Making deaf children matter

Musings and blogs from a deaf campaigner

Posts Tagged ‘Deaf’

Five random reflections on deaf life at primary school

Posted by Ian Noon on March 11, 2014

I spent most of last week musing on life at primary school. I do love a good amble down memory lane but I had another reason; I had volunteered to give a presentation to parents of deaf children at a National Deaf Children’s Society family weekend. These are weekends for parents to learn more about various issues facing deaf children and to meet other families with the same kind of experiences.

I was mainstream all the way through the system. I loved primary school; I got my education. It’s fair to say I was probably a bit of a swot. I loved getting gold stars and certificates. My best friend now and back then in primary school is the one and same very person and he doesn’t even wonky ears like me. But primary school did come with its challenges and listening to other deaf adults, I get the impression that I wasn’t alone in these kind of experiences.

So without further ado, I present my top five random reflections of times gone by at primary school:

1) Teachers never remembered to turn the microphone on. Every morning I left my microphone on my teacher’s desk. And nearly every morning I would then have to put my hand up as the lesson started to prompt my teacher. Luckily, I was a cocky confident little boy who was happy to do so. And it didn’t stop there; teachers invariably forgot to turn the microphone off. The range on these microphones back then was quite something. I heard all sorts of staff room conversations that I shouldn’t have been listening to. I felt like James Bond Junior sometimes.

2) The Teacher of the Deaf came to visit weekly to check everything was alright. She was great. But she seemed to have an impeccable knack for coming exactly when lessons were getting most interesting. I would always have to sheepishly leave the classroom at inopportune times and then return to loads of questions from my friends as to where I’d been bunking off to.

3) My speech had a bit of work. A lot of work. I didn’t always enjoy it though I think I knew then it was done with good intentions and “for my own good”. But there were times I felt completely demoralised realising again and again that I wasn’t saying something right. And it’s left a legacy of me hating to do any public speaking,  finding myself worrying more about how I’m saying something, rather than what I’m saying and often ending up having a verbal car crash with my words.

4) Break times were sometimes tough. It could be a struggle to work out what my friends were up to. Being spontaneous was a challenge. As a result, I often ended up trying to ‘arrange’ and ‘control’ the fun myself by putting myself in charge. That way I could know what was going on. Unfortunately, it didn’t endear me to my friends and I ended up getting a reputation for being bossy and bolshy.

5) Finally, teachers invariably made assumptions about what I already knew, based on what everyone else already knew. And, invariably, they were mistaken. The classic example on my part is the Lord’s Prayer. I was at a Church of England school so every morning we all had to recite the Lord’s Prayer. For six years I didn’t have a clue what the words were. In fact, it wasn’t until Cliff Richard did that millennium prayer song, that I finally picked it up. Of course, everyone else picked it up just by listening to everyone else. I was too embarrassed to admit I didn’t know. The moral of the story is that gaps in incidental learning means there is loads that deaf children don’t quite pick up. And it turns out apparently that our Farther arts in Heaven, rather than Devon. Who knew?

It’s difficult to be angry or sad about any of the above. Had I not worked through any of the above challenges, I wouldn’t be where I am today. But part of me hope that things are better now, that deaf children are thriving rather than coping.  And that teachers are reading the guidance produced by (shameless plug alert) the National Deaf Children’s Society. I suspect though that there is more work to raise awareness among teachers of the little idiosyncrasies around supporting deaf children in school.

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Debating deaf children’s futures

Posted by Ian Noon on October 13, 2013

After 18 months of campaigning and 50,000+ petition signatures, MPs have agreed that concerns over cuts to funding to support for deaf children are so serious that Parliament should debate them.

Deafness is invariably described as the invisible disability. The needs of deaf children too often get overlooked. Well, not on Thursday. This isn’t going to be a debate in some poky committee room – it will be on the floor of the House of Commons. The needs of deaf children will take centre-stage and the Government will be forced to explain what exactly they are doing to make sure deaf children get the help they need. And the whole world can judge whether this is good enough. This is a big deal, ladies and gentlemen.

The debate is going to be an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the fact that help for deaf children is being cut across the country. The Government say they have protected funding for vulnerable learners yet this protection isn’t being carried through at a local level. 29% of local authorities are cutting services and another 25% are at risk, according to analysis from the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS).

