Confessions of a teenage deaf lifeguard
Lifeguarding requires patience, attentiveness, responsibility and (most importantly) the ability to jump into the water at any given moment. That’s why for me, as a hearing aid wearer and person with limited non-direction hearing, it’s been the perfect job.
Of course, not everyone has believed the role would be a good fit for me…
I’ve always loved swimming. I used to swim competitively, but I had to pull out when I got too busy with school. I have to say, this was probably one of the hardest things to let go of, because it was such a big part of my life.
I missed the pool so much. The adrenaline from swimming competitively, the kick from winning a race, the peacefulness of silently gliding underwater… I just wanted to be back on poolside again.
In April 2014, the opportunity arose for me to do the RLSS (Royal Lifesaving Society) Pool Lifeguard Qualification, however due to my hearing loss, I didn’t think it would be possible. I spoke to the training provider and asked them if it would be achievable, and luckily they agreed to make adjustments for me.
The course was intense. I had one week to learn everything about a swimming pool environment. From 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., I was in the pool twice a day, and in the classroom the rest of the time.
My assessor was lovely, but he was concerned that pools would not hire lifeguards who they think would put the public at risk, in my case – not hearing them scream when they’re in trouble. But as a deaf person, I can rely on visual warning signs from scanning the pool, and not being distracted from other sounds around us. People can also silently drown, so it’s up to our eyes to spot swimmers in need.
The course was tough, but I passed! Everyone involved was very supportive and helpful, and ensured that I could fully participate in the training. I also felt that it was a great learning experience for my coach to teach someone who is deaf!
In the end, my assessor believed in me and saw that a deaf person could be a great lifeguard. I still work for him and I’m enjoying every minute!
I do, however, only lifeguard at private pools. But I think it’s better than public ones. At private pools, lifeguards can focus and watch the pool for an hour at a time, whereas at public pools, you often have to rotate with other lifeguards every 30 minutes, (while cleaning toilets, setting up sports courts, etc. in between.)
The other aspect of a deaf lifeguard, of course, are my hearing aids.
How do I lifeguard with my hearing aids in?!
Well, hearing aids aren’t completely waterproof, but my Phonak hearing aids are water resistant, and since I’m not at a huge risk of getting them splashed on poolside, my hearing aids are safe! When I do have to jump in the water to rescue someone, I just have to yank my aids out!
I don’t wear my hearing aids when I swim, but I love how relaxing it is to swim in silence. There are some things I can’t hear on poolside with my hearing aids, such as alarms or whistles, but if anything happens, my colleagues know to alert me.
It’s not always easy. Sometimes I can’t understand the random things that children talk to me about, and other times they get so excited thinking they can swim… that they jump in the deep end where it’s too deep to stand up. Then I have to race in after them! Other children find it funny to hold their breath and dunk their head underwater for a long period of time, then I have to scoop them out, while they laugh with delight.
“You could’ve drowned!”
So, yes, you can be a deaf lifeguard. In fact, nearly anyone can be a lifeguard if they have the drive for it. I once heard a story of a lifeguard who uses a wheelchair! If they had to rescue someone they just slip into the pool and swim! If there’s a job or sport that you like to do, don’t let your hearing loss stop you. There’s always ways to make adjustments and follow your dreams.
Ellen Parfitt, is an 18-year-old typical, but not ordinary, teenager. She was born profoundly deaf, but it hasn’t prevented her from achieving major accomplishments in her life, such as finishing her education, scoring an marketing apprenticeship, and working as a lifeguard, Avon Representative and Girlguide Leader. She is passionate about deaf awareness and campaigning. In her free time, she runs her jewelry and gifts business with her mum.