I went along to visit a hearing impairment unit within a large mainstream school in east London last week, something I don’t do enough of. The school itself was pretty depressing – a large inner city school with a crumbling facade and with two policeman on site at all times. Crikey.
But the unit itself was a revelation. The staff were friendly and clearly working hard for the twenty-so deaf children on site. But what impressed me most of all was the liveliness and confidence of the kids. Some of them were signing away. All seemed very happy with themselves as deaf young people. All very inspiring.
With deafness a low incidence disability and with schools for deaf children on the decline, many deaf children are now going to mainstream schools instead. It’s good that they get to stay in their local community and many specialist support services do a great job in supporting such children. But such children may be the only deaf person there and may hardly ever meet any other deaf children. It strikes me as being difficult to develop as a positive identify as a deaf person and to be confident and assertive about managing it if you need see any other positive examples of it around you and you’re surrounding by hearing children. I’ve met a few deaf children who, in these circumstances, try their best ‘not to be deaf’. Which is depressing and does little to help them ‘manage’ their deafness by confidently asserting their needs.
Visiting the unit confirmed something I’ve thought for a while, that there is a real value in units. They give deaf children the opportunity to make sure that deaf children can socialise with other deaf children and develop a positive identity as a deaf person, whilst being able to mix with hearing peers as well. And they don’t have to live a million miles away from their home. You get the best of both possible worlds, in a way and should be an important factor for parents of deaf children to think about when deciding where to send their deaf children.
And that concludes my late afternoon ramblings. It’s probably an over-simplification of the issues. What do you think?