You might take the Government’s point that this is a matter for local communities. But there’s only so much fire-fighting that parents can do without getting exhausted or neglecting their core job – being Mums and Dads to their deaf child. It’s time for the Government to take action to stop the fires starting in the first place.

There are different ways the Government can do this. It could intervene directly in some of the worse cases and name and shame council bosses that don’t protect funding for vulnerable learners. The Government seems quite happy to tell councils what to do about rubbish collections and council magazines after all.

It could also introduce stronger checks over councils. It could make Ofsted inspect specialist services for deaf children. It’s easy for councils to cut services if they don’t think there are going to be any serious consequences.

The debate is also going to be an opportunity to say that, well actually, before even all of these cuts, in many places the support deaf children were getting wasn’t good enough. Over two thirds of deaf children fail to get 5 good GCSEs. It’s an opportunity to debate openly the fact that:

  • Too many families aren’t getting enough support after their deaf child is born. Where they want to learn sign language, families sometimes have to pay thousands of pounds just to learn to communicate with their own child.
  • Too many deaf children don’t get the specialist support they need in the classroom. They have to learn in poky noisy classrooms without extra help and support.
  • Too many deaf young people don’t get the help they need to prepare for adulthood and independence.

My biggest fear is that the Government will, come Thursday’s debate, do as they’ve done before and just bat away concerns. They’ll point to tiny pots of money given for small projects – not unappreciated but not enough. They’ll point to new laws on special educational needs even though this doesn’t address the fundamental issues deaf children face.

This is why a big turnout from MPs is needed. The more MPs that turn up and say something must be done, the more likely the Government will actually do something substantial. So MPs need to know this debate is important. MPs need to hear from families and deaf people of the individual stories and challenges that deaf children face. MPs need to challenge the Government to do more, much more.

And hopefully then Thursday’s debate will be the start of a lasting change that makes a big difference to deaf children.

To ask your MP to come along on Thursday, you can email him / her via the NDCS website. For more information about the debate, you can also check out NDCS’s Stolen Futures campaign pages. You can email your MP via the

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Pushing the disability ministry to take disabled access seriously

Posted by Ian Noon on July 17, 2013

A minor little campaign victory achieved at NDCS the other week: the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) accepted that deaf people should not be forced to use the phone to make a claim for the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP) benefit. Usually, I do a little jig and get the Bucks Fizz out when a campaign victory has been achieved. But this was a very small, unsettling one and which left an unpleasant taste in the mouth.

How come? Because the only real concession is that deaf people have been given a postal address that they can write to to ask for a paper form instead.

And why is it an unsettling one? Because it was such a small issue that should absolutely never have been an issue at all. And because it’s revealed some rather interesting things about how the Department for Work and Pensions, which has responsibility for disability issues across Whitehall, seem to approach issues around access for disabled people.

For example, who at DWP thought it was OK to propose that the only way that a disabled person could make a claim was via a telephone?

If an online system is being created, why not wait until this is developed before rolling out the new benefit so that more people can access?

And, the worse one of all for me, who on earth thought it was acceptable to suggest that if a deaf person couldn’t use the phone, it didn’t matter too much because they could ask a family member to call DWP for them?

Something has gone very horribly wrong when the Minister and officials responsible for disability have to be hectored at some length and for some time to take a tiny step to improve access.

Official were seemingly operating in ignorance of the Equality Act 2010 and its central tenets to remove discrimination and promote access for disabled people. Throughout the whole exchange with DWP, it was abundantly clear that the needs and the convenience of their ‘system’ was far more important than the physical access needs of disabled people.

And this is before we’ve got to the raft of spending and welfare cuts that are going to impact on disabled people (and which the Government refuses to assess the impact of – another legal requirement). This was a small issue. But it said big things about the Government’s wider attitude towards disabled people.

I despair. It makes me angry and depressed. But equally it makes me more determined to keep challenging the Government. And I hope others do too.

P.S. If you’re not sure what this new PIP benefit is all about, both the National Deaf Children’s Society and Action on Hearing Loss have recently produced some information resources on PIP for deaf young people, parents and deaf adults.

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Being deaf and dealing with concentration fatigue

Posted by Ian Noon on June 27, 2013

I went to a great conference today. It was riveting and I was hooked on pretty much every word. And then I got home and collapsed on the sofa. I’m not just tired, I’m shattered. I’ve had to turn my ears off to rest in silence and my eyes are burning. I’ve also had about 3 cups of tea just to write this paragraph.

