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International Day of Persons with Disabilities | Veronica’s story

On International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we hear from Veronica Williamson, Senior Electrical Engineer on the Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC) Program.
Veronica Williamson, Senior Electrical Engineer My name is Veronica Williamson. I joined BAE Systems in 2012 through the Graduate Scheme and I’m currently working as a Senior Electrical Engineer in the CSC Electrical team.
 
I have a profound hearing loss and depend on a Cochlear Implant which enables me to hear electronically. A Cochlear Implant is an electronic medical device that replaces the function of the damaged inner ear. Unlike hearing aids, which amplify sounds, Cochlear Implants do the work of damaged parts of the inner ear (cochlea) to provide signals to the brain. You can find out more about Cochlear Implants here.
 
I was born with a high frequency loss and was four and a half years of age when I finally got an operation to have a Cochlear Implant fitted, as conventional hearing aids did not help me at all. At that time the procedure was fairly new and underfunded.  Nowadays, although still uncommon, this is available to children much younger than I was. This means the gap in language acquisition between such deaf children and their hearing peers is greatly reduced.
 
The implant has transformed my life but this has involved very hard work to do what comes naturally to people with normal hearing.  I started primary school at five, the same age as my new peers but I had no language skills at all.  I did not know how to listen or talk, never mind learning to read and write.  I was suddenly plunged into a scary world of sounds after almost five years of silence.  I was constantly playing ‘catch-up’ throughout my academic life. It was a huge challenge. But I had the best supportive network already in place. My family.  Without this amazing Cochlear Implant technology and my family, I simply would not be where I am now.
 
We need passionate people to help us be a driving force to make BAE Systems an industry leader in supporting disability equality. I want to help people realise that they have the potential to do whatever they want because nothing is impossible!

Veronica Williamson, BAE Systems Senior Electrical Engineer

 
My disability is a ‘hidden’ one because I do not conform to the stereotype of a deaf person and I do not use sign language. I had speech therapy for many years and I make sure to speak as well and clearly as I can. I get compliments on my unique accent and that tells me that speech therapy has paid off!  I have always been up-front about my disability but recognise that this approach may not be easy for everyone. It is hard to admit that you are different or that you have difficulties with things others take for granted. 
 
When I joined the BAE Systems Graduate Scheme, I contacted HR to let them know that I had a hearing impairment and so a phone interview would not be suitable.  They were very kind and supportive throughout the application process, ensuring I sat near a speaker at an assessment centre and providing written information so that I would not miss out anything that was important or useful.
 
My current challenge in my role is to take phone calls that deal with technical information but I do let people know that I am deaf and need their help to fill in the blanks I may have missed.   My new team has been incredibly helpful in getting me a useful piece of technology that helps me hear more clearly.  It’s called a Phone Clip, and simply clip it to my shirt and it works like Bluetooth. Just press answer and off I go!  The advantage of this is that I can block distracting background office noise while I take phone calls. The downside is that I look like I am talking to myself!

What I go through on a daily basis, be it at work or out and about, is not necessarily seen as a challenge for others.  For example, if I need to get my car insurance policy renewed and it cannot be done on a computer, I have to ask a family member to do this for me over the phone. Banking is another example. This is because I can miss extremely important information without even realising. 
 
I love going to the cinema but have to focus incredibly hard on what people are saying because subtitles are often not available. There are some films that offer subtitles but they don’t tend to be shown at my local cinema and are often screened at inconvenient times during the working week, which isn’t ideal for me! A noisy restaurant means I miss out on the conversation.  I had to have a note-taker with me throughout school and University during lectures, labs and tutorials. This was my biggest challenge at the time as I had to read my notes after each day to make sure I didn’t miss anything and to also understand what was being taught so it was always double the work for me every single day. I never complained because I loved to learn but I was very often too tired to socialise during the week as I had to put my academic learning first because I was still playing catch-up with my peers. But all of that work has paid off as I managed to make my biggest dream come true – to become an engineer as most of my family stems from a long line of engineers.
 
My disability has instilled a strong work ethic, made me very determined and also a stronger person because of the ongoing challenges.
 
We need passionate people to help us be a driving force to make BAE Systems an industry leader in supporting disability equality.  I want to help people realise that they have the potential to do whatever they want because nothing is impossible!
 
My disability does not define who I am.  I am simply… me!