Not being afraid to say 'Sorry, I can't hear'

By Jessica Elgot, November 17, 2011
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Stephanie Beacham with Jewish Deaf Association members Elaine Cohen and Helen Eisen

Stephanie Beacham with Jewish Deaf Association members Elaine Cohen and Helen Eisen

Star of Dynasty and Bad Girls actress Stephanie Beacham was struck by the "warmth and long-time frienships" she encountered when she visited the Jewish Deaf Association in Barnet.

Ms Beacham, who is deaf in one ear, said she had felt a strong connection with some of the older members of the centre who had known each other since school. She will be the guest speaker at JDA's annual dinner next week, and details the challenges she faces because of her partial deafness in her new autobiography Many Lives. But, she said, now she sees her "style" of hearing as an asset.

"Some of the older people I met at the JDA told me that when they were young deafness was seen as something that excluded you from a normal life, and they had to go to special schools, and they weren't allowed to use sign language," she recalled. "That was terrible. But they still had strong friendships."

"As a young actress starting out, I never told anyone about my deafness, I could only hear in 'mono' which meant I couldn't tell where noise was coming from, and everything is on the same sound level. People always used to think I was flirting with them, because I would lean in and cock my head to one side to be able to hear what they are saying. Nowadays, I just tell people 'sorry, I can't hear', and meet friends one-on-one and don't go to crowded restaurants. I nearly get run over on a daily basis."

Now, she says, children aren't ashamed in the same way, and she was recently thrilled when she saw a little girl with pink diamante hearing aids. "Why should we have to have the ones which are the colour of granny knickers? Are we trying to pretend they aren't there? Children should be proud of them, just like we have fancy spectacles."

The Rada-trained actress,who has performed at the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company, now knows how to adapt to cope with her hearing difficulties. "I learn all the lines, and I make sure people stand in the scene where I can hear them."

She is a long-time campaigner for deaf charities, and feels particularly strongly about hearing dogs for the deaf. "I started campaigning when I got a high enough profile to make a difference, I really believe people don't understand deafness. Because it's not a disability you can see, it's hard to understand. I was impressed by the centre at the JDA, because people really do need specialist help, not just old people but parents with newborn babies."

    Last updated: 2:35pm, November 17 2011