Shaun began working for POP as a web developer in October 2020, approximately eight months after the ‘work at home’ directive during the Covid-19 pandemic. In this post, Shaun gives us his perspective on job-hunting and working as a profoundly deaf person during the pandemic.
The lockdown had a massive impact on me because people had to stay at home. To me, it felt similar to the experiences of people back during World War 2, where the government restricted people to where they could travel or go. People at that time were stuck at home with little to do, and I felt the same. Because I had no work, I decided to develop a website, which gave me something to do rather than sit around twiddling my thumbs.
I realised that if I didn’t do anything, it could affect my mental health. I realised that similarly, other people within the deaf community would also be feeling isolated and, in turn, could lead to issues with mental health and wellbeing. I always try to keep busy and did during the lockdown. I continued keeping fit, working on web development and having conversations with my friends. These were humorous as we pretended to have virtual parties and offer drinks to each other.
Before lockdown, I had never heard of Covid-19 and didn’t understand what it was. I thought, “what the f*cking hell is this?”
Before lockdown, I had never heard of Covid-19 and didn’t understand what it was. I thought, “what the f*cking hell is this?” During 2020, there were many broadcasts by Boris Johnson and other ministers and scientific advisors on television offering updates. Unfortunately, there was never a BSL interpreter explaining to the deaf community what was happening in sign language. Scotland and Wales did provide interpreters for their briefings, and because in England, this never happened, it had a massive impact on access to information for the deaf community.
Around May 2020, the government made it a rule that everyone had to wear masks when visiting shops or in enclosed public places. Mask wearing had an immediate effect on deaf people as we rely on lip patterns as well as sign language to communicate. Wearing masks made it impossible for deaf people to communicate as effectively.
I created a picture on my phone, which worked via Google Translate Live. This image allowed the hearing person to speak to my phone, and then Google would translate it into English to enable me to communicate with them successfully.
If I needed to communicate with a hearing person, I would type the words into my phone, and then the text would automatically convert to spoken words for them to hear.
During 2020, I had time to reflect on how the situation affected my mind. I knew that it was essential to have a positive mindset. I decided to write a book focussing on being positive, and I am halfway through the writing process. The book will be published and launched in 2022.
Writing my book keeps my mind thinking all the time; sometimes, a thought pops into my head during the night – I wake up, turn the light on and reach for my notebook to write it down before going back to sleep.
Early in 2020, my previous employer furloughed me. In July, my boss asked me to attend a virtual meeting to explain that business wasn’t doing so well and that the work coming in had reduced dramatically. She said she would let me know how things were going in August. In October, I received an email telling me they had made me redundant, which was a very unpleasant shock.
I began looking for work and, to be honest, I didn’t hold much hope in finding a job, but I applied many times and received replies offering me job interviews starting the first week of October. After the interviews concluded, I had four job offers, all sent to me on the same day, including one from POP. I thought about which one to accept and decided to choose POP.
People, when looking for work, sometimes give up too easily. I feel it’s important never to give up; you should always try to work as hard as possible to achieve success, especially when it comes to finding employment. I am the type of person who strives to do my best and achieve the things I start. If you aspire to do your best, then this leads to a healthy, positive mindset.
Being deaf and having problems with accessibility to information can lead to becoming negative. It can be easier to be negative than to have a positive mindset, but if I remain optimistic and have a positive outlook on life, it is more beneficial to me as a deaf person.
Since starting work at POP, I have yet to meet the team in person because of the lockdown. We have Zoom meetings, and it’s great to see Nick and the team, but I look forward to getting to the office one day and meeting everyone face-to-face.
In a ‘live’ environment, you can experience the office culture, banter, and other things that I enjoy in the workplace. You cannot do this on a virtual platform. I think that (because of the length of the lockdown) we should have a Christmas party in summer.
Working on a virtual platform, like Zoom, becomes very tiring. It can be challenging to process information as I rely on my interpreter’s accuracy, everything is two-dimensional, and some information might be missing.
In a face-to-face situation like the office, you receive extra information through body language; deaf people need to pick up this additional information. On virtual platforms, it is impossible to pick up on more minor nuances. They are easier to pick up on in real life, and it is easier to pick up someone’s emotions if you face them rather than them being at the end of a webcam.
There is a belief that hearing people think they share the same experiences as deaf people; this is not correct. Deaf peoples’ mental health issues are different from those of hearing people. This divide is especially relevant whilst the country has been in lockdown for such a long time. From the beginning of 2020 to the present day, we have not got back into the realms of reality.
After the first lockdown, we still had restrictions in place, and then the government put the country into another lockdown. During this period, we have had severely restricted contact with family and friends. As a deaf person, I can’t just pick up a phone and ring family or friends, and gaining access to external communication has been difficult. The deaf community has struggled more than some other people, which has caused more negativity and challenges in everyday life.
Shaun Fitzgerald was born profoundly Deaf and throughout his life has had to face barriers to learning. He has created his own business and is employed as a Web Developer at POP. He has presented TEDx talks and provides talks to groups of people around the UK, looking at Mental Health and Deafness and within that area, Suicide awareness and prevention.