Samantha Baines, Phonak hEARo and a deaf performer, activist, and author, has hearing loss in both ears. She chooses to only wear a hearing aid in her right ear, which is worse. Baines relies on lipreading and is learning BSL (British Sign Language). She identifies as deaf.
The actor, who has appeared in Netflix’s “The Crown” and BBC1/PBS’s “Call the Midwife,” believes she was deaf a long time before she was given her official diagnosis. She remembers the signs, which only now come with the hindsight of a deaf education earned from the real world. They include turning the TV up and adding subtitles because people on TV mumble. Not being comfortable talking on the phone was just put down to a personal quirk. Crowd anxiety was assumed to be a sign of being an anxious person.
“Looking back now, all of these were because of my hearing loss, but it took me years to realize that,” Baines said. “I even used to fall over due to my one-sided loss (the loss being worse on one side) but always blamed it on having a weak ankle! It has been over five years since I got my hearing aid and since I started immersing myself in activism with RNID (Royal National Institute for the Deaf) and learning more about deaf culture and history.”
Becoming a deaf activist came about accidentally for Baines, as she looked around for answers after her hearing loss diagnosis. She realized that deaf issues were important for everyone and speaking out about them helped her process her own experience. This led to her becoming an ambassador for RNID; she has now been working with them for four years
“I love supporting campaigns that improve awareness and drive change and I will always support those,” Baines said. “I would really like to talk to Transport for London about deaf awareness. One of the big points that came up with the people I interviewed for my new book is how difficult public transport can be when you are deaf. I was brought up in London, so I would like to start there and then tackle the UK and the world! Not only are screens on public transport not used to their fullest, deaf awareness among staff hasn’t been provided fully. I want to go further and look at the structure of our trains and the noise levels inside them for the general public.”
Baines was involved in a similar project which looked at noise pollution levels on the London Underground. This was for the BBC program “Up Front.” Her activism has taken her as far as the House of Commons, where she spoke to a captive audience of MPs on the subject of tinnitus.
Baines has anxiety, as well as concentration fatigue, something the majority of hearing aid users will understand all too well. “I love being deaf and I love my hearing aid, but society is not accessible,” Baines said. “There are lots of barriers for deaf people like me that make everyday life that bit harder. Living in an audist society has an impact on my mental health and career.”
“I love being deaf and I love my hearing aid, but society is not accessible.”
Baines had a big impact within the deaf community when her first book came out. The award-winning Harriet Versus the Galaxy was a great success. It really spoke to deaf children, who felt that there was a hero they could at last identify with.
“After the book came out, going to talk to deaf children’s groups and schools has been the best and most unexpected side of writing the book,” Baines said. “I didn’t realize that was a thing authors did! Meeting young people with hearing aids, opening up conversations around deafness in classrooms, and answering questions (even telling some jokes) has been life-affirming and something I had never really considered when I was sitting at my laptop trying to write a fun adventure book. I would love Harriet to make a comeback.”
Baines has a new book coming out April 27. It can be preordered, but only from the U.K. Amazon site. This will definitely be a title to watch out for. Living with Hearing loss and Deafness is a book that she herself had wished existed when she was first coming to terms with her hearing loss. It promises to be a book filled with interviews, humor, and good advice not just from deaf people, but also from experts and audiologists.
“I really wanted to talk to someone openly who had been through what I was being faced with,” Baines said. “I wanted to ask them questions, work out if I was the only person that felt this way, and get real-world advice that didn’t come from a leaflet or bookended by a statistic. I hope this book will be that for a lot of people, with some stats for good measure. Hearing people should read it to learn and become more deaf aware. Deaf people should read it and hopefully feel seen and heard.”
Known by many in the UK primarily for her award-winning stand up comedy, Baines has recently stopped performing live stand up comedy for the sake of her emotional and mental health. Away from the spotlight, she loves to relax with her dog Custard and is also an enthusiastic knitter of blankets and drinker of Earl Grey tea. She cites noisy environments and overwhelming fatigue as contributing factors in her decision. However, deafness hasn’t just been a negative experience and Baines is quick to point out the positives.
“Being deaf has brought me lots of new opportunities,” she said. “I have learnt new skills and met some incredible people. So being deaf has hugely impacted my life.”
Asked what her advice would be for anyone considering a career in acting or comedy, this deaf performer, activist, and author replied that they should “go for it,” and be aware that you don’t have to pick a specific career path. You can pick and choose what works best for you as a deaf person and performer. Stay true to yourself, be kind, and support others.
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