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.

Deaf teenager Hayley loves her new job as a waitress!

Hayley couldn’t be happier at her new Saturday job as a waitress, and Tiger Mother’s so proud of how she brought up the subject of her deafness at the interview.

The waitress scowls over at me and I look away trying to keep a straight face. She’s just done a very professional job of taking down our order and bringing the drinks over to our table, not a drop of cappuccino spilt nor a teaspoon clattered in its saucer.

She’s pretending to be cross because we’re her family and friends who’ve all crowded in to try out the place where she’s now got a Saturday job, and we’re making her feel embarrassed.

Well, what are families and friends for!

Seriously, Hayley couldn’t be happier. She loves the idea of serving customers and using a till, and she also gets taught how to make a whole range of cakes and cookies – that’s right up her street, baking being her first love.

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Hayley was a bit worried at first; that she would mess up, maybe not hear instructions or take down customers’ orders wrongly, especially over the din of the coffee machines and coffee bean grinders. Or that she would maybe just be clumsy and drop everything, embarrass herself with all manner of clangers nothing to do with her ears!

“We talked in advance about what she would say to the proprietor about her hearing”

When Hayley went along to be interviewed for the job we talked in advance about what she would say to the proprietor about her hearing.

It’s a question of trying to achieve a balance – not wanting to draw attention to her deafness, which she hates doing, yet ensuring that people know she may need things repeating if she hasn’t quite heard, and that it’s helpful if she can see their face so that she can also lipread.

“When some people see a person with hearing aids they assume they can’t hear anything”

And there’s also a matter of reassurance. When some people see a person with hearing aids they assume they can’t hear anything and panic that they won’t know how to communicate with the deaf person. All very unnecessary.

So Hayley pointed out to him that she had hearing aids. ‘In case it shocks you if you suddenly notice later!’ she told him, in a light hearted way.

It took me aback actually, that she had the confidence to do it that way – good on her. She’s come a long way to be confident enough to make a joke to someone she’s never met before and in a fairly formal situation.

He played along with her joke, feigned shock, then quickly reassured her he’d keep it in mind and make sure she could hear him.

And so far it’s all been fine with no problems. Some of the equipment is noisy – most of us would be hard pushed to hear over it – but Hayley just has to work round it, waiting until it’s stopped before taking orders or asking for instructions.

Luckily the rest of the time there’s not too much background noise as the acoustics are pretty good – it’s vintage décor so it’s carpeted and wallpapered, which all helps.

“You can almost see her blossom by the day”

She’s doing really well, they seem pleased with her and she’s loving every minute of it. It’s done her a lot of good and really helped her self-esteem. You can almost see her blossom by the day.

And it’s shown me that Hayley’s future isn’t some far off event to be worried over or stressed about – it’s here now. And she’s doing great.