Last Wednesday morning I gave a talk at Holy Trinity CE Primary School in Dartford, Kent on behalf of Action on Hearing Loss. This was part of a series of talks and events that the children had been having that week as part of the school’s Disability Awareness Week for all its pupils and staff. The purpose was to make pupils aware of the daily obstacles that disabled people face and how they overcome them, and to help pupils think about other peoples’ feelings and needs.
Throughout the week, there were visits from representatives of lots of different disabled charities such as Kent Deaf Children’s Society, Diabetes UK, Sightsavers and the Stroke Association. Pupils were shown an adapted car for disabled drivers and they tried out wheelchairs hired from the British Red Cross to see how accessible the school was for wheelchair users. They also had a lot of fun during their Disabled Teddy Bears Picnic, were taught wheelchair dancing lessons and wheelchair fencing lessons, as well as seeing a magic show given by a children’s entertainer in BSL. They also had inspirational talks from 15 year-old Paralympian wheelchair fencer Gabi Down and Steve Brown, captain of Team GB’s Paralympian wheelchair rugby team.
First I spoke in the school assembly to an audience of around three hundred pupils. I talked to the children about how I lost my hearing and about the things I miss most since losing my hearing such as listening to music and not being able to go to the cinema when I want and watch the films I want to see as I am restricted to the few subtitled films that are shown at my local multiplex. I explained about how I have to lip-read people to understand them and how difficult it is to follow people’s conversations, particularly in a noisy environment.
I also told them about some of the other barriers I face such as trying to get around on public transport and ask for directions, and how I rely on my smartphone and emails for directions instead of asking people. I also explained that how well I communicated with other people depended on how patient and deaf-aware other people were with me too. I explained that hearing loss was becoming much more common as the population is getting older, so it is really important to know how to communicate with deaf and hard of hearing people. I think it is really important to teach schoolchildren good deaf awareness from an early age so that they can communicate well with older people who may have a hearing loss.
I finished my talk in the assembly by teaching the pupils some basic BSL fingerspelling. I really enjoyed this as they were really receptive and engaged by it. They seemed to learn from me really quickly and easily. Also, when I showed them the photo of my dog Jake and the one of me watching my favourite football team, Manchester City, I could tell they were really engaged. I could see from their reactions that they responded well to visual images and their enthusiasm was infectious.
I then gave talks to smaller classes of pupils. The children were also really engaged and keen to learn fingerspelling. They asked me to teach them some animal signs in BSL. Since my first language is English and my knowledge of BSL is still pretty basic, I found it easy to sign simple animals’ names such as ‘dog’ and ‘cat’ etc. but then I was really put to the test when they asked me more complex animal signs such as ‘koala bear’ and ‘kingfisher’. I think they were testing me on purpose, and when I tried to sign ‘kingfisher’, for instance, I made the sign for ‘king’, then ‘fisherman’, followed by the sign for ‘bird’. I hope that is right, but I’m still not sure. If anyone else could help me out with this, please let me know!
I really enjoyed myself that day at Holy Trinity Primary School. The whole day had been really rewarding, although I felt tired by the end of it. I came away with a real buzz, so pleased that I had been a part of the school’s Disability Awareness Week and that I had been able to teach the pupils something new about deaf awareness. I also felt I had learned from them about their enthusiasm and responsiveness to learn new things. I found this totally refreshing and it gave me a sense of joy and purpose.