Many years ago, deaf people were not considered to be in a position where they could be a proactive member of society. For at times, families would hide their deaf child away because they felt ashamed simply because they had a child who happened to be deaf or even worse, were not diagnosed as deaf but for want of a better word, dumb. Some of these people were mistreated, abandoned and abused.
Looking around us today, it is a completely different picture. It is not yet perfect but the deaf now have a community which has come a long way and I am using the word “community” and not “culture” because the word “culture” is rather complex and divisive. When one uses the word “culture”, it is in reference to customs, habits, language and many other factors that belong to a particular group of people who are different to others.
Sign language alone should not form the basis for a “deaf culture” because deaf people are born into a culture that already exists – if you are born into the British culture then by default you are British. Bearing in mind, that sign language is derived and based on our mother tongue. Both deaf and hearing people as well as monkeys and apes can use this form of visual language. On the other hand, it would be wrong of us to assume anyone who may be hard of hearing, deafened, deaf or deafblind automatically know sign language. To presume that everyone deaf can sign is not correct and it is misinforming our society of today.
A baby who has been born deaf into a British hearing family, growing up with the family’s customs and ways, can he suddenly deny his family’s culture and refer to himself as deaf only? Insinuating, that because his family is hearing, they do not belong to a “deaf culture” despite having tried their very best to provide their child with an enriching and balanced upbringing, encouraging him to speak, sign and integrate with his peers regardless of whether they were deaf or hearing.
It would be extremely hard for me to separate myself from the people that taught me everything I know and in the process hurting them in return by secluding myself to another particular culture, especially one that we find difficult to define.
To put it simply, we have habits (no, not those long brown gowns!) which is interpreted by some as “deaf culture”, or more appropriately termed as learned behaviour. On the contrary, we can learn it, be aware of it but it does not mean we have to adopt it.
Sadly, there are deaf parents who hope their child will be born deaf because they believe they belong to a deaf culture only and by having a hearing child, they would break that familiarity to what they only know. This is an extreme stance to have and it is one that is potentially damaging.
By simply saying to hearing people “If you do not make the effort to communicate with me then I will separate myself from you all together” is so not the route to take; the more they see of you, the more they are forced to understand you. I say forced because hearing people have the option to learn at least some basic sign language like finger spelling which should at least be made part of today’s school curriculum.
One (i.e. Paddy Ladd and his Deafhood book) could argue that residential schools for the deaf is the main continuity for “deaf culture” being learned – perhaps forty years ago but not today. Because forty years or so ago, the differences in technology, segregation and concentration then and now could not be more evident unless influenced and taught otherwise by the older generations.
As stated on NDCS website, “90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents with little or no experience of deafness or knowledge of how to communicate with a deaf person”. The other 10% would probably grow up with sign language as their first language in cases where the deaf parents also sign rather than having to wait until they have contact with other deaf children, which is normally the experience of the other 90% at school. Approximately, nowadays, 90% of those deaf children born severely or profoundly deaf are likely to be implanted before their second birthday – More than 60% of the children at Mary Hare School now have implants.
Where hearing aids and implants are concerned, people have feared deaf identities and the linguistics will be lost, “I am still deaf” one may remark. Of course, you will still be deaf because your hearing aid(s) or implants will not be in use 24/7 and you will have grown up as a deaf person, lip-reading, signing (if able to). The deaf majority at present, thankfully, now sees a CI as a superior hearing aid, which actually has very little bearing on “deaf culture” despite a tiny percentage that are anti-CI and vehemently trying to turn people against CI’s by using an excuse along the lines of “social cleansing”.
There is a term albeit rarely used, which is the “hearing brain”. I understand this to mean when someone loses hearing later in life after growing up living life to the max as a hearing person possibly could, has been fortunate to receive a cochlear implant, only to characteristically revert to whom they grew up as. Do we or rather, should we put that down to “hearing culture”? When it is whom they have learnt and happen to be, within themselves and society just as we are who we are and that others have taught us who to become.
My fear of seeing people belonging to one culture and denying everything, everyone else around them is that there is a danger of separating ourselves from the mainstream culture we have to live in and share.
In being exclusive, this will undo all the hard work that has been achieved before us, by the many generations of deaf people. They are the ones who struggled and fought hard to finally be accepted within the mainstream society today. If anything, we should continue to strive albeit much harder to keep this sense of inclusion and integration developing but there is a cycle, especially where learnt behaviour is concerned, reoccurring in many senses that people need to break out of this habit, especially if they want to advance further as an inclusive and diverse community.
