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 campaigns@ndcs.org.uk 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.

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Five random reflections on deaf life at primary school

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.

What an ill chicken tells us about deaf access to universities and colleges


Sorry, I didn’t do a blog yesterday, my chicken was ill.

If you haven’t a clue what I’m talking about, then clearly you haven’t yet watched the BBC3 documentary, Deaf Teens: Hearing World, nor been aware of how a sequence involving a notetaker explaining she couldn’t support a deaf student for a whole 2 hours because her chicken was ill exploded onto the deaf community’s consciousness. Charlie Swinbourne’s blog explains how this quickly went viral, with a Facebook group attracting 1000 members in less than 24 hours and tweets abound using the #deafteens hashtag.

How did it pick up so much attention? Well, frankly it’s the most ridiculous (and hilarious) excuse I’ve ever come across for communication support failing to come through. Secondly, behind every brilliant joke is a regrettable knowing truth. In this case, that knowing truth is that deaf young people are rarely in control of their communication support at college and universities and too often are left to fend for themselves. The sequence hit a real nerve.

On the programme, this was the deaf teen’s first day at university and somehow they still managed to cock up (no pun intended) her communication support by not checking whether her notetaker could stay for the full 2 hours. Not exactly an auspicious start. In a further epic fail, another student on the programme at a different university on her first week was forced to lipread a lecturer in a dark room. My own experiences at university weren’t much better – I had to arrange my own provision and my “communication support” were often other students trying to make a quick buck. It also took around 9 months for my council to sort out my Disabled Students Allowance.

I’m sure there are a lot of good intentions out there. But a lot needs to change before deaf young people can be confident they’ll get the help they need at colleges and universities, without having to rely on the good health of chickens or other random occurrences.

The documentary, by the way, was brilliant and must-see viewing for anyone wanting to understand the experiences of deaf young people.

Deaf Awareness Week – tip number five

Image courtesy of NDCS

Deaf Awareness Week will be over at the end of this weekend for another year . Sadness, indeed. How was it for you? I think any opportunity to shout out about the simple things that can be done to include and involve deaf people is a good thing. With that in mind, here’s my fifth and final personal deaf awareness tip.

5. Don’t be scared to ask.

I won’t be offended. I probably won’t mind. Yes, go ahead and ask me about my deafness and how I communicate.

I’m often surprised people don’t. Do I look fierce? I may be increasingly grumpy with age but I’m not Gordon Brown, I don’t stab people with pens or call them a bigot behind their back. I’m always happy to talk about myself and my experiences as a deaf person. Frankly, I can’t think of many things more interesting. So go ahead and ask me what helps me understand what’s being said and how I prefer to get my voice across. It’s nice and I appreciate it. It’s better than having impossible conversations, trying to stumble on, hoping for the best before finally discovering that we weren’t actually talking about Chewbacca from Star Wars.

It’s also better than making assumptions about a deaf person’s communication approach straight-off. As a child, I didn’t sign, and would always be confused and irritated when people just started signing to me, without also speaking, before checking that I actually signed myself.

This is not to say that communication isn’t a two-way responsibility. It’s obviously important for deaf people themselves to take charge of their communication and proactively explain to other people what works for them. But many deaf children are not particularly confident in doing so, either because of their age or because they haven’t been empowered to be assertive about their deafness. So my fifth and final deaf awareness tip of the week is: don’t be scared to ask. Get down to a deaf child’s level and ask them to explain to you what communication approach works for them – sign? speech? combination? flags? drums? Make sure they know that they can stop you and ask you to do something in a different way. Check and refine your communication approach as you go.

And that’s it from me. Don’t forget that these are just my own deaf awareness tips that are most important to me – the National Deaf Children’s Society have something more official. And you can also check out a poster done by Welsh deaf pupils last year.

Finally, remember, deaf awareness is for life, not just for one week in May!

