Creative career paths for the hard of hearing

Jessica White

Jessica White is an award-winning writer and academic researcher from NSW who suffers from hearing loss and frequently writes on the subject. She is the author of two novels: A Curious Intimacy and Entitlement. Her essays, short stories and poems regularly appear in Australian and international literary journals.

How does being hard of hearing affect your craft as a writer?

Jessica believes her hearing loss is what made her become a writer – as a child she turned to books as she often felt isolated after losing her hearing when she was aged four. “Years of ostracism and loneliness have influenced what I write,” she explains.

She also thinks her hearing loss has made her more observant. “It helps me to furnish my novels and short stories with sensory detail, making them more realistic.”

Advice for writers who are hard of hearing

Writing and academia is an ideal career choice for Jessica, as she says it doesn’t require much hearing; but she warns that it’s not always easy to find work. “The most important qualities you can have are persistence and self-belief. Always be clear and upfront about what you need – universities in particular work hard to put in place supports so that we can participate more easily.”

Vulcana Women’s Circus

Formed in 2005, Vulcana Women’s Circus works with groups and communities who experience barriers in some aspects of their lives, including those with hearing loss, enabling them to test their limits and find new creative and exciting forms of expression. Vulcana offers workshops for adults, teens and children with experienced trainers and Auslan interpreters for those who are hard of hearing.

How does being hard of hearing affect participation?

The trainers at Vulcana don’t see hearing loss as a barrier to participation at all. They’re passionate about equality of access for everyone and view the inclusion of the hard of hearing community as a learning experience for themselves.

“We have had to examine our communication skills and any assumptions about how different groups process new information and skills. Through these interactions, we have gained a better understanding of hard of hearing communication needs.”

Advice for people with hearing loss wanting to learn circus skills

“Circus has a skill for everybody, and it’s a powerful medium to bring people together beyond language,” the Vulcana trainers explain. “It allows you to explore your potential through new physical and creative experiences, and develop a sustaining sense of pride and achievement.”

Riverside Theatres

Based in Parramatta, Riverside Theatres have three venues offering different experiences for audiences. Each venue has an FM hearing augmentation system and many shows feature open captioning on LCD screens. Riverside Theatres also provide drama workshops, which welcome participants who are hard of hearing. iPads and smartphones are used to assist communication, with key signs for those who understand them.

How does being hard of hearing affect a career in the theatre?

Many elements of drama do not rely heavily on the spoken word. However, challenges do present themselves when it comes to communication. “Sometimes communication takes longer and can be misunderstood, which can be frustrating and defeating. Also, straight drama, with a lot of spoken word, can be demanding and draining, but we are seeing many more ways that people can create and convey their stories. Movement-based work, strong visual messages and the use of technology are all part of the contemporary performing arts toolkit.”

Advice for people with hearing loss pursuing a career in the performing arts

Riverside Theatres believe that although the performing arts are highly competitive and difficult to make a living in, this should not prevent you from pursuing your passion. “Identify the forms of expression that you most enjoy and focus on finding like-minded artists and mentors,” they suggest. “Explain clearly from the start what you need for effective communication, to help you understand a director’s instructions or work more easily in groups. Many in the creative industries are increasing the ways in which we communicate and share ideas with others.” They also point out that there are many technical and administrative opportunities within the theatre industry.

Endeavour Foundation: QArt Studio

The Endeavour Foundation provides work, learning and community participation opportunities for groups who face personal, social and professional limitations, including the hard of hearing. One of its employment opportunities is the QArt Studio based in Kew, Melbourne, which produces paintings, ceramics, jewellery and cards. Artists are offered support and training by qualified supervisors and managers. Then the art is sold at the QArt Gallery and online.

How does being hard of hearing affect artists?

The Endeavour Foundation is hugely supportive of, and positive about, artists who are hard of hearing pursuing their chosen profession. “Being hard of hearing would have no bearing at all on a person’s ability to produce art,” they state, “Our supervising staff find ways to communicate which ensures great outcomes.”

Advice for artists who are hard of hearing

“Go for it! Your hearing loss should never hold you back from following your career dreams. Find a place where you feel comfortable and supported, and then rely on your talent.”

Bust A Move Dance

Bust A Move Dance (BAMD) is a leading dance company based in Brisbane with students of all ages and abilities, including those who are hard of hearing. The aim of the company is to bring people together and encourage them to be creative and express themselves through the vehicle of dance. They also offer classes in a variety of dance genres, so there is something to interest everyone.

How does hearing loss affect a career in dance?

“Obviously there are negatives, such as not being able to hear the music or the teacher’s instructions,” BAMD explain, “but this can lead to more authentic movement, solely based on feelings. This can contribute to new and improved forms of creativity for others in the class. Dance can be an exceptionally expressive outlet for the hard of hearing.”

Advice for people who are hard of hearing pursuing a career in dance

BAMD believes hearing loss should not be a barrier to a career in dance. “Contact leading dance organisations and bodies to be pointed in the direction of specific companies who are inclusive,” they advise. “Challenge yourself, and be confident in sharing experiences with others.”

Honeybee Creations

Honeybee Creations promotes awareness of hearing loss by training hearing people in Auslan sign language and non-verbal forms of communication. It also enables people who are hard of hearing to explore and participate in creative arts including yoga, drama, sign singing and mala creations, with the aim of building the confidence of the hard of hearing and creating more inclusive communities throughout Australia.

How does being hard of hearing affect a career in the creative arts?

“It’s made me think outside the box, often by exploring other options when the main option wasn’t always available to me due to my hearing loss,” explains Founder and Managing Director Lisa Mills. Her hearing loss has led her to a successful career as a theatre director and consultant for arts organisations involving the hard of hearing. “I have become very good at creating my own successful niche market in a range of products and services.”

Advice for people with hearing loss pursuing a creative career

“Focus on what you can do – celebrate your strengths! Find solutions to problems and barriers. Dream big, and be persistent and consistent with your goals – take little steps each day to achieve your dream.”

Lisa also stresses the importance of staying positive about hearing loss. “Write a list of all the great things about being hard of hearing – there are a lot of plusses! Live your life with passion for everything you do. This is so important when we experience so much miscommunication, inequality or exclusion in our lives.”

There are plenty of creative opportunities out there for people with hearing loss, and plenty of people who are hard of hearing pursuing successful, creative careers. Believe in yourself and take the steps you need to become more creative and achieve your artistic ambitions.