There is a still a lot that has to be done, in terms of educating society that we are all equals and just as capable but not by creating and realising any further divisive ideas. With positivity, forward thinking and unity, this can be achieved by the deaf community but only if the will is there.
After Sara Jae left a school for the deaf to finish her education at a mainstream school, she found she felt less frustrated with her studies as there seemed to be more to discover, absorb and learn. Hence why this question (as titled) was raised the other day on our Facebook group by Sara because from her personal experience – which several other members concurred with, their English fared better since choosing to leave schools for the deaf to attend mainstream schools. In mainstream, everyone is naturally pushed by the teachers to meet a standard of their very best whereas in deaf schools, there seems to be a limit that the teachers will try to push deaf students to and then stop.
This led most to agree that it is actually down to the type of support and teaching which is what makes the difference in our English standards which rings true with many people’s personal experiences. Which reinforces Sara’s reasons behind wanting an approved governing body for deaf issues, in the UK. Meanwhile….
The National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) has a campaign “Hands up for Help”, to give deaf children a fair chance at school, a report of theirs contains these facts:
There are 35,000 deaf children in England.
Around 85% are taught in mainstream schools.
Deafness is not a learning disability. With the right help, there is no reason why deaf children can’t do as well as other children.
Deaf children are underachieving on a very significant scale across England. They are 43% less likely to get five GCSEs, including English and Maths, at grades A* to C, than all children.
The help a deaf child gets is determined by where they live, and not what they need.
Their last fact rings alarm bells to us because sources mention the national average reading age is approx. 12/13 and elsewhere, lower. Education, nationally, appears to have become alarmingly more slack.
There was also a study which looked into the reading skills in deaf (oral) children, comparing them with hearing children who have Dyslexia. They are following this up with a similar study, students who use sign language . Here is a summary as stated on their research to practice paper:
Q: What measures can be used to identify dyslexia in oral deaf children? Are deaf children’s reading difficulties similar to the typical dyslexic profile, or do some deaf children display uniquely dyslexic profiles? What are the key factors associated with good and poor reading in this group? What are the implications for interventions with poor deaf readers?
“Literacy difficulties are more widespread among deaf* children than hearing children but reasons for their problems differ. Hearing children are likely to be described as dyslexic and once diagnosed, may benefit from specialist support. However, for deaf children, their hearing difficulties are seen as primary. In this Briefing Paper, we report findings from the first stage of our research, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, which has focused exclusively on oral deaf children. In the next phase, we will investigate deaf children who use sign language to communicate.
Our analysis identified half of our group of oral deaf children as having reading difficulties. We were able to identify dyslexia sensitive measures and deaf children with dyslexic profiles; however, not all were amongst the poorest readers. Our findings highlight the scale of reading difficulty in oral deaf children and point to an urgent need for specialist intervention to be implemented along the lines currently offered to hearing children with dyslexia.”
*The terms ‘deaf’ and ‘hearing impaired’ are often used with this group. We use the term ‘deaf’ here to refer to individuals with a pre-lingual severe-profound degree of hearing loss, i.e. one that is present at or shortly after birth.
Josh Hillman, of the Nuffield Foundation, said the report “reveals the extent to which the education system is currently failing to address the needs of deaf children with reading difficulties” (as stated on the BBC’s article “Poor reading ‘points to UK schools’ neglect of deaf.’“)
“Pupils make better progress from Year 7 to Year 11 in English and mathematics than all other pupils nationally who have a statement of special educational needs. Progress in developing oral communication skills is outstanding.”
The grammar structure within British Sign Language (BSL) differs to the structure used in English. BSL for a start has a different sign order to English word order. BSL normally uses topic-comment structure which defines the topic before commenting further on it. However its default word order when topic-comment structure is no longer used due to the topic being established, is OSV : Object, Subject. Verb. Whereas English structure is Subject, Verb, Object. (SVO)
BSL: Him she loves.
English: She loves him.
There are also “multi channel” signs which is when one sign can mean a whole sentence.
The general consensus amongst the wider community is that deaf people are a bit backwards, that they have learning difficulties. Imagine a completely deaf child trying to learn words and then trying to learn how to write them in an English structure. It is hard – they have never heard it said so they cannot link what they see to sounds. Hence why it is rather confusing for them.
