Tamsin Coates: Breaking down the barriers

Posted on July 2, 2012

Recently the Prince’s Trust scheme at our local college approached our Deaf Children’s Society. They explained that they had ‘learners’ aged between 16 and 25 completing a twelve week programme with them. As one component of the course the ‘learners’ needed to participate in ‘bag pack’ at a local supermarket to raise funds for a local charity and then use the money to provide that charity with an event. So they asked; would we be interested? Well we never say no to a good event!

So, one evening we found ourselves in the bowling alley with 10 pre-teen deaf children, some who use speech, some who use sign and some who happily flip between both, waiting to meet up with the 7 ‘learners’ currently working through the Prince’s Trust scheme, and their leader. The people from the PT scheme had just come from a day’s work digging but were full of life and enthusiasm.

To integrate the two camps we split our children across three lanes with some learners on each lane too. To begin with there was still an awkwardness that is both typical and natural when any two groups meet. The learners laughed and joked with each other and our kids signed, spoke and enjoyed the opportunity to socialise together. Our children daunted by the fact that the learners were older, the learners seemingly unsure of how to initiate or join in with our children who were busy talking to each other using voices and hands.

Then one of the learners, from a different lane, came and sat across two of our children’s seats to talk to his mate. As they came back from taking their turn, the boys said to the much older lad ‘you’re sitting on our seats’. He turned back to his conversation ignoring their protest, frustrating the boys at being ignored. Watching this as a mum, my instincts wanted to step in but I knew well enough to watch a bit longer. The boys went round the back of the seats and leaned over between the two lads who were talking, interrupting them and with big cheeky grins said ‘Why are you on our seats?’

The lad turned to me as the supervising adult with a look of shock on his face that our boys, both of them aged 10, had taken him on. He hadn’t expected their challenge and that plus the bowling ball one of the then accidently dropped inches away from his foot soon had him relinquishing the seats! I laughed internally at his expression but managed to reply with calm reply of ‘they will bite back’!

His disbelief shifted into a bit of respect and understanding that despite being deaf, the children he was there to bowl with had personalities, backbone and cheek aplenty!

The overall mood then shifted with the learners seeing aspects of the children they could relate to. They started to pay more attention to our children’s turns at bowling until by the end I could see them adopting communication strategies they had observed us using with the children to congratulate them on a strike, commiserate with a ball that plunged off the end hitting nothing or to laugh openly together at the bowling ball which somehow skipped out of our lane and down the one next door!

They were taking the time to tap/touch the children’s shoulders to gain their attention and speak to them face to face in the noisy situation. They had learned in that short time how easy it was to use simple considerations to interact with deaf