Wednesday 16 May 2018

Deaf Girly and education

It's Day Three of Deaf Awareness week. Gosh that's going fast isn't it?

I couldn't talk about all things deafness without covering education - but I warn you that this isn't the most positive subject for me. It's not something I find it easy to write about in my usual jovial manner. However, it turns out it's rather topical at the moment because apparently one third of councils in England are cutting a total of £4 million from their budgets for deaf children’s education.

That's £4,000,000

You can read more about what the NDCS have to say about this here but I have to say this genuinely terrifies me.

I can chart my hearing getting worse solely through how difficult I began to find school. In nursery before anyone knew I was deaf, I was always being told off for not knowing the words to the songs, because at that age I had not yet learnt to lipread, and the only way you learnt the songs was by hearing what the teacher was singing. But compared to now, my hearing probably wasn't that bad.

The primary years...

At primary school, I was always in trouble for not listening. Except I honestly thought I was listening. I honestly didn't know that you were meant to hear everything. I didn't really know any different.

From the age of seven I played the violin. As I progressed up the higher registers, I genuinely didn't realise you were meant to be able to hear it still. I thought it was guess work.

At seven years old, I remember that I could still take notes from a TV programme... something one of my teachers was very fond of making us do. But by 10, I was struggling with this. And at that same time, my rents got a TV at home and noticed me struggling to follow that, too. And then I was told I was deaf.

I remember getting these massive NHS hearing aids. I was at a private school at the time and so there was no additional support. And actually, even if there had have been, I am not sure I would have allowed it to be given. I was pretty cross about being told I was deaf. It was my world as I had always known it. And so my hearing aids sat in my school bag and I continued to muddle through.

Deafness is an invisible disability. For my teachers, they soon forgot that I was deaf and went back to teaching me how they always had. Deaf children in mainstream schools must not be forgotten.

Once I knew I was deaf, things I'd always struggled with suddenly had an explanation. French listening for example - I discovered that the hard part wasn't meant to be the listening. Dictation it turned out wasn't a creative writing exercise... and sport... wow, there was a whistle I was meant to hear!

The secondary years...

Once I went to a local secondary school, assistance was offered. I had a council lady come in and 'statement' me. I was horrid to her. But on reflection, I honestly don't think she was a very nice person either. But she did fight to get me support and I had a radio aid for lessons, which gave me zero clarity and massive headache.

Hearing aids back then didn't give me anything like what my current ones give me today. My world became louder and more uncomfortable. I got no more clarity of speech and no 3D hearing. Unsurprisingly, I rarely wore them.

Getting deafer...

During the summer of my GCSEs, my teachers, my rents and I all noticed that my hearing had taken a bit of a nose dive. I noticed because remarkably, one of the ways I used to revise, from year 7 to 9, was by recording all my notes on cassette tape and listening to them as I went to sleep at night. It was a brilliant revision plan and I was mostly in the top 5 for all subjects.

In Year 10, this plan began to fail. I got 3 out of 23 for a physics test and was so upset by this I cried until I threw up in the science lap sink - I was not used to failing. But not only was I not hearing my own revision notes on tape, I was no longer hearing in class.

School for me began to feel like a free fall of insecurity. I stopped knowing what was going on. I stopped being 'clever' and started to struggle. Worse still, I also started to get very short sighted and in the weeks it took me to notice this, I had no way of seeing the board or lipreading either!

Gosh, school was fun.

Getting the support I needed...

After my GCSEs, which were OK but not brilliant results, my rents pushed hard to get me more support from the local authorities and along came my wonderful note taker. She was a retired secretary and she basically ended up with a stroppy tired teenager and a LOT of A-levels as my school insisted that you took four.

She was amazing. She took wonderful notes. She kept me in the loop when I fell asleep and tried to get me through that first intensive term of Year 12. But I was struggling.

In the end, it was decided, because helpfully I was a year ahead of myself at school and only 15 when I started A-levels (I did warn you I was a super geek), that instead of doing four A-levels in two years that I would do three A-levels in two and one extra A-level in a year. And so that is what I did.

No time would be lost and I would still go to uni at the right age so I could hastily pursue my dream career. That was all I wanted to do. Head to London and write.

But really, my A-levels were not about learning stuff, they were about me learning how to teach myself stuff. I would sit in the lessons struggling to hear and then go home and have to read and learn all the notes my note taker took.

But without the class discussion or context to back it up.

It was hideous.

...but doing badly anyway

My results at the end of the first two years were neatly alphabetical:


I think I actually stopped breathing when I opened my envelope. Devastation didn't really cover it.

And then in my third year, I retook the D and sat another and turned them into CCCE... turns out the E for RE was as good as it was ever going to get.

School made me feel like the biggest failure. And I had support. I had a note taker and permission to fall asleep in class - something I regularly did.

Why support for deaf children is important

I do not even want to imagine what it would have been like without any support. Or if I had gone deafer at a younger age. I cannot imagine what it will be like for future generations of children who do not get the support they need - whatever that support is.

As I write this today, I am doing a job I love in a big global company. I have ticked some pretty big career boxes, accomplished some things I am incredibly proud of and fought plenty of deaf battles along the way.

Deaf children are not stupid. Deaf children - whatever level of deafness they have from the very mild to the profound - deserve the same opportunities as their hearing peers in education. They deserve access to the same resources, the same standard of teaching and the funding to ensure they have the technology to support them in their studies. No deaf child should be allowed to fall through the gap. No deaf child should have to sit in a classroom with no idea what is going on, feeling a lump in their throat as they realise they are lost. I used to regularly feel like this and when I watched The Silent Child with the final school scenes of complete isolation in a school environment, my heart broke.

Support however you can...

I understand that cuts need to be made and pots of money are not unlimited but the idea that my education could have been even more challenging...the idea that without the support I had, I would not be doing this job that I love, makes me feel physically sick. What's more, according to this Guardian report, there are only 45,000 deaf children in the UK. Why is it not possible to provide support for them?

So this Deaf Awareness Week, look out for articles relating to cuts to deaf children's education, get involved in the discussion, find out how you can help fight for their futures. I'm going to.

Happy Wednesday peeps


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