This naturally will contribute to the fundamental differences many struggle with. Seeing how the words & sentence structure are formed in something as simple as a childrens TV program, or even a bog standard ‘continuing drama’ (soap!) can help a child to connect the written words to context and sounds. For some, they think their reading, spelling and vocabulary skills were helped by seeing the subtitles. Why is reading a book with your child encouraged? For many reasons, one of those reasons is so that the child can relate the written word to the sound. Subtitles and captions achieve the same thing yet visually. It is rather unfortunate that cinemas, most TV channels and programmes will not provide them 24/7. It benefits everyone as sadly, it is not just deaf children who may leave school with low literacy skills.
Differentiation is paramount for any teacher but even more so for a teacher who works with deaf and additional needs children. They prepare lots of different levels of work for any one class. Unfortunately, sometimes there may be cases where teachers will give the whole class the same level of work – this goes in two ways. On one hand – those of higher abilities may suffer a lag in their education, on the other hand – those of lower abilities aren’t able to keep up with the work, causing them to become frustrated.
The logical way forward would be to split the groups – deaf children of ‘normal’ abilities, and then deaf children with additional needs. Unfortunately there aren’t enough deaf children entering deaf education to start with. So those that are, are grouped together regardless of their individual abilities and needs.
Parents’ contribution is vitally important, all too often parents neglect their child’s educational needs. Language is paramount, particularly in the early years. Sometimes it is left to the schools to clean up the mess of children’s minds. It is not the same for all parents of deaf children because most will be brilliantly supportive and work hard to ensure they push their child’s intellectual capabilities. Another downfall would be the teachers themselves (in some cases) who may have the ‘poor deaf child’ approach and spoon feed them answers and so forth, others come in too harsh and the children struggle to grasp what is being taught particularly if the said teacher is unable to sign and the children are predominantly sign language users. With deaf children some would feel they need a steady but sure approach to their education with the aim of pushing them slightly beyond their expected capabilities.
Education in deaf schools can be good but they and the parents have got to get it right from the very start. Recognise when it is appropriate to use BSL or SSE (Signed Supported English). For example, someone worked with a teacher who believed in teaching English with SSE. She respected BSL but when the children entered the English classroom she believed that BSL should be left at the door. She wanted the children to be able to utilise both BSL and English and to be able to fluently move between the two. In the ‘big wide world’ BSL is not predominantly used, English is, so if a person is a fluent sign language user and isn’t confident with their speaking abilities they can take a pen to paper confidently (or email). Yet, if a deaf person is empowered by English and they can write – a hearing person may well think ‘Oh! This person does possess intelligence’.
A hypothesis – what would happen if all deaf children were to enter mainstream schools (which in the long run will cost the councils more money). When some of those children start to struggle and develop behavioural problems they will be placed in deaf schools. The deaf school then gets blamed for their poor education, when in fact they are fighting hard to correct earlier misfortunes. Teachers in mainstream schools will not be adequately equipped to teach deaf children without any hearing or speech. Specialist support workers will be needed. Deaf children will be behind their classmates. On the other hand some of the children were in the deaf schoosl right from the age of 3 until they left and they did excellently – why? Because they received the right education for them consistently all the way through and they had the support of their parents at home, like Asher Woodman-Worrell did and he shared with us, his views:
“I was educated in deaf school all of my life, I believe the part of the problem is that all pupils who do well in mainstream schools tend to stay on, most of mainstream ‘rejects’ tend to get sent to deaf schools however it is difficult to get pupils who struggled in mainstream up to the speed and back at the level that their literacy and numeracy should be. Their confidence, self-belief and behaviour issues also will be massively affected and it will be a slow process to get them confident once again.
This meant the resources are very spread out from getting former mainstream pupils back up to the speed, educating both pupils who were educated in deaf schools all of their life and former mainstream pupils to catch up with whatever level their literacy and numeracy should be at due to delayed language acquisition from their childhood (that is an another subject altogether!) and concentrating on meeting needs of deaf pupils with additional special needs such as cerebral palsy.
I was in a class of 5-7 pupils all with a wide range of ability levels and this placed a restriction on other each’s education as sometimes I would have to wait for others to catch up in Science while a classmate who is good at Maths would have to wait for rest of us to catch up on an exercise. If deaf schools attract more pupils, they would have more funding and they will be able to spend on more staff and resources thus creating more classes for pupils to be in according to their ability level so the pace will be similar for everybody.
