One of my absolutely lovely and wonderful co-workers Nicola, has decided to run the London Marathon in April (did I mention she’s crazy too?). She is training so hard already and trying to encourage me to go for 5k runs in order to help her prepare. Every now and again I take her up on the offer but, now winter has set in, I’m more of a couch potato and my stamina just about manages to get me from work to bed.
Nicola is running to raise money and awareness for the National Deaf Children’s Society. The charity is dedicated to helping deaf children and young people achieve a world with no barriers in their daily lives from communication to education.
Why is this a worthwhile charity to support?
- There are over 45,000 deaf children living in the UK.
- 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.
- Four babies are born deaf every day.
- 40% of deaf children have additional needs.
- Without the right support, deaf children and young people are vulnerable to isolation, abuse, bullying, poor self-esteem and low levels of achievement.
- Deaf children need to be able to communicate effectively, access information and influence the world around them by any appropriate method whether through sign language, oral communication or a combination of approaches.
Nicola has been raising money through a number of different fundraising events. One of her events has been a British Sign Language taster class which was advertised through social media.
I went along to one of the classes to see how Nic got on, and to see the responses from the people who came to support her. Like Nicola, one of my biggest passions is deaf awareness and deaf accessibility, so I was really keen to see who had braved the outdoors on a cold Wednesday night to learn some basic British Sign Language.
The first thing that I noticed was the number of people who arrived to attend the session. There was a massive number, the room was full of people which meant the group had to be split up. It was interesting to see the excitement everyone had to learn and the enthusiasm was exceptional (although, that could be due to the Christmas vibes setting in).
It was great to see hearing members of the public wanting to gain communication skills. From speaking with some guests, it was clear some people came out of curiosity. Other people had elderly members of their family losing their hearing and felt it would be an introduction to gesturing and the use of basic sign. It is important to realise, that we could all lose our hearing at any moment due to illnesses or old age. The lack of being able to communicate in this situation would create problems such as frustration. This is why we should all have at least a basic level of sign language in order to communicate to those who require it. The children of today should be learning and taught BSL in schools – but that is a fight we are still yet to win.
The session started with asking who already knew any sign language – to which most people shied away. However, you would be really surprised at how obvious some of the signs are as the signs look like themselves: such as food, drink, photograph, running. This immediately gave everyone confidence and the group opened up, ready to share this new experience together. I have been signing now for 5 years, completely forgetful of how it felt to learn for the first time. I was therefore really proud of the calm and approachable environment Nicola had set up in order for the participants to feel at ease and as though they would be able to achieve something by the end of the evening.
It was great to see how quickly everyone was picking the signs up. The lesson was taught with voices off and signing only, and everyone understood what was happening through-out the session. The topics taught ranged from the alphabet, colours, animals and sign names. Due to it taking a long time to finger-spell the names of the people present, they created a particular sign or action which related to them in some way. For example, Nicola’s sign name is ‘Coca Cola’ as she has ‘cola’ in her name. Other people chose their sign names based on things they liked, or clothes they wore. They really enjoyed doing this, and it allowed everyone to learn something about the people who they were mixing with.
Tonight made me realise that raising awareness brings people together. I saw that communication can improve once you relax. Sometimes when hearing people see deaf people in a shop or restaurant, they panic and get scared to communicate. If you are calm and relaxed, then gesturing will come to you naturally.
Some hearing parents of deaf children think its too difficult to learn British Sign Language and avoid doing so, when actually, tonight proved that it can be fun to learn and does not have to be stressful. Ultimately, you do not need to learn BSL to gain a qualification at the end of it. Of course, that would be nice, but to get a basic starting point to the language, the skill is invaluable. It’s not about a piece of paper, its about communicating with a group of people. It could make a huge difference to deaf people’s lives, especially if they are your children.
Well done Nicola!! It was a really engaging and positive experience. Your enthusiasm and passion shone through!
You too could help Nicola raise money for such a worth while cause by clicking on the link below: