Audiology stories…

I got roped into doing a ‘Vine’ today to support NDCS’s Listen Up! campaign to improve audiology services for deaf children. A vine is a series of very short video clips and you can see mine here, talking about my audiology experiences, whilst holding bits of paper with squiggles and questionable cartoons on them.

In case you can’t read my squiggles, one thing I fondly remember is getting new ear moulds. I used to love the feeling of warm goo being pumped into my ear. Heck, I still do.

My less happy memories including the lack of deaf awareness among the audiologists I used to have. The audiologist rarely spoke to me direct about my hearing loss or my hearing aid. I had no idea how to look after my equipment. And, until I was well into my twenties, I had no idea how to read an audiogram or what mine meant.

Judging by NDCS’s campaign report, this lack of deaf awareness is still an issue in some areas. Deaf young people and families have also told NDCS that their experiences include having to wait long times for appointments or for new ear moulds, resulting in ‘lost’ listening time.

NDCS have a big meeting coming up very soon with NHS England. You can help make the meeting a success by telling them about your own audiology stories. NDCS are looking for eye catching videos that they will help the bigwigs at NHS England understand why action is needed. You can send your videos to or you can share online on Twitter, using #AudiologyStory and mentioning @NDCS_UK. Hurry, you’ve got until the 4th March to get them in.


Social care safety nets for deaf children to be slashed?

Most of the time, I can see the logic behind a government policy, even if I don’t personally agree with it. From time to time though, I come across proposals that are just manifestly completely bonkers, shoddy and ill-thought out. And that happened last week when I went to the campaign launch for Every Child in Need to hear more about proposals to weaken social care safety nets.

A bit of context first. We know from research that deaf children are pretty much invisible on the radar of social care services. We know also there’s a real lack of specialist expertise in deafness among the social work profession. And we know that sadly deaf children are more vulnerable to abuse and mental health difficulties.

So it’s pretty alarming that the Government have put forward proposals that would have the effect of making it harder for deaf children and other children in need to get the help they need. Even more alarmingly, the Government’s own impact assessment has identified that these proposals come with considerable risks for children in need. To think the Government initially planned not to bother with any consultation on these changes…

Key issues include:

* Doing away with the requirement for social care services to do an ‘initial’ assessment of children referred to them. If urgent help is needed, it will take longer for this to be identified and sorted.

* Doing away with any timescales for when a full ‘core’ assessment must be done by.

* Weakening the requirement to produce a plan of action at the end of the assessment.

The government’s rationale? Social workers should be freed from ‘bureaucracy’ and trusted to get on with their jobs. In an ideal world, this would be fine. But we live in a world instead where there are fewer social workers around, particularly any with any expertise in deafness. We also live in a world where local authorities are slashing budgets for social care services. And we also live in a world where parents of children in need continuously have to take councils to court to get the help their child needs. In this context, these safety nets are more important than ever. They’re essential.

The Every Child in Need website has lots of info about how you can support the campaign, including by signing their petition against the changes.

New NDCS campaign, Hands up for help!, launches

Exciting day as the National Deaf Children’s Society officially launches the new Hands up for help! campaign. It’s all go, and everything I’ve been working on for the past few months is now out there.

To see it all, just pop along to the Hands up for help! webpage on the NDCS website. Here you can download the campaign report, find out what deaf young people had to say about the help they get at school and see an online interactive map showing how the help a deaf child gets depends on where they live, not what they need.

And now the hard work begins. Once the launch is out of the way, NDCS will be looking to get the Government to do something, to make sure every deaf child gets a fair chance at school. To do that, we needs lots of people to spread the word and contact their MPs about the campaign. So please support the campaign by contacting your MP. As always, our website makes it easy to do this and you don’t need to know who your MP is. And we won’t make you feel guilty if you don’t.

You can also show your support for the campaign by downloading a special NDCS Twibbon on Twitter and/or “liking” the fanpage on Facebook.

I’ll be doing some blogs about the campaign and what the report found in coming weeks. But in the meantime, let us know your thoughts on the campaign.

UPDATE: London’s Evening Standard have done an article on the campaign. It also has a comments box if you want to leave your comments/thoughts/experiences.

Audiology memories

All of NDCS’s work on the Hear for the Future audiology campaign got me reminiscing over the weekend about my own experiences of audiology as a deaf child. Other people go to parties or relax over the weekend, but it was raining a lot so I thought I would reminisce instead.

One of my earliest memories involved a trip to audiology when my Mum went to town to visit the hospital for some hearing aid batteries. The audiology clinic didn’t have any, apparently, because of cuts. To this day, I can remember my Mum declaring loudly that she would never vote Thatcher again. Looking back, this was probably my first “political experience” as a child.

Until I was 11, I wore a very bulky round-the-body hearing aid, the kind you now only see in museums. My sister had had a behind-the-ear hearing aid about three years before me and I was intensely jealous that I had to wait. I think I may have tried to steal her hearing aid at one point.

One of the things now that strikes me most is that nobody in the audiology clinic ever talked to me directly or listened to me. For example, I hated wearing a hearing aid in my left ear when I was a child because I couldn’t hear anything. Instead, I would just ‘feel’ a wall of sound that was hurt my head. Despite my complaints, I was still made to wear it, and nobody spent any time looking into why I always just switched it off. In addition, nobody ever explained anything to me. It wasn’t until I was around 25 that an audiologist finally explained to me what an audiogram meant or how to look after my hearing aid. I knew very little about my own deafness.

