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Susanne – Humans of Avon and Somerset

Woman with short hair and green jumper smiling in office

Most people, when they first speak to me, have no clue about my hearing because I ‘don’t sound like a deaf person’.

Susanne, Assessment Support Officer

I used to be a police officer in another area and gained a total of 18 years’ experience on the frontline. I loved being a police officer but unfortunately I was medically retired due to hearing loss. The retirement process was based around what you can’t do, and it can lump you into a negative mindset of “I can’t do my job.” Just before I joined Avon and Somerset Police, I started on a journey to recognising the things that I can do and to stop focusing on what I couldn’t.

I started losing my hearing when I was in my 20s, and it was a very slow deterioration. By the time I was in my 30s, it was deemed that it posed a risk to my job – what if I misheard something and then a case got lost in court? I went through the medical retirement process, which was eight months long, I found it quite tough. After the process finished, I knew I still wanted to stay within policing, and so I came over to Avon and Somerset two years ago as a National Police Promotion Framework (NPPF) assessor.

This role allows me to use all my skills from my 18 years’ experience to support sergeants and inspectors in their first year of promotion. Rather than let my experience go to waste, I’ve put it back into policing and now I help others to grow in their roles.

Most people, when they first speak to me, have no clue about my hearing because I “don’t sound like a deaf person.” I hate this saying, because no hard of hearing person sounds the same! I’ve had some other assumptions like I must know sign language, which I don’t because I lip-read. People can feel awkward sometimes when interacting with a person with a disability, being scared of saying the wrong thing can sometimes mean saying nothing at all. It is ok to be unsure, that is how we all learn and grow, by doing things outside of our comfort zone. Being able to be ourselves at work is important, I want to be accepted for who I am, and I will not be offended by anyone who wants to learn or know more about how best to interact with me!

Woman with short hair, green jumper and sunflower lanyard stands smiling in office.

Avon and Somerset have taken massive leaps forward regarding disability. In the past in the policing sector, there was a preconception that people with medical or neurodivergent diagnosis couldn’t be a police officer or staff member. That’s a thing of the past. Now it’s recognised that people with disabilities bring a whole range of skills and expertise to the organisation and are valued for the contribution we make. It’s just a case of finding what it is you can do and doing it well.

I genuinely love my job. I get to travel all around the force area, visiting different departments, and work with people at different stages of their career. It’s the best job ever. Avon and Somerset have started to recruit officers with various disabilities, who are pioneers of the process and will be helping to make the journey more accessible for each new wave of recruits. In my day you would’ve been stopped at the first hurdle. It’s so lovely that you’re not limited anymore. I’m over the moon to know my personal experience won’t happen to others now.

Throughout my journey I’ve figured out what works best for me. I’m now happy to say to people that phone conversations don’t work for me because I can’t see the person’s face to lip-read. No-one bats an eyelid. Or I’ll ask people to try not to have a bright source of light behind them, otherwise they’ll be silhouetted, and I can’t read their lips.

The main piece of advice I would give to others who aren’t sure how to approach someone with a disability or are worried they might offend someone is: don’t be embarrassed if you don’t know what to say. People are often hesitant to help someone, for example, if they see a visually impaired person and not sure if they would welcome assistance. The easiest way to find out is to ask and be honest.

Once you ask, you could find out that person only needs one tiny thing to help them – but it makes a massive difference. I personally would prefer someone to wave at me to get my attention, but other people would prefer to be tapped on the shoulder. I’m never going to be offended because somebody asked me what I need. It means you care and that makes me very happy.

Woman with short hair, glasses and pink top smiles in front of green fields.

I would also encourage people to be open about their awkwardness. Saying “I’ve never worked with a colleague who has a hearing impairment. What’s the best thing I can do?” is so simple. It’s like being abroad and you have a go at speaking the local language. You might get it wrong, but the locals are very grateful that you tried.