“Yes, I’m deaf…”

Image courtesy of NDCS

I thought I would share a little anecdote from last weekend where I was busy volunteering at a National Deaf Children’s Society “Getting Ahead” training weekend in Epping Forest. As always, it was great to meet some deaf youngsters and see them in action learning how to develop their confidence, think about their future and pick up new skills. They all seemed to have a great time, despite the cold turkey some felt from having to go without their mobiles for much of the weekend…

Anyhow, during the weekend, the teenagers were doing some team building activities with the centre staff, who had clearly not met many deaf children before. One instructor went up to one teenager, who communicated orally and was not “obviously” deaf. Here’s how their conversation went:

Instructor: “So this is a group that’s half hearing, half deaf then?”
Teenager: “No, we’re all deaf.”
Instructor: “You’re deaf?”
Teeanger: “Yes, I’m deaf. I talk but I’m still deaf.”

It could have been a very awkward conversation but the teenager defused it brilliantly, whilst also giving some impromptu deaf awareness training to the instructors. But what made it quite a nice moment for me was that when I first met the teenager, I expected him to be like myself when I was his age – very oral and, in a way, denying and “pretending” not be deaf. Give him a few days at a NDCS weekend, he’s proudly claiming an identity as deaf and addressing it openly, honestly and confidently.

A nice little demonstration of what I think are one of the benefits of NDCS events for deaf children and young people.

Deaf children’s deaf awareness

I’ve been doing a lot of musing recently. Earlier in the week, I mused on the definition of deafness and what impact this might have. I’ve also been musing on the deaf awareness of deaf children.

My musing was triggered by an NDCS weekend where I had a very enjoyable time with a bunch of young deaf cheeky little monkeys / rascals (delete as appropriate). At the fringes, I spent some time observing how the deaf children interacted with each other, and I was struck by how often basic deaf awareness rules were forgotten – like facing each other when talking. Children will obviously forget the rules when they’re having fun, but it still struck me as slightly ironic that deaf children might be some of the worse offenders when it comes to deaf awareness.

90% of deaf babies are born to hearing families with no experience of deafness, and around 85% of deaf children attend mainstream schools – so a fairly large portion of deaf children may rarely meet other deaf children until they go to something like a NDCS weekend.

I think it’s often a useful learning experience for the deaf rascals to meet other deaf rascals for precisely this reason – to learn more about who they are and how to communicate with each other. But it did make me wonder if more needs to be done to educate deaf children about deafness? And if so, how best to do this?

What do you think? As always, good to hear your thoughts.

Deaf children in Brighton calling for better deaf awareness

Image courtesy of Guardian website

Yesterday, I was in Brighton encouraging a group of deaf children and young people to rebel and rise up against the system. At least that’s what I thought I was doing when I signed up to a NDCS Grafitti Day. Sadly, no governments were brought crashing down, but it was still an exciting day nonetheless.

This was one of a range of NDCS’s events to bring deaf young people together – many of whom go to mainstream schools and are the only deaf person they know – and have fun at the same time. The young people spent the day creating funky designs and then using some spray paint cans to graffiti it onto some blank Primark t-shirts. I am sure there will be some deaf young people strutting some funky stuff today at schools.

I was volunteering at the event to make sure everyone was having fun and also to act as a deaf role model. As a campaigns officer, it’s also always a good opportunity to ask some probing questions and develop intelligence on what deaf young people are thinking and what the word on the street is.

By the end of the afternoon, I had concluded that Joe seems to be the most favoured candidate to win X Factor by some distance.

But also, more seriously, that there are a wide range of things that deaf young people want to see change. One of the themes that came out quite strongly at this event was deaf awareness by friends and teachers. One teenager said that she was so frustrated once by a teacher who couldn’t seem to remember basic tips on deaf awareness that she left the classroom and made a formal complaint. She remarked that other teachers seemed to constantly forget how to use a microphone.

Another wanted to see more done to raise deaf awareness in hearing children, and suggested the creation of a new website specifically aimed at children, to complement the new NDCS Buzz website for deaf children and young people. Despite only being 11 years old, she had written a short but impressive article for the Newsround presspack website all about her desire for people to be more deaf aware.

All in all, it was an impressive and inspiring bunch of deaf children and young people. Something tells me that maybe they will get to change the system after all.