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Imagining a brighter future for deaf learners

Monday 13 May
Imagining a brighter future for deaf learners

- May 13 at 09:00

By Lizzie Ward

As the editor for Deaf Unity, I have been commissioning and editing articles about the experiences of deaf learners in education – from mainstream education to specialist Deaf schools to mainstream Universities. In the lead up to the Deaf Unity Deaf Learners Conference, we are fighting for a better future for deaf learners. One thing I’ve noticed is that education for deaf children and adults is never a one-size-fits-all situation. As a deaf child, my parents had to make some difficult decisions for me – I went the mainstream route and I wouldn’t say that my journey was a smooth one.

Support provision, even with a dedicated Unit for deaf students, was sometimes patchy. Provision often still remains inconsistent if there are a large number of students and not enough support staff. Early language acquisition – whether English or BSL or bilingualism – is paramount, and a good quality education often hinges on a number of different factors, including one to one support, periodic deaf awareness training for teachers, appraisals to check that support is working well for a student, and of course, the funding available.

The NDCS is campaigning for the right support for every deaf child, with the Stolen Futures campaign. Councils across the UK are cutting services for deaf children without being transparent about their actions, and as a result, essential support that I had as a deaf child and student is being cut. Without this support, I wouldn’t have achieved as much as I did at school, and I doubt my deaf peers would have either. It would have been harder – and it was already hard enough with lip-reading and only 90% support in class. My parents had to fight hard for my sister and me, for basic access.

Part of the problem, I feel, is that there is a stark lack of deaf awareness at Government level and in society generally. If we compare the UK to the USA, our acknowledgement of the needs of deaf and hard of hearing people lags far behind. The US may have more deaf people, but we have around 9 million deaf or hard of hearing people in the UK. This is not a small amount. Without a national deaf awareness campaign that filters into the public consciousness, we are in danger of marginalising deaf children further and making their futures darker.

This affects education; education is a right for every child. If this lack of deaf awareness continues, we will continue to have to fight for this basic human right. Education, at its best, opens the door into self-understanding, culture and the history of the world. Deaf learners need our support; as a society, we need to take notice of how to move forward, learning from our mistakes and campaigning for a brighter future. The way to do that is to listen to deaf learners, to learn from their experiences; to understand how every deaf child and student is different. To read more about the experiences of deaf learners, please visit: deafunity.org/category/deaf-learners/

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