This is a common problem for all deaf schools yet Mary Hare School tends to do a bit better than the rest as I believe they are more well off so they are able to spend their resources better and they also used to have entrance exams (I think they do not longer have these now) so they only accept pupils with reasonable ability levels.”
It is always very saddening. to read that funding is the main common relative behind the scenes. The current SEN (Special Education Needs) system will be reformed into the “Education, Health & Care Plan.” This will give parents a new right to buy in specialist special educational needs (SEN) and disabled care for children from 2014, the biggest change to SEN for 30 years. As stated on the press release for the Department of Education:
“For the first time ever, parents will be given the power to control personal budgets for their children with severe, profound or multiple health and learning – meaning they can choose the expert support that is right for their child, instead of local authorities (LAs) being the sole provider.
The biggest reform of SEN for 30 years will also force education, health and social care services to plan services together by law – so when their children are assessed, parents will be assured they will get full provision to address their children’s needs.
Often it is not clear to parents, and to local services, who is responsible for delivering on the statement of special needs. Services such as speech and language therapy may appear in the statement but are funded and commissioned by local health services.
It is important to recognise the child’s ability from very early on both at home and socially as this is the crucial contributing factor in sending them to the appropriate schools as early as possible, in order to maximise their potential – to the best of their abilities. And most importantly, a school that also suits the child’s needs and character.
There are some wonderful teachers out there who thrive to do the very best by their students and we hope they are filled with pride whenever they realise their career choices, helped to mould us into who we are.
Thank you to those who contributed their views on “The Tree House” which helped to make this possible.
Thank you readers, for sparing moments to read this post. – please feel free to follow us on Twitter @treehouseviews and join our Facebook group by clicking on the link *here.
I am very alarmed at the fact that there is no official register for CSW’s (Communication Support Workers) to protect both themselves and members of the deaf community. CSW’s should be regulated and abide by a code of conduct. Just like NRCPD (National Registered Communication Professionals working with Deaf/Deafblind people) interpreters have to in order to work. So please, can they (CSW’s) be regulated too?
How many people say “I can sign”? (well done! you know how to sign your name…)
Would a nurse be employed without being registered first?
Would a nurse be allowed to perform a consultant’s job? (i.e. brain surgery)
A plumber has to be registered otherwise they are considered as a rogue trader… I would not let him fix anything he wasn’t trained for – especially if I am facing a barrier in making a complaint about him if circumstances changed due to faults from their services… By not complying to a code of conduct or being registered means they can do as they like knowing they will get away with it. Their registration card would convince me they are regulated and qualified. Without one, no thanks…
The logistics have to apply in every profession…? I am sure every-one would be happier knowing there is an official system in place regulating and protecting both sides. We deserve the best don’t we? In all senses. No longer second class citizens.
Here is a response from a kind and patient Mr Ian Noon to my appeal for CSW’s to be monitored by the NDCS (National Deaf Children’s Society) due to fears deaf children’s educations is being severely hindered by lack of skills and experience. Here is an extract of it as he was happy for it to be shared. Thank you ever so, Ian.
“We would agree with you that we need a more skilled workforce able to support deaf children.
If parents have concerns about the support for their individual child, they can contact the NDCS Freephone Helpline for information and support. There may be things that the family can do to challenge a school or service that isn’t providing qualified CSWs.
Finally, we would definitely agree with you that there needs to be a stronger accountability framework. You may have seen that, as part of our Stolen Futures campaign, we’ve been calling on Ofsted to inspect specialist SEN support services for deaf children. A Stolen Futures briefing on this can be found at http://www.ndcs.org.uk/document.rm?id=8328 and a parliamentary briefing where we tried to get a change to the law on this can be found at: http://www.ndcs.org.uk/about_us/campaign_with_us/england/campaign_news/lordscandfbill.html Ofsted have agreed to carry out a review of the wider special educational needs inspection framework and to report by June. However, it’s going to be difficult to persuade the Government to give Ofsted more money to carry out these kinds of inspections – so we have a lot of work to do over the coming months.
Any help you or anyone else can offer would be great – for example, writing to local MPs to ask them if Ofsted will inspect support for deaf children or going to the BDA (British Deaf Association) Deaf Day – are things that will really help.”