Boo-hoo, so the Noon is tired, so what? True. People go through worse. But I do also think the fact that the impact of deafness doesn’t just manifest itself in communication is ever really that well understood. It’s about the energy involved in lipreading and being attentive all the day long. Processing and constructing meaning out of half-heard words and sentences. Making guesses and figuring out context. And then thinking of something intelligent to say in response to an invariably random question. It’s like doing jigsaws, Suduku and Scrabble all at the same time.

For deaf children and young people, especially, I don’t think this impact is as widely recognised as it should be. Advice to teachers on working with deaf children tends to talk far more about language and communication, rather than concentration fatigue.

And some deaf children and young people I meet haven’t been given the space to talk about what impact deafness has on them and to work out strategies to deal with it; like taking regular breaks and being honest to grown ups that they’re tired, without fear they’ll be labelled as lazy. When I was younger, I was a little embarrassed to be so tired all the time. I would force myself to go out and be busy and out there when really all I wanted to do was crawl under the sofa and nap for a hundred years. Nobody ever really told me that this was ‘OK’.

It follows though to when deaf young people grew up and become deaf professionals. It was a long while before I started to openly admit to colleagues that long or successive meetings are the enemy of me and that I would need extended breaks to be able to function later. And to get friends to realise that if I wasn’t saying very much in the pub, it’s probably cos I was too tired to think.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that deaf people can do anything and everything. We can change the world. But we might need a nap and a cuppa tea every once in a while, so don’t judge us.

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Another deaf superstar

Posted by Ian Noon on January 28, 2011

And here’s another example of deaf young people breaking down barriers – a nice story from Sussex about Kathy, a deaf young person from Belfast who became a teacher of both deaf and hearing children. Very inspiring.

Any more examples out there? Any more, and I might start to think deaf people are taking over the world…

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Research on access to telephony services

Posted by Ian Noon on September 30, 2010

Last night, I took part in an online focus group discussion about telephony services for some research being done for Ofcom. It was great fun. I would have done it for free, and they gave me £35 for taking part. Chocolate digestives all around!

I was asked lots of questions on what I wanted from telephony services and what I thought about text relay services, where a woman from Liverpool (where the service is based) reads out what I type on a textphone to the hearing person and then types back their reply. I gave my usual spiel that I only used text relay when I absolutely had to: that it was impersonal, took ages to make a phone call and that I hated having someone else speaking for me. It almost feels like having your Mum making phone calls for you. No wonder that so few deaf children and young people seem to use it.

Interestingly, I was then asked about what I thought about other technologies, such as video relay and captioned relay. Captioned relay would mean that I could speak for myself but that an operator would listen in and transcribe the conversation on my computer screen through the magic of the internet. It’s already readily available in the USA and Australia. It would be perfect for me and I would be phoning everyone up all the time if it was available here. I would be far better able to campaign for deaf children; I’d be on direct dial to the Houses of Parliament! So I felt encouraged that the researchers were sounding out people’s views on this and looking at other options. It’s on the agenda, which is a start.

Fingers crossed that the research finally leads to some positive change in the UK and that Ofcom act on it. It’s the 21st century: deaf children and adults shouldn’t be stuck with poor telephony services that don’t meet our needs.

The research are apparently still looking for people to take part – their website has more details. And my friend Tina does a lot of campaigning on this, as you can see from her blog, as do the Telecommunications Action Group (TAG).

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Office for Disability Issues try to define “disability”

Posted by Ian Noon on September 29, 2010

I got an email the other day, as you do, about some consultation on draft guidance from the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) on the Equality Act 2010. The guidance sets out an “illustrative and non-exhuastive” list of the factors that might be considered when deciding if someone is disabled or not in the courts. They say “non-exhaustive” though they clearly had a good try. An attempt to try and describe what an elephant looks like if there ever was one.

Anyhow, the email expressed fear that the guidance is saying that British Sign Language users would not be regarded as disabled. This is because in the list of what should not be regarded as a factor in deciding if someone is disabled, it says:

“Inability to converse in a language which is not the speaker’s native language”

It’s not particularly clear, but my guess is that the intention is to highlight that one is not disabled just because one speaks a different language. So people who speak Welsh are not disabled, for example. Nor is my sign language interpreter.

