Neil’s story: Deaf Learners Conference 2015

Neil Johnson

Neil Johnson, NDCS Young Campaigners

As part of our work over the last year on closing the attainment gap for deaf learners, NDCS recently held the first ever Deaf Learners Conference in partnership with Education Scotland. The conference aimed to gather the thoughts and experiences of young deaf learners on their education ways it could be improved, and provide inspiration to encourage achievements and success. NDCS Young Campaigner Neil Johnston tells us about his experience of hosting the day.

25th of February, 9 o’clock, The Renfield St Stephen’s Church, Glasgow. The past couple of weeks of brainstorming, planning and preparations led to this moment. Around the large hall, seated around multiple tables, are deaf school pupils from all across Scotland all converging on this location to let their thoughts on their education be heard. My co-host, Amy, looks at me and asks, “you ready?” I nod and we head onto the stage. Amy gets ready to speak. There is no turning back now.

A member of the technical staff comes up to us and whispers to us – the microphones aren’t working properly, he will need a few minutes to fix them.

Technology, eh?

My name is Neil, and I was one of two hosts at the first ever Deaf Learners Conference. When my co-host and I stood on the stage, the first thing that ran through my head when I saw the sheer number of young people in the large hall was, “all these people are from Scotland?” To be fair, Scotland is a pretty small country compared to England, but you will never find such determined and enthusiastic young people who are dedicated to making their education not only right for them, but for future generations to come.

One of the main highlights of the day was hearing what the young people thought of their education as it is really important for them to voice their opinions on what and how they learn, as every person learns things in their own way. It was also really interesting to hear what solutions the young people came up with to tackle the different problems that arose from the group talks at each table. Another great highlight of the day was listening to the fantastic inspirational speakers. The amazing Frankie McLean and the seriously impressive Danielle Joyce, an 8-time World Record swimmer (and one of the tallest 19 year olds I have ever met, which is really useful if you’re a swimmer) as well as interviewing two other deaf role models – the hilarious Glen Hodgkinson and Jennifer Murray who is blind as well as deaf. Her determination to live life to the full is really inspirational.

If there is one thing that I’ll take from the day it’s that, even though the young people speak with their hands or voice, the passion for their education proves that there is more to deaf young people than society sees. All society needs to do is give them a chance to find their own voice and give them the right support, then there is nothing they can’t do. I loved every minute of the Deaf Learners Conference and I would love to do it again. Big thanks and well done to the National Deaf Children’s Society and Education Scotland for putting the whole event together.

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