May 2021 WalesOnline
Will Moseley-Roberts, 19, was told not to aim too high but was determined to get into medical school and follow his dream of becoming a doctor
The now 19-year-old from Cardiff started to go deaf aged five before spending years struggling to hear lessons at school and often returning home exhausted. Will admits he spent many years in denial about his disability so didn’t get cochlear implants to help his hearing until he was 15.
He also has mild dyspraxia, a condition which can affect co-ordination and can cause a person to write more slowly.
Will is now a student at the University of St Andrew's School of Medicine where he recently finished his first-year exams. He hopes his years of medical appointments for hearing loss, cochlear implant surgery and learning to interpret sounds will help him to recognise the difficult experiences facing patients through his career. “When I was younger I didn’t want to feel disabled or constrained by my disability," Will said. "I think it can be really damaging for disabled children in general with the idea that generally they don’t achieve as well. I wanted to study medicine so that I could help other people in other situations of vulnerability, similarly to how I was helped when I was younger."
Will attended Ysgol Pencae, Ysgol Plasmawr and Howell’s School sixth form in Cardiff where he said he was lucky to receive support but some adults outside school had discouraged him.
“I did have numerous people tell me when I was younger that I shouldn’t aim too high in case I failed due to my disability. Thankfully these warnings fell on deaf ears. The belief that other people had in me and the sense that people around me wanted me to succeed gave the confidence to be ambitious. I don’t think many deaf children have this confidence that they can do just as well deaf as they could if they weren’t deaf given the right support.”
Will said he was in denial about his deafness until he was in his mid-teens which didn’t help him overcome the issue.
Exhausted from trying to hear at school, he would come home “grey with tiredness” and go to sleep. “By the time I was 13 I thought of myself as being good at football and not disabled," he said. "When I thought about what it meant to be disabled I thought 'that’s not who I am'. I was a bit in denial about my deafness. That meant I put off having cochlear implants, although I needed them.
He finally agreed to have cochlear implants to help his hearing. These were fitted in the September of his GCSE year. But that had it’s challenges too. “Cochlear implants create an entirely mechanical sound picked up by electrodes wrapped in my cochlears which simulate sound," Will said. "So I don’t hear in my ears anymore. When I first had them switched on what I heard sounded like pots and pans. I realised it was speech and focused on that. The brain re-trains itself to hear sounds as what they are. At first I could not tell the difference between pitch either but after a few months I could. I hear pretty normally now.”
Although he needed the implants Will was still exhausted trying to adjust and had to drop two GCSE subjects so he could recover between lessons. He said he began to feel his struggles with hearing made him “a constant failure”. When he went on to do his A levels Will received support from Careers Wales adviser Dylan Evans. The teenager said he believes he wouldn’t have got to medical school without it. “The thing that made me want to become a doctor was I felt very vulnerable when my hearing was bad." he said. "After the surgery, which was life changing because I could interact and had so much more energy, I thought I would like to do this for other people. I think I am more empathetic than if I had never been deaf. I think it will help me look at things from a patient’s perspective.”
Will was also shocked and angry to learn that deaf children get on average a grade lower at GCSE and are much more likely to fail English and maths, something he believes is caused by lack of support. Debbie Thomas, Head of Policy at the National Deaf Children’s Society Cymru, said: “There are around 2,500 deaf children and young people across Wales and they’re showing incredible potential as they finish school. As they approach this critical stage of their lives, it’s vital they get the support, guidance and inspiration they need to aim high and secure the right career for them. “Our fully accessible helpline is here for deaf children, young people and their families and we would urge any of them to get in touch when they need support.