Does this mean that under the guidance that deaf British Sign Language users would not be regarded as being disabled? I’m not a legal expert but I don’t think so. Looking at the list of factors that should be considered in deciding if someone has a disability, it says:

“Difficulty hearing someone talking at a sound level which is normal for everyday conversations, and in a moderately noisy environment.”

“Difficulty hearing and understanding another person speaking clearly over the voice telephone.”

“Taking longer than someone who does not have an impairment to say things.”

So, on the face of it, deaf children and young people would clearly be regarded as disabled under this guidance, whether or not they used sign language. That said, the line on native languages is not particularly clear and is a bit unhelpful. I understand NDCS plans to respond to the consultation to suggest to the ODI that this should be clearer.

As an aside, it’s quite an interesting list. I haven’t yet read the whole document but considering the ODI are meant to follow the social model of disability, the list sometimes reads a rather negative list focusing on the inadequacies of disabled people, rather than the inadequacies of the world around them in failing to ensure disabled people have full access. I now also seem to be doubly disabled - “Persistant difficulty in remembering the names of familiar people” also makes it on the list. Oh dear.

Be interested, as always, to hear your thoughts.

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X Factor: looking for pig talent

Posted by Ian Noon on August 23, 2010

This could be interesting, I thought, as I sat down for my Saturday evening viewing. Pigs battling it out, a kind of “Porkie’s Got Talent” and a plethora of terrible bacon-related puns from Dermot?

Alas, it was one of many subtitling errors on Saturday’s opening to the new series. I think they meant to say “big talent”?

Yes, the X Factor is back. Which means the return of tone-deaf singers, lots of shouting from Dermot, fashion wars between Dannii and Cheryl and TRULY AWFUL subtitles.

Every year, it gets worse. Numerous typos and subtitles so out of sync with what’s being said that I only get the lame jokes around 5 minutes later. I could kind of forgive it for the live shows (though BBC news manage to at least appear to be trying to match the speech with the subtitles) but even on non-live shows, the subtitles on the X Factor are among the worse I’ve seen on any programme.

Is there some assumption at ITV that they don’t need to bother with decent subtitles because deaf people don’t listen to music? If so, then this is a pretty idiotic and offensive assumption to make. Lots of deaf children and young people watch and enjoy the X Factor. It’s unacceptable they don’t have equal access to what is one of ITV’s most popular shows.

I’ve emailed them to complain – if you want to do the same, the email address is viewerservices@itv.com. I’ll keep a keen eye out for any more errors in coming weeks.

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New blog from deaf young person

Posted by Ian Noon on August 17, 2010

I have competition: a young deaf person, who did some work experience for the National Deaf Children’s Society recently, has set up her own blog, called Feel the Breeze. Already she’s been talking about subtitles, the underground and Ryanair – which incidentally happen to be the three things that most often turn me into an angry deaf man, so it’s good to see I’m not alone.

It’s a great to see an example of a deaf young blog with deaf young people speaking directly for themselves. Hopefully, I will be seeing lots more.

Any other good young deaf blogs that are worth following?

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University access for deaf students fail

Posted by Ian Noon on May 26, 2010

Image courtesy of the Northern Echo

An interesting article appeared in Guardian yesterday about Rosie Watson, a deaf mature student, who took Durham University to court for breaking disability discrimination laws.

On the one hand, it’s a very inspiring story about a gutsy deaf person who refused to let the university get away with it. On the other hand, it’s appalling what she went through what she did. The Guardian also reports that disabled students at Oxford are twice as likely to drop out and that the Students Loans Company is failing to approved Disabled Students Allowances quickly enough.

It all reminded me of own experiences at university (many years ago), which I blogged about ages back. Back then I speculated whether this was a one-off experience. I’m beginning to think that it probably isn’t.

It all raises a lot of questions. Are these one-off cases or widespread problems across all universities? Why? Do deaf students know their rights? Are they making a fuss about it or are they just “coping”? Were universities having a sick day when the Disability Discrimination Act was passed? Do they think that deaf young people are so thick that they would never think of applying, or even going to university?

What are your thoughts? Do you know of any cases where deaf students have been let down at university? Be good to hear about it.

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