayley, so they are now making sure the issue is clarified to all the tutors – and a lot of weight has been taken off Hayley’s shoulders!

She does still have to keep doing her maths and English until she’s 18 or gets a C grade, and of course they’re qualifications and skills that will be useful throughout life.

Hayley’s course leaders have now transferred her from GCSE English to English functional skills with the plan being for her to work up from there towards a GCSE. And I’ve arranged for some maths tuition from a local tutor for an hour once a week, to help her confidence. It’s not cheap, but hopefully it will give her a boost.

Onwards and upwards…

Could a change of career plan be on the cards for Hayley?

Hayley’s such a natural with children; could a change of career plan be on the cards?

Monday evening, exhausted after a visit from a very lively two-year-old…

The dog’s stopped quaking and has finally been persuaded to venture downstairs from the safety of my duvet. The breakables have been returned to their usual positions two feet lower than the emergency safe places we hastily stashed them. All the cupboard doors have been screwed back on; the contents restored. Jesse, one determined little explorer – his unspoken motto: ‘inside every cupboard a new adventure’ – has left and peace reigns once more.

Young Boy Relaxing On Sofa At HomeHe’s adorable and we all love his visits but it’s like having a mini-whirlwind in the house. Everything not screwed down will be upended, hurled like a shot put or, in the case of the dog, chased and pelted with toys/drink beaker/biscuits. Now he’s gone home with his patient saint of a mum. But while the rest of us are lying down in darkened rooms with damp flannels on our foreheads, Hayley’s still beaming. “If only he could stay here always,” she says.

I pull the flannel more firmly over my eyes. I know I’ve done it a few times over, with four children and a stepdaughter, but it all seems so long ago. I can’t honestly imagine how anyone copes day after day with such a demanding little bundle of energy. And I’m frankly amazed at Hayley’s total character change in the presence of her little nephew.

She’s not best known for her patience and calm. The house frequently trembles with her meltdowns and outbursts. I have come to know that having a hearing loss is frustrating and tiring, a constant battle struggling to catch everything and not miss out, so I try to make allowances, though there are limits. And recently hormones have come into play, unleashing even more scathing fury and spectacular intolerance upon the rest of us. But something about Hayley comes alive when small children are around. It totally transforms her into a mature, patient, responsible little adult. And I won’t pretend I don’t like it!

Hayley has always got on with children younger than her, seems in her element with them. In the last two years she’s done lots of babysitting, worked on a job scheme at a local nursery and did her work experience at another nursery, both of which she loved and got great reports. Maybe it’s easier getting round the deafness issues – small children have a far less sophisticated grip on language than Hayley’s own peers. Their needs are simpler and they won’t object or get impatient if Hayley hasn’t heard and asks them to repeat themselves.

Jesse’s latest visit demonstrated Hayley’s childcare skills again. And he loved her – a great playmate, good for cuddles and endless repetitions of his favourite chase-me-up-the-stairs game or peek-a-boo behind the curtains.

Although Hayley has long wanted a catering career, I can see childcare vying to become an option. The rewards are very instant – that irresistible giggling, little arms outstretched for a pick-up – and all without the pressures of trying to communicate in a peer or adult environment. I can totally see the attraction.

Hayley’s deafness rules out a career as an RAF chef

It’s time to start thinking seriously about future options for Hayley and already plans have been upended, so now an alternative must be decided…

Wednesday afternoon, at a college open event

Hayley’s eyes are shining, a subtle wrestling match is taking place on her face as the corners of her mouth keep trying to push into a big grin, but she’s determined to play it cool.

We’re being shown around a catering college by a very professional and polished course tutor who is also a restaurateur at the upmarket restaurant operated by the students there as part of their training.

The tutor explains that they learn front of house skills, including flambéing and barista qualifications. Also, in the next academic year they are adding patisserie and confectionary skills to the course. This makes Hayley’s eyes light up even more, a child in a sweet shop!

Teacher Helping Students Training To Work In Catering

“Hayley has always loved cooking”

Hayley has always loved cooking, and has had some success in young chef contests. I think she enjoys it because having a hearing loss doesn’t matter – she can focus on the task assigned without constantly struggling to make sure she’s not missed out on anything.

I’m so pleased she’s thrilled about it because until a couple of weeks ago she had her heart set on other plans.

At a school careers fair last year, an RAF careers officer had said they were desperate for chefs and would take recruits at 16. After some square bashing she’d get catering training, gaining an NVQ, all on a wage most teenagers can only dream about.

