My experience of Labour party conference…

Erin 1

Erin McKay

Hello, I am Erin and I’m from Wiltshire. I have a hearing loss and wear two hearing aids. I am currently doing A Level History, Philosophy and English Literature. I attended the Labour Party Conference and I’d like to tell you a bit about my experience.

On Sunday 24 September I got on the train to Brighton. It took a little under four hours to get there. I was on my way to the Labour Party conference where I had 8 meetings lined up to talk about three campaigns that the NDCS are doing. They are Listen Up to improve children’s audiology services, Right to Sign, putting British Sign Language (BSL) in schools as a GCSE and PIP’d Off, about Personal Independence Payments, and the difficulties that deaf people have in getting them. I talked about the Right to Sign campaign as it was the one I helped create with the last Youth Advisory Board.

On the Monday, Brighton was quite rainy and we arrived at the hotel at around 10am to get ready for our first meeting, it was with Sharon Hodgson, the MP for Sunderland West. She is the Shadow Minister for Public Health. She was really nice and we talked about Listen Up, Right to Sign and PIP.

Erin and Sharon

While we were talking with her, the next MP arrived – Alex Cunningham of Stockton. He was also really nice. He gave us some ideas of what to do with the campaigns and who to talk to about different bits. He agreed to ask his local hospital to sign up to the inspections for Listen Up!

Our next meeting was with Liz Twist who is the new MP for Blaydon. We talked about Listen Up! and Right to Sign. Afterwards we met Stephanie Peacock who is also a new MP, for Barnsley. She agreed to ask her local hospital to be part of the inspection process and we also talked about Right to Sign and having Teachers of the Deaf in Schools. We then had a break for lunch and walked around the exhibitions.

After lunch, we saw Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. I managed to get my picture taken with both of them. Our next meeting was with Dawn Butler, the MP who signed a question in parliament. We talked to her about Right to Sign, and she seemed surprised to see that I couldn’t sign. She had already done most of what we wanted to ask her to do, and she was happy to talk about other things to help our campaigns. Next was Helen Goodman who had done a lot of work already with the National Deaf Children’s Society and she was very happy to help us. We talked about Right to Sign, Listen Up and PIP.

Erin labour

Our last meeting was with Tracy Brabin, who was friends with Jo Cox, who I wrote a bit about loneliness for. We also talked about Listen Up and Right to Sign. I had a really good time and would like to do it again.

The best bit of my day was seeing the taxi drivers showing their support for the Uber ban in London by beeping their horns. It went on for about 20 minutes and was really loud! I also liked meeting all the different MPs. Top tips from me for conference are: to share – talk to the MPs and ask questions if you don’t understand something; they are ordinary people.

Right to Sign campaign update: Minister says no

Ian_Noon

Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research, National Deaf Children’s Society

Earlier this year, the National Deaf Children’s Society Youth Advisory Board, after months of hard work, launched their new Right to Sign campaign, calling for young people to have more opportunities for young people to learn sign language in schools.

They surveyed over 2,000 young people – deaf and hearing – and found that a whopping 92% thought schools should offer British Sign Language (BSL) as a GCSE. They published a report setting out the results in full and the case for action.

And the response from the Government? No.

Yesterday, when asked if the Department for Education in England would encourage exam boards to offer BSL as a GCSE, the Minister, Nick Gibb, said: “At present, there are no plans to introduce any further GCSEs beyond those to which the Government has already committed.”

To our knowledge, this is the first time the Government has ruled out introducing a BSL GCSE since the campaign was launched. It’s a massive disappointment and a real slap in the face for all of the hard work done so far by the Youth Advisory Board.

It’s hard not to feel angry about the response. It’s simply unfair and unjust that BSL, an official language in the UK used by thousands of people, is being treated in a way which implies it has a lower status and importance than other languages already being taught as GCSEs. It could even be seen as discriminatory to deaf people.

We’re not going to be deterred and will keep pressing the Department for Education in England for action – our briefing sets out some of the arguments we’re using. Two members of the Youth Advisory Board will also be asking MPs to support their campaign when they head to party political conferences later this month.