Another response from Anthony Owen that he very kindly made (on my initial post on Facebook):
“A proposal for opening a category for CSWs in the NRCPD was formally presented to the NRCPD on the 15th of February 2012. It was a 70 page document, ACSW (Association of Communication Support Workers) took the lead in producing it, with the agreement of NATED, (National Association for Tertiary Education for Deaf people) and it was supported by the DESF (Deaf Education Support Forum) comprising representatives of ACSW, Action on Hearing Loss (http://www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk/, The Association of Notetaking Professionals (ANP), The Association of Sign Language Interpreters (ASLI), The British Association of Teachers of the Deaf (BATOD), The Consortium of Higher Education Support Services with Deaf Students (CHESS), Mary Hare training, NATED, and Signature. The proposal therefore represented a meeting of minds of the main stakeholder organisations involved in the education of Deaf students at all ages. Members of the DESF made several amendments before submission, so it was a document that was well thought-out and relevant.
The proposal was put to the NRCPD board at its meeting on 2nd July 2012. The NRCPD board considered the process to take the proposal forward and agreed the following stages:
1 Commission a situation analysis to provide answers to the questions that arose from the board’s first reading of the proposal and seek to identify a solid opportunity for NRCPD to act. Funds have been committed and consultants commissioned to get this stage under way.
2 Development of a proposal for regulating this area of practice.
3 Obtain stakeholder consultation on that proposal.
4 Final discussion and decision.
ACSW received a consultant’s response highlighting areas that needed work on. On Friday 21st June 2013 ACSW sent a lengthy document answering each area. There have since been brief talks on the definition of the role of the CSW, contained in the CSW Code of Practice (held on the NATED website). The CSW CoP has been in place for many years, was revised in 2008 after national consultation with stakeholders and updated in 2013 in consultation with CSW trainers, working and training CSWs, teachers of the deaf etc. The process took a while to complete but the CoP is now a more valid and current document.
We are waiting further developments.”
Unfortunately they are STILL waiting… I even tweeted NRCPD to find out why it is taking so long for them to realise the proposal and create the official register of which many agree to and want. No response as of yet.
Problem is charities and companies concerning issues for the deaf / hearing loss can do the hell what they like when there is no governing body for us to turn to or for them to be monitored by. Especially when money is involved. There needs to be one to keep them in check and keep deaf peoples best interests at heart. Why is there Ofcom, Ofsted, Fifa etc… But not one for deaf/hearing loss issues?!
I have also made some tweets to several political parties to ask “Why is there no governing body to monitor self-regulatory bodies concerning deaf issues?”…. I have not yet been “heard”…
There are other “professionals” who give “deaf awareness” training and can get away with it because there is no one at their end to question them, to protect both sides… “Hold on, is this deaf awareness training?!” (Tap on shoulder, speak clearly…Well done, pat on back and certificate awarded…a piece of paper to make them look good…) “Are you even qualified or experienced to give it?” Blah blah… Money over people. How sad. Times have to change. Surely people’s rights should be more important? While people are salaried, things will never really change as the determination and passion for it has to come from the bottom of our hearts. There is a quote that sticks in my mind “If we are bystanders to injustice, we invite injustice our way.” Are you inviting injustice?
There were even attempts to try and use past and current negative hospital experiences to try and sell more BSL (British Sign Language) courses when that alone would not solve the major social policy issues within the NHS. Whether they had good intentions or were trying to take advantage…. That is for you to decide.
People feel the need and are able to do this because society does not know any better to ask any questions. A loop hole (market) has been created from the government not legally recognising BSL and by not implementing equality and inclusion. Or any deaf awareness being instilled from long ago… It is about time there is an approved national governing body to monitor “official” registers and self regulating bodies in many areas, especially when money is being made from deafness and deaf issues. To protect ALL, on an equal basis.
“Deaf children have a right to a quality education, like all other children, in a language and environment that maximizes their potential” from Human Rights Watch. Here is another source regarding developing a GCSE for BSL. It is all part of the ripple effect and once BSL has been legalised , equality and inclusion will slowly but surely occur in everyone’s best interests.
Of course, there are many who have worked very hard to get to where they are today and they deserve to be recognised for being who they are, who are genuinely in it – for the people. Kudos to them. Thank you, for bridging the communication barriers between the deaf and hearing worlds.