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Good vibrations for Yorkshire musician who was born profoundly deaf

July 2016 The Yorkshire Post

She plays the clarinet, sings, listens to music and chats on the phone, but Ruth MacMullen was born profoundly deaf. She was 18 months old when doctors confirmed that. “My parents were told I would never learn to speak or hear anything, but they pushed back and said they wanted to give it a go,” says Ruth, now 28. “Looking back it was a bit like living your life under water. I could hear muffled sounds but that was it.” Ruth’s mum taught her to speak and when she was eight and said she wanted to learn a musical instrument her ever supportive parents said ‘good idea’. Her mum set about researching the best instruments for a profoundly deaf person to play and discovered that the clarinet was ideal because of the amount of vibration. “I always loved music and really wanted to play an instrument,” says Ruth. “Some people might have tried to put me off but my parents really encouraged me. I really enjoyed the clarinet getting to grade six and even playing in an orchestra. I have been brought up to believe that if I want to do something then I should give it a go. Music has been no different.” But growing up she did find being a deaf person in a hearing world at times very frustrating.

Ruth MacMullenRuth MacMullen who was born Profoundly deaf, is pictured with her Clarinet at York St John University

“I went to a mainstream school and I wore really high powered hearing aids, but I was frustrated at not being able to do all the things that the other children could do,” she says. “I do think it has had an effect on me. Growing up and getting through the teenage years is hard enough, but you don’t really want to be different, being deaf made me stick out.” And so when Ruth was 13 she was given a cochlear implant. “It was funny. When they turned it on I told my audiologist that she sounded like Mickey Mouse. It was all echoey. “It is strange because you actually hear through the side of your head, it didn’t feel like hearing at first.” The cochlear implant changed Ruth’s life, even more so when at the age of 23 she was successful in getting a second implant.

“Ten years was a long time to wait between getting the two implants which was frustrating again. I think it was partly funding and then NICE changed its guidelines and I was eventually able to get a second implant which has been incredible. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now if I didn’t have two implants.” Ruth works full time in the Information Learning Services department at York St John University. “I hold a lot of meetings and do a lot of teaching work,” she explains. And for the first time Ruth has been able to full fill her musical ambition of having singing lessons and is even considering joining a choir. “I would never have been able to sing in tune if it hadn’t been for the cochlear implants. I am able to tune my voice to a piano and I can tell if I’m in pitch or not. It should be impossible for a deaf person to sing in tune, but with cochlear implants it isn’t. It is a wonderful feeling.” Ruth says since she had her second ‘bionic ear’ her taste in music has also changed. “I was always in to rock music. I don’t know whether that was all down to my deafness or just because of was a bit alternative. But since the double implant my tastes have definitely changed. I am more in to more mellow acoustic music and Bob Dylan. It’s really quite strange.”

Ruth works closely with a number of charities including being mentor for HearPeers an online community where she supports and advises people with or have children with profound or severe hearing loss in the lead up to and following their hearing implant surgery. “It is my way of giving something back, I feel extremely lucky and I am in a unique position of being able to talk to parents or others with hearing loss, especially those who might be interested in music or playing an instrument.”

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