With three years spent at Air Training Corps, which she’s loved and which has given her fantastic adventures, including flying a plane, target shooting and mountaineering, an RAF career seemed a natural progression.

They took her details and have called her a few times since last year to see if she’s still interested. So now she’s in Year 11, I suggested she call them to apply.

“Hearing loss ruled applicants out”

The next step, they said, was for her to check the eligibility criteria online. I logged onto the site and had a bit of a shock – it said a significant hearing loss ruled applicants out.

I phoned and asked what ‘significant’ meant, explained Hayley had a moderate loss and wore two hearing aids and his reply hit me like a stone. If the loss is enough to require hearing aids, the RAF can’t take her.

“It never occurred to me that deafness would be a problem”

How could I have been so naïve and not realised before now? I felt awful, having encouraged her to go for it, aim towards an RAF career. It never occurred to me that deafness would be a problem. Had she wanted to be a fighter pilot perhaps, but a chef?

Hayley was very disappointed but took it well, though she did ask about equality laws and I said I guess some employers such as the Forces are exempt from discrimination.

Onwards and upwards with a new plan. With Hayley’s boundless enthusiasm for life, I figured it was time to get her excited about college again. She’d first loved the idea when she found herself in those very kitchens two years ago taking part in a competition cook-off.

And by the time we’d finished our tour on the open evening, Hayley was sold. She’s going to get her application form in, hopefully be interviewed by Christmas and will know if she’s been offered a place by January.

All very exciting and fingers crossed it will focus her on working hard in her last school year in order to achieve the necessary grades.

Should Hayley say she’s deaf on a job application form?

Lots of changes are becoming apparent now Hayley’s turned 16 and as she starts looking for part time work, her deafness raises certain issues…

Friday evening, in a pizza restaurant

“Come on Mum, a bit more than that!”

Hayley clinks her wine glass against the pinot grigio bottle from which I’ve just poured her, meanly she would say, a shot-size serving.

“I am 16 now and I’m allowed to have alcohol.”

Yes, our little Hayley has turned 16. The sparklers have barely fizzled out on her birthday cake and already big changes are afoot.

I’m sure she looks a tiny bit taller, her make-up that bit more sophisticated, a little more time spent on her hair with the straighteners each morning – and that’s just for school. Her skirt’s folded over at the waistband an extra turn, revealing more knee than ever, in strict contravention of school rules.

She’s certainly that bit more determined – which is saying something! – and alcohol consumption aside, now she’s set on finding herself a Saturday job.

For two years she’s been on a local youth enterprise scheme, with work placements in local shops and cafes where she gets paid in vouchers. But she’s no longer eligible as she’s 16 so she wants to get a proper job.

I’ve been helping her fill in an online application for a local branch of a national restaurant chain and it’s brought up a new area for debate.
Blue apply now button
Where the form asked if there’s any disability, I found myself going against everything we’ve done before, with school or club applications.

“Don’t tick the box,” I told her.

It felt awkward, duplicitous and with connotations of shame or embarrassment – like it’s saying to Hayley there’s something she has to hide or lie about.

Which is the opposite of everything I’ve instilled into her: to be upfront about her deafness, to feel comfortable with it, that it’s up to the world to accept it and try to support her to be included.

“But Mum, why?” she asked. “What about equality and discrimination?”

She knows, because I’ve told her, that it’s illegal to discriminate against you if you are deaf.

“Disability is an unknown quantity that might pose extra problems or effort or opportunities for embarrassment”

But that’s not the way the real world works.  I know human nature, have worked in positions where job applications are being screened; been part of the decision making process as to who gets called in for interview. I’ve seen others panicking, not knowing what difficulties disabilities could pose, covertly ruling out certain applications, not because they are nasty but because disability is an unknown quantity that might pose extra problems or effort or opportunities for embarrassment.

“Just get in your foot in the door first,” I tell her, let them see how capable you are, that it’s possible for you to communicate perfectly well, then bring it up.

I honestly don’t know if it’s the right thing to say. But for now while she’s starting out instinct tells me that right or wrong, a pragmatic approach – stealth approach if you like – is more to her advantage, and as far as I’m concerned, she’s going to need all the advantages she can get in an unequal world where she is so often at a disadvantage.

What are your views on whether Hayley should declare she has a disability or not? Leave a comment!