If you want to show your support for our work, please sign the Youth Advisory Board petition. More information about the different ways you can support the campaign can be found on the Buzz website.

 

Growing up in a mainstream school

Emily primary

Emily Meacher (aged 4 years) Policy and Campaigns Support Assistant

Jake’s recent blog got me thinking about my own personal experience at primary school, and how I wasn’t alone in these experiences. And so below are some random reflections of my time at Codicote primary school.

 

I was the only deaf kid in school- children used to say to me ‘why are you death?’ and I would have to try and explain at 6 years old how I am deaf and not actually dead.

I used the deaf card (I started young!) to get out of recorder sessions- I couldn’t bear the noise (can anyone?) and felt elated when I was let off.

Children were curious about how my radio aid worked, so the teacher had the bright idea of sending me out into the playground where everyone watched me. The teacher would say something into the aid but I didn’t understand a word. I felt a bit miffed about being sent out whilst the whole class gawped through the window.

I used to take part in school plays, and didn’t hear or understand any of the songs- I would just move my mouth and pretend to go along with it.

I used to go to my friends’ sleepovers and whilst a lot of the kids were up late chatting in the dark, I would be asleep. I would wake up and see the kids playing with my hearing aids, trying to put them into their ears out of curiosity.

I had a best friend Claire, who I am still best friends with to this day whose mother, told Claire she was worried about her hanging out with me- as her voice had started to get ‘lazy’- and that she was starting to sound like me! Of course, Claire didn’t listen thankfully.

Although there were times when I struggled, overall I received good educational support in school and if it wasn’t for the support there, I don’t think I’d have passed the entrance exam (this has now changed -they no longer have an entrance exam) to get into Mary Hare, secondary school. It was at Mary Hare that I developed my deaf identity.

Since my time working at the National Deaf Children’s Society, it pains me to think that some deaf children out there do not get the same support I had growing up. Some deaf children are coping, rather than thriving. This needs to change – we are working hard to challenge proposals to close resource bases and reduce support – one example being in Manchester. Hazel, our Regional Director for the North West and Sally, our Policy and Campaigns Officer fought hard alongside passionate parents, and in the end we managed to reduce the amount of budget cut to the service. Not only that, but we also managed to save one of the two resource bases under threat. Great news!

If you want to get involved in campaigns like this, then join with me and the Policy and Campaigns team by signing up to our Campaigns Network here: http://www.ndcs.org.uk/help_us/campaigns/campaign_with_us/campaign_network.html

 

Are universities going to become more inclusive?

Martin-Mclean-cropped

Martin McLean, Education and Training Policy Advisor (Post-14), National Deaf Children’s Society

Pretty soon, lots of teenagers will be receiving their A-level and BTEC results and find out if they will go to their preferred choice of university. I can remember how exciting and also nerve-wracking it felt to go to university for the first time. If you are deaf like me I think it can be even more so: will it be easy to follow the lectures? Will I make friends? Is communication going to be a problem?

Some readers of this blog will remember our fight against the changes to Disabled Students Allowances back in 2014 and 2015. Whilst the Government decided to maintain DSA funding for specialist note-takers (people with training specifically in writing notes for deaf students), funding for ordinary manual note-takers was removed for the 2016-17 academic year along with some other forms of less-specialised support such as library support assistants and proof-readers.

One of the Government’s justifications for cutting DSAs was because it wanted universities to develop a more inclusive approach to teaching so that learning is accessible to more students. No objections to that – we have always wanted universities to be more flexible. There have been plenty of deaf students who have expressed their frustration over the years at reasonable adjustments not being made such as Dean Kamitis in his recent Limping Chicken blog.

The Government has published guidance for higher education providers on ‘Inclusive Practice’. The guidance encourages universities to make changes so that their courses are more accessible to students with disabilities. Some universities are leading the way. I recently visited Du Montford University in Leicester and was impressed with their approach:

You have been waiting for it and here is the ‘but’. Does a piece of guidance go far enough? – the Government does not appear to have any stick (e.g. loss of funding) to beat universities with should they decide to ignore this guidance. Also, a couple of practitioners have said to me that they are concerned that some universities see inclusive practice as simply about rolling-out lecture capture technology. See this lecture recording for an explanation of how lecture capturing can benefit disabled students: see this lecture recording – oh wait…..no subtitles! And here lies the issue for many deaf students. Lecture capturing is not going to make a difference and could actually make access worse if more course content and materials move online.

