It was 10 minutes into the presentation.
Martin Gallagher sat in his seat 15 rows back craning to hear what the presenter was saying. She had a voice which she conveyed effectively to the crowded room, the pitch raised and steady and the volume varied in such a way that the people should have been able to hear.
Except for those one in six people who have a hearing disability.
Gallagher (pictured above with hearing therapist Cherry McWha) was one of them but he was brave enough to stand up and ask the speaker to use a microphone because, as he told her and the other 100 plus people in the room, he had a hearing impairment.
There were mumbles; a man nearby whispered “why doesn’t he move closer to the front?”
Gallagher, a seasoned national and local politician, felt no shame in standing up but most of the others in the room with a hearing disability would no more have stood up than fly to the moon.
The stinging comment by the man at the presentation angered him when told about it some days later.
“That’s the equivalent of telling someone to go to the back of the bus when we should all be sensitive about creating an environment which makes it easier for people like me to say we have a problem and seek help for it.
“I don’t feel I need to advocate for all those others who can’t hear what’s going on,” Gallagher says.
“But the reality is so many people will not speak up because they are embarrassed. So if I in my blunt way can draw attention to their predicament, then that’s what I will do. I urge people like me with a hearing problem to speak up.”
He first sensed he had a problem back in 2007 when he was in Parliament and chairing the Law and Order and Foreign Affairs select committees.
“I was starting to strain to hear.”
But it was only earlier this year that the Hamilton deputy mayor, current city councillor and Waikato District Health Board member admitted he had a hearing problem.
That is not unusual. Experts say some people wait eight to 10 years.
“I have just procrastinated,” he says.
The realisation he needed to do something came during a presentation from Life Unlimited hearing therapists at a community event he attended in Hamilton.
Hearing therapist Cherry McWha remembers it well and is pleased to learn it was her advice that made Gallagher make an appointment for an evaluation in the lead up to the local body elections.
Eighteen months on, Martin Gallagher describes having his hearing tested and hearing aids fitted as being “transformational”.
“I’m still hot on those people who abandon microphones though. We just need to be massively sensitive to audiences and to the speakers I always say: ‘it’s not about you and what you need, it’s about your audience’.”
He still can’t believe how he procrastinated for so many years.
The Ministry of Health funds Life Unlimited to provide a free, independent national Hearing Therapy service for New Zealand citizens and permanent residents aged 16 years and over.
People can get information about the use of hearing aids and other listening devices, communication strategies, information about funding options and a referral to other health services if needed.
You can request an appointment either online or call 0800 008 011.