Fiona champions disability

Image Credit: Joy Lai

Fiona is unapologetically deaf.

It wasn’t always that way.

“I was quite ashamed of my hearing loss, particularly because I don’t wear hearing technology,” Fiona says.

“Often people have a lot of questions or don’t believe that a young person can have hearing loss.

“And I’ve been progressively losing my residual hearing, so it’s been that interesting experience of having been born with hearing loss but also acquiring hearing loss at a young age.

“It’s been quite tricky to navigate.”

Fiona’s hearing loss was discovered at the age of 6 after having tests to determine why she had trouble reading and writing at that time. As a child she thought she would grow out of it and when she didn’t, things got a bit more challenging.

“I didn’t have any connection with the deaf community,” Fiona says.

“It felt quite lonely and isolating so I didn’t often speak about being deaf and I didn’t have the skills to ask for access; I didn’t even know what accessibility was until my mid-20s.

“It was a lot, working hard to try and keep up and fit in.

“It was only when I became friends with other people with disability in my 20s, I realised, ‘Oh my goodness, there are ways of advocating and asking for help.’

“It’s a skill that you learn and practice and get confident at and it really changed my world completely.”

Fiona subsequently became very interested in important disability subjects such as accessibility and employment.

Last year she became involved with telling the stories of people with disability through the ABC’s International Day of People with Disability Content Commissioning Fund.

“I was well supported to create a series of stories about disability success,” Fiona says.

“Instead of overcoming challenges, it’s more around celebrating how people with disability are experts in a wide range of things.

Her stories were published on ABC Everyday and ranged from featuring blind arts critic Olivia Muscat and ‘photographer on wheels’ Brittany, to fashion designers adapting pieces for people with disability.

“Absolute expertise – it was a fabulous series to work on,” Fiona says.

She is also writing a series of essays on the experience of deaf people and their careers and refers to herself as a ‘deaf music critic’ who plays the accordion.

“Typically, with an album, I’ll spend about 2 weeks with it, listening to it multiple times at different points in the day,” Fiona says.

“I’ll also look at the visual graph of how the sounds are going just to check if I’m missing any movement in the music, that I can’t hear.

“It’s quite a visual and repetitive process of visiting and revisiting the album just to make sure that my brain is picking up all the information.

“Then I’ll look at the total tonal experience including if there’s lyrics available, the visuals that go with it, the entire back catalogue of the artist or the album just to see the history and where it sits in context.

“It’s certainly not a quick process but I think it’s a robust process of really understanding and looking in from all different angles at the art that’s been created.”

When she’s not spending time on her varied career, Fiona is a huge reader, non-fiction mostly, and plays the card game ‘500’ once a month with a group of 3 friends.

“It’s a fun card club that we have,” Fiona says.

“We all went to university together and we’re all imagining that we’ll dominate in retirement.

“If we just keep playing for the next few decades, we’ll be ready.”