Deaf students are small in number – most university disability advisors might be aware of 2 or 3 deaf students at their institution at most. This means that in general, teaching staff are not in regular contact with deaf students and have little awareness of their needs. This is why the National Deaf Children’s Society has extended our Supporting Achievement resources to higher education. Supporting the Achievement of Deaf Young People in Higher Education aims to provide disability advisors and other higher education staff with the information required to ensure deaf students get the support they need.

I know from experience, having people around who understand the barriers you face and how to communicate with you properly makes a huge difference. For deaf young people starting uni this September, it might help reduce those fresher’s week nerves!

If you are a young person at uni and you have having difficulties because your course is not fully accessible, you can get in touch with our helpline for further advice and guidance: http://www.ndcs.org.uk/family_support/how_ndcs_can_help/support_and_advice/

This blog is mostly relevant to students from England only as the DSA changes have not taken place in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. However, the Supporting Achievement resource is aimed at universities across the whole of the UK.

5 Ways A Radio Aid Can Help A Deaf Toddler

Alison Taylor, Senior Information Editor, National Deaf Children’s Society

Compelling evidence shows (see the research) that giving deaf children radio aids in the critical early years, before they start school, can be hugely beneficial for developing their language and supporting communication. But in which everyday situations can they help? Here’s our top five.

1. Family time at home
Whether it’s playing a game together, reading a story before bedtime or talking to your child when they’re in the garden or another room, a radio aid can help deaf children hear their parent’s voice clearly and directly, making them feel connected to their parents and helping build strong relationships.

2. Communicating in the car
When you’re driving you can’t turn to your child to sign, or for them to lip-read you, so being able to communicate effectively is vital when parents are travelling with their child. Radio aids can cut through the background noise of the car engine and the road, allowing you to soothe them if they’re having a tantrum, talk about where you’re going in the car and even play games to make the journey more fun!

3. At nursery or pre-school
Early years settings can be fantastic places for children to get a head start in developing their language and communication before they start school, but they can also be noisy places. Nursery staff can use a radio aid to get a deaf child’s attention to make sure they’re taking part in activities fully and mixing with other children, as well as starting to learn.

4. Staying safe when out and about
You’re at the park and your child is about to walk into the path of a swing, or worse – they let go of your hand and are headed straight for a road – how do you stop them when they can’t hear you calling after them? A radio aid means that your child can hear you at a distance and it will cut through the background noise so you can alert them to danger.

Helen and Alex tell us how a radio aid keeps their three-year-old daughter, Gwen, safe when crossing the road and riding her bike.

5. Actually, whenever they can’t see you
As a parent of a deaf child, you’ll often need to stop what you’re doing and face your child to get their attention and to talk to them, whether you’re out shopping, your child is in a pushchair or in a seat on the back of your bike – whenever they can’t see you. Being deaf aware and creating good conditions for listening are still important, but a radio aid can be a great help for busy parents in those everyday noisy situations that you just can’t control.

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Think radio aids might be right for your child?

Find out more about radio aids and how to get one by downloading our booklet for families How Radio Aids Can Help.

Try out a radio aid for free through our Technology Test Drive service.

Read our Quality Standards for the Use of Personal Radio Aids which sets out a common approach to providing radio aids for deaf children.

Watch our video of a group of mums who tell us how they use a radio aid when out and about with their child.

 

New research shows big impact for deaf toddlers from radio aids

ian-as-toddler2 (2)

Ian Noon, (aged 3 years) Head of Policy and Research

One of my earliest, most vivid memories is playing in the lounge while listening to my Mum, who was in the kitchen talking about the dinner she was making/burning. She was only able to do this because she was wearing a microphone and the sound of her speech was coming through clearly and direct to my radio aid, cutting out all background noise.

