Sharing your story to improve the lives of other deaf children

NickTry

Nick Try, Media Relations Officer

When we campaign to improve the lives of deaf children, talk to parents to reassure them that they’re not alone, and fundraise to support our work, having the real life stories of how we have helped deaf children and their families is so important.

Up and down the country we fight cuts to the services that deaf children rely on. We work with schools and hospitals to improve the quality of support they offer. We work with the UK government, as well as the governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to demand improvements and changes to policies.

But in order to do this, in order to affect change, and make people with power sit up and listen, it is vital that the voices and the stories of deaf children and their families are heard loud and clear.

So this is why we need you. We are asking you to answer 3 short questions about your experiences, and you can share with us as much or as little as you want.

  • How and why did you get involved with us?

Let us know why you got involved with us. Maybe you are one of the 90% of deaf children’s parents who had no previous experience of deafness.

  • How have we helped you and what impact has working with us had on you?

Maybe you used our Helpline for advice or our online resources, or came to a weekend event.

  • What has your experience been like with other services for deaf children?

Have you had a bad experience with your child at nursery, school, an activity club or even at hospital?

Take a look at the ‘Your Stories’ section of our website, and share your story with us today.

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.

PIP Success – New Case Law!

Sally Etchells, Policy and Campaigns Officer, National Deaf Children’s Society

Assessors carrying out PIP interviews must now consider all potential safety risks that deaf young people may come across.      

Earlier this year, Sue, one of our wonderful Appeals and Disputes advisers worked tirelessly on putting together the legal arguments for a deaf 18 year old’s PIP appeal that was heard at the Upper Tribunal.

One of Sue’s main arguments for the case was that the severity of harm that could occur when a person is carrying out an activity should be considered by PIP assessors. Previously, it was only the likelihood (50% or more) of harm that was considered.

So for instance, it’s quite unlikely (less than 50%) that a fire alarm would be sounding when a deaf young person is taking a shower without their assistive hearing device. So PIP assessors would not record this risk. However, if a fire alarm was sounding when the person was in the shower, and they did not hear the alarm, the harm caused could be severe or fatal. It was our argument that this potential severe harm should be given due attention and recorded in PIP assessments.

We have now received confirmation from the Department for Work and Pensions that the case law has been accepted, written in to formal guidance, and all assessors will be trained on the new law.

This now means that PIP assessors should always consider the harm and risks that a deaf young person may face, under every one of the PIP questions. If the harm could be serious, they must consider this risk, even if it’s not very likely to happen. We hope this will result in better PIP decisions, but we will continue to fight for every deaf young person claiming PIP.

For more information on PIP, contact Sally at campaigns@ndcs.org.uk

Thanks to our barrister Matthew Fraser, from Landmark Chambers, who traveled to Scotland to represent our client free of charge.  

The judges heard our case along with two other cases for people with epilepsy. These two people were represented by Inverclyde Health and Social Care Partnership and Council on Disability, Stirling.   

What do we know about communication support for deaf people?

Ian_Noon

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

Last week, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) published a monster 142-page document summarising the responses it received to a review on communication support for deaf people. The aim of the review was to try and identify what we know about the supply and demand of professionals (such as interpreters, speech-to-text-reporters, etc.) whose role it is to provide support to deaf people with their communication. We submitted evidence back in 2016 setting out what we knew then about communication support for deaf children and young people.

So what have we learnt from the DWP report? Here are my own top five take-home messages from the report.