Finally, I was often stunned by how deaf unaware some audiologists would be. All to often, talking to me with his back to me and without my hearing aid on, and then just shouting at me.

Sadly, I’m not a child anymore and not allowed to go into paediatric audiology clinics without getting into a lot of trouble. But the impression I get is that things are now much better, if not perfect. Waiting times are down, according to Government figures, and new modern digital hearing aids are freely available. Certainly, I’m very happy with my adult audiology clinic, which is full of audiologists who take the time to talk to me and make sure I leave with what I need.

All of this makes me feel anxious that the cuts to audiology training courses threaten to take us back to the days when my Mum, not the most political of people, turn into a raging hardcore activist, plotting to bring the downfall of the Government. I’ll be getting my dear Mum to contact her MP to avoid it getting to that stage this time around. If you want to do the same, the NDCS website allows you to pop an email to your MP in 3 minutes. It even works out who your MP is.

What are your experiences of audiology? Are you equally worried by possible cuts and shortages in number of trained staff? Have your say and leave a comment below. Be good to hear your memories too.

How you can help stop cuts to audiology training

Image courtesy of

For the past month, the National Deaf Chidren’s Society (NDCS) has been looking into what’s going on with the Government’s plans to reform audiology training. What have we found out?

1) The cuts are definitely happening. We’ve seen a letter (though we weren’t meant to) from civil servants at the Department of Health saying that “in the current financial environment, this [Government plans] inevitably will mean some reductions in commissions”. We know that local health bosses in one strategic health authority is cutting the number of audiology training places by half. Others are telling existing students that they may not be able to finish the course.

2) The Department of Health consulted on changes to audiology training last year. The consultation closed in March 2009, but government Ministers still haven’t cleared a statement on a way forward nor explained how they’re taking into account views from the consultation. Yet the cuts are going ahead anyway…

3) Audiologists are up in arms. Nearly 2000 signed a petition (now closed) saying how unhappy they are about all this. That’s a lot of angry audiologists.

4) Even though the cuts are happening in England, feedback from professionals is that this is going to have knock-on effects for audiology services across the UK because many audiologists train in England.

5) Digging through audits from the newborn hearing screening programme, one of the most commonly cited problems is lack of audiology capacity. I read one report for an area in west London where 35 babies may been misdiagnosed by audiologists and “inappropriately discharged” because of there not being enough trained staff.

Crikey. With all this in mind, NDCS has decided to launch a campaign to stop the cuts. It’s called Hear for the Future (pun intended) and the aim is to ensure we don’t put audiology services for deaf children at risk. Deaf children need the best possible start in life to achieve their potential and be independent. They need more, not less audiologists, so they can be quickly assessed, fitted with hearing aids, and get the ongoing support they need. Personally, I would say that cutting the number of highly trained audiologists is, on balance, a pretty stupid thing to do.

So what is NDCS doing about it?

1) A letter has been sent to the Secretary of State for Health, Andy Burnham MP, to set out our concerns.

2) Letters have also been sent to strategic health authorities across England to get confirmation on their plans for audiology training and appeal to them to stop any cuts.

3) MPs are being briefed and NDCS hopes to get a few questions raised in Parliament on this issue.

And how you can help? Well, NDCS has set up a new campaign action where NDCS supporters can email their MP to ask them to support the Hear for the Future campaign. It’s dead easy – bang in your postcode, the website works out who your MP is and pulls up a template letter for you. If you’re happy, click on send, and Bob’s your uncle.

The more people who take part, the more the Government will take notice and stop the cuts before it’s too late. So please do get involved. And please do also spread the word to everyone you know.

PS Apologies if you had been unable to click on the link to the action earlier – a misplaced comma and the whole thing went haywire. It should now be working.

What do deaf children in Wales want to be when they grow up?

I was in Wales this weekend. No, it was intentional – I had my NDCS volunteers hat on and was helping out at an NDCS event in Llangrannog – a place which, until very recently, I could not place on a map. Or pronounce. Despite having enough Welsh blood in me to qualify for the Welsh football team, it was only the second time I had ever ventured to that part of the UK. Probably for the best – I spent a large part of the trip humming songs by Tom Jones or Duffy, or quoting catchphrases from Gavin & Stacey.

So, what’s occurring? As a NDCS volunteer, I have to generally look after the children and make sure they are having fun and getting involved. As a deaf NDCS volunteer, I also act as a ‘role model’ for the children. The events are always exhausting, but in a good way. Its great to see deaf children, many of whom have had limited contact with other deaf children and adults, mix with each other, and grow in confidence and assertiveness. I won’t lie to you, it also brings out the child in me. Often, I’m more excited about the activities than some of the children.

On this trip, I took the opportunity to ask the children what they want to be when they grow up. Asking deaf children what they want to be when they grow up is one of the things we’ve been doing as part our campaign to Close the Gap. In fact, we did a huge competition last year where we asked deaf children to draw us images of what they want to be when they grow up. The response was amazing.

The idea behind doing this was show the world that deaf children have the same ambitions and aspirations as all other children – and to highlight that many are being held back from reaching their potential. We’ll be using these drawings to promote our campaign.

The answers I got from these children in Wales included teacher, car designer, painter, footballer and vet. If these children succeed in their ambitions, if the right support is given to them to help them fulfill their potential, then we’ll know that our campaign to Close the Gap has been truly successful.