I used to insist that she wear the microphone all the time – in the car, outdoors, everywhere – and would throw petulant tantrums when she turned it off, even just for a second.

I’ve no doubt that because of all this, I was able to develop good language and communication skills and get a good head start once I arrived at primary school.

So when I joined the National Deaf Children’s Society, many years later, I was amazed to find out that my experience was relatively unusual. A survey by the Consortium for Research into Deaf Education (CRIDE) in 2016 found that 46% of local authorities do not make radio aids available to pre-school deaf children.

This is why I’m really excited by the latest research being published by the National Deaf Children’s Society today. It shows that radio aid technology can have a big impact on hearing and communication for deaf children. In particular, it finds that being able to hear their parents’ voice clearly and directly by using radio aids promotes markedly better parent-child communication.

To me, the research confirms something that many people have known for years. It’s pretty well established by now that the early years are critical in developing language and communication skills, and that the interaction between parents and children is an essential part of this. But we also know that everyday situations like being in a buggy or car can be a noisy minefield for deaf children, making it impossible for them to hear their parents in those critical early years.

Radio aids aren’t for everyone and we still need to look at the individual needs of each deaf child. But it is important that parents have the information they need to make informed choices about whether / when they’d like to try a radio aid for their child. But for these kind of informed choices to mean anything, the other 54% of local authorities need to take action to make sure that they can provide radio aids if parents feel it would benefit them.

Last year, we launched our Right from the Start campaign to make sure that every deaf child got the right support from the earliest possible age. The research published today suggests that one way of meeting this goal for many will be to make sure that there is much wider access to radio aids in the early years. I hope that local authorities will take action to ensure that more deaf children get the chance to benefit from this, like I did.

Wales: Mind the Gap!

Debbie Green, Policy & Campaigns Officer Wales

Debbie Thomas Policy and Campaigns Officer Wales

Every year, a pile of statistics finds its way into my inbox. I’ve never been a fan of stats and spreadsheets, but nevertheless, I am always grateful to receive these ones on the attainment of deaf pupils in Wales.

Just a few years ago, there was no published data on the number of deaf pupils in Wales – let alone information on their attainment.

Such data is a key part of the picture when looking at how well our deaf learners are supported in Wales and NDCS Cymru campaigned for the data to be available.

We know that deaf pupils face challenges, but with appropriate support they can achieve on a par with their hearing peers. Unfortunately, the stats show significant attainment gaps between deaf learners and their peers. Last year, deaf pupils were 30.2% less likely to achieve A*-C GCSE grades in the 3 “core subjects” (English/Welsh, Maths and Science.)

Whilst this paints an upsetting picture, it is important to consider what it actually means. It certainly isn’t an indictment of our Teachers of the Deaf! We know we’re lucky to have many dedicated and talented Teachers of the Deaf working across Wales. But we also know that these professionals are often working beyond capacity with sky-high caseloads. We know that we desperately need to ensure new professionals are trained up for the next generation, especially since many of our current Teachers of the Deaf are nearing retirement.

But we also need to look beyond the Teacher of the Deaf. We need to find ways of addressing the numerous barriers and challenges that deaf pupils can face – barriers that deaf young people themselves tell us about. To name but a few these include the need for; greater deaf awareness among educational staff generally, improved classroom acoustics and more support workers with BSL skills.

The attainment statistics upset me, but they also keep me passionate about my work – campaigning to make a difference for deaf young people in Wales.

NDCS Cymru has been campaigning hard on behalf of deaf learners. Although there is still much to be done, some good changes are happening.

Even as positive steps are taken, it will be essential that we keep accessing this attainment data to monitor the attainment gap and ensure it closes. Essentially, we need to mind the gap. That’s why NDCS Cymru is calling on the Welsh Government to make sure this valuable information is not lost as it reviews the way in which attainment data is collated across Wales. It may sound like a boring topic, but it is vitally important!

So, when it comes to this year’s attainment data, let’s not read it and weep. Let’s read it and:

  1. be grateful for the fact that we have it;
  2. recognise the work of fabulous professionals who work hard to support our deaf learners;
  3. keep campaigning to ensure all deaf children can have the support they need.