  1. Nobody is quite sure how many deaf people there are. For example, we have a very rough ball-park figure on the number of deaf children from the Consortium for Research into Deaf Education – but we know that those figures, whilst the best available, are not 100% reliable.
  2. Nobody really knows how many communication support professionals there are out there either. It’s not something that any government department appears to be measuring.
  3. However, there is a lot of evidence that there the number of communication support professionals isn’t enough. Lots of respondents gave examples of unmet demand among deaf people. For example, there is evidence that too many deaf children are being supported by communication support workers who don’t have an advanced qualification in sign language.
  4. It became clear from reading the report that the term ‘communication support workers’ (CSWs) means different things to different people. We at the National Deaf Children’s Society would use the term to refer to a type of specialist teaching assistant, someone who would provide support to deaf children in the classroom, with signed support as necessary. However, we wouldn’t see them as “interpreters” because CSWs need to be able to do much more than just interpret what the teaching is saying by, for example, supporting deaf children with notes, explaining concepts, and so on. It’s clear though that in other areas, deaf people are being supported by a professional described as a ‘communication support worker’ when really they should be supported by an interpreter. The report points to a need for much more clarity on the role of CSWs and what skills they need in different situations.
  5. Lots of people feel that technology – such as remote sign language interpreters or speech-to-text-reporters – can really help deaf people. However, there was a unanimous view that this cannot be seen as a substitute for ‘real life’ communication support. Indeed, many people were concerned that new technology was being used as an excuse to reduce support inappropriately.

So what happens next? We’re not yet sure. The DWP report is literally just a summary of responses and doesn’t set out any recommendations or actions for the Government.

On our side, we’d be keen to see the Government take action to improve data on deaf children and also to ensure there are more, better-qualified, communication support workers for deaf children and young people. We’d also like to see speech-to-text reporters being more widely used, particularly for older deaf young people, including those at university. We’ll be pressing the Government to set out what action it’ll be taking in response to the report so watch this space.

 

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.

Crossing the Divide

Martin-Mclean-cropped

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

Further education (FE) is getting a lot of attention at the moment and rightly so. The UK has major skills shortages in many sectors and Brexit may mean we are less likely to be able to rely on EU immigration to plug the skills gap. The Education Secretary, Justine Greening, as I type this blog, has just made a speech where she talked about creating ‘an army of skilled young people for British business’. To address skills shortages the Government is creating 15 technical routes and new T-level qualifications in England. Wales is also on the verge of significant post-16 education reform.

FE colleges will play a major role in delivering the new qualifications and with FE colleges being the destination for the majority of deaf young people at 16, investment in the new technical routes will be no bad thing if they lead to clearer pathways to employment.

Recently, a small piece of research was carried out for us by a group of civil servants and corporate sector employees on the transition deaf young people make from FE into employment and the support they receive to do this in FE. We asked them to look at this issue because there is so little data out there on the outcomes of deaf young people who attend FE colleges – are they finding jobs after leaving college and how well prepared are they for entering the job market? We suspected that the support available to them to find work might be quite poor. Sadly, the research confirmed that this is probably the case. The main findings of the group’s research were:

  • 59% of parents of deaf young people stated their child’s college did not help them find any work experience or placement opportunities
  • 39% of parents stated their child had not received any careers support or guidance at college
  • Young people who had received college-supported work experience were more likely to have gone onto employment or further study

Some parents reported negative experiences with their child making the transition to work:

“It was disappointing that on his first visit to the Job Centre, in an effort to find employment, they put him on ESA (Employment Support Allowance) without the necessity to attend support sessions. In other words, he was written off as being unemployable”

“We didn’t know what help was available. Recruitment companies didn’t seem to be interested in helping my daughter get a job and I put this down to her being deaf.”

This type of experiences provide a strong case for deaf young people having access to tailored careers advice at school and college. It is not just about access to careers advice that their hearing course-mates receive. Do young people know that they can benefit from Access to Work? Do they understand their rights under the Equality Act? Are they aware of the organisations that might be able to provide further support when they leave education? We believe schools and colleges have a role in making sure deaf young people receive this type of information.

deaf young person looking for work

It is expected that work experience will be a compulsory part of a T-level – this is welcome and we need to make sure deaf young people receive the support they need on these placements.

FE and skills reform has cross-party support and I believe that better investment in FE will benefit many deaf young people. However, before they embark on any technical routes, we need to fight for deaf young people to have better access to decent careers advice so that they can make properly informed decisions about the career opportunities available to them and understand support that is available in the workplace.

I’m deaf myself and remember leaving education to find work being very daunting. I am sure it is the same many deaf young people finishing education today. Through working together with the FE and skills sector NDCS hopes to make the divide between education and work a lot narrower.