Deaf Awareness Sessions in June/July 2022

Recently we have been providing to various organisations and institutions. I thought I would update you about a couple of them.

Robotica contacted me through social media a few months ago.  The power of social media never fails to amaze me for the way it is a great leveller for access for all members of the community, no matter whether Deaf or hearing.  Robotica and I were in discussion for a while, honing down the finer details of what they required in their session and their specific aims for the day. They are a local company to Norwich and for me, it was as much about what they are working to achieve by creating an online avatar system which replicates BSL and will supply information in areas that are not serviced by human interpreters or appropriate translation for Deaf people.  

All done

I was particularly interested in their connection to Cued Speech because that is something that was made available to me as an educational communication method between the ages of around seven to eleven years old at St William’s Way Primary School in Norwich.  I remember the Teacher of the Deaf coming to the school and teaching the method.  Cued Speech is used as a way of improving speech in Deaf children by using visual cues on the face. It is not a recognised language, more of a communication method.

Engaging with Robotica was really interesting, all of their staff are very well educated and come from varied backgrounds of Digital Media; IT and Software Engineering and so forth.  My background is in IT and I still find it fascinating even now and enjoy the jargon.  So they had all the technical skills but needed more on the Deaf side.  We looked at Deaf Awareness including – fingerspelling; lipreading and lots of specific questions related to the language and community.  We addressed the differing needs of the Deaf Community and how you communicate with someone if you don’t already know their preference (speech; lipreading; BSL; writing etc).  There were some very well insightful questions regarding the impact of technology on the Deaf Community.  The use of cochlear implants among Deaf people and how some use speech as well as BSL.  My experience was that I was brought up in an Oral system but Sign Language is my native language.

The team really enjoyed the session and kept me hydrated with Pepsi Max so I was cooking on gas!

Another session I provided recently was an entirely different environment.  A privately run independent school in Suffolk, near Ipswich.  It is in a beautiful location with stunning architecture and I have often passed it and wondered about it.  This school dates back to the 17th century and has historic links to the Navy.

Again, the power of social media, they contacted me out of the blue having been researching a good provider of training.  They found my website which my partner and I have worked hard on and were impressed by the clear and logical way it was presented and wanted me to provide their sessions based on what they had seen.

With any booking for Deaf Awareness, we discussed in detail their aims for the day and what they would like covered.  We were able to create a bespoke day for them, consisting of several sessions for different groups of students. During the day, 9 – 4.30, we presented five sessions to the students.  The school were particularly looking at being inclusive in sports and we focussed on that and included lots of discussion on the topic including why be inclusive, what does it mean to be Deaf aware in the field of sports and so on.

Each group had around 16 students and what impressed me the most was the difference in attitude within that particular school.  The students were of international background and they were the most polite and respectful young people I have encountered, all with a very motivated attitude towards learning and extremely open to the topics we were teaching.  My partner and I delivered the training and made use of a BSL Interpreter too.  

There were two boys, twins, who looked remarkably similar, and when I had a technical issue early in the day, went out of their way to help me with the equipment I was using.  What made an impact on me was their lack of reserve, that they saw me as a person, not a DEAF person or different, and they wanted to help, even before we had taught the skills.  These young people made a huge impression on me and later on I took them to one side and asked a little more about them and where they were from.  They were Russian.  I wanted to share this because of the issues we face today of judgement and partiality.  It would be easy to assume prejudice due to nationality and the current atrocities, but these boys were outstanding in their respectful and kind attitude to me.  This touched my heart.  They were so keen to learn and asked me lots of questions in regard to learning BSL and other things pertinent to deafness.  At the end of the day they came forward to shake my hand and thank me for teaching that day.  Their handshakes were good and firm, I joked with them that they must be good at rugby with a grip like that! I wish them the best of luck with their future, they were lovely personalities to meet.

So during these sessions, due to the multinational vibe we touched a lot on international signs – we talked about Russian; Fuji; Polish; French; German; Chinese and more that have slipped my mind for now.  They were all keen to ask questions about the differences.  The Chinese students were so lovely, bless them! They were all smiles and quick to try out the signs I was teaching… I had to try and slow them down at times when they were jumping ahead!  

I felt like I was on MasterMind for most of the day – I encouraged them to ask questions and they didn’t hold back – ‘What is it like having a cochlear?’ ‘Why do you use your voice?’  ‘Why don’t you use your voice?’ The questions were coming thick and fast!

These kids were like sponges.  I taught them fingerspelling and they absorbed it straight away and were quick to practice among themselves. By the end of each session they were able to confidently sign their names and use greetings and ask each other how they were and so on.  One Chinese student wanted to know about unique signs to China and about one handed fingerspelling.  I was explaining how I prefer it when I can use experienced Interpreters with this method and my partner and I use it all the time and I find it quicker and more effective.  Personally, it is so much easier with one-handed fingerspelling to see the vowel letters I find, than using the British two handed method.

I loved the lunch hall, it reminded me of Harry Potter, it was massive!  There are around 700 students in the school aged 11 – 18.  There are huge painting of famous Admiral of the sea included Nelson on the wall.  We got chatting to a lovely A level student who was French and she was saying that they prefer the British education system over their own as they see it as superior.  Her English was so sophisticated and fluent, it put us to shame by comparison. My Interpreter was really impressed with her use of the language.

At the start of each session, I asked the group if they knew anyone who was Deaf.  The response was interesting, some knew a family member who was Deaf or someone who worked as a therapist for the Deaf and so on. One girl made me feel quite emotional.  She put her hand up and said “I was born Deaf… I wear hearing aids”… She went on to explain that she had never told anyone at school because she feared the reaction but having seen my session she wanted to tell everyone.  That was the first time she had ‘gone public’.  Apparently she was born without ear canals but as she grew they developed and she was able to use hearing aids to hear.  She is one of the triplets, only two at the session. When it comes to lipreading exercise and they were so telepathic. Even the Russian was lipreading in their mother tongue. Her and the twin Russian boys left a huge impression on me from that day.  All the students came and thanked me in sign language at the end of the day and we used a new sign – the Deaf clap (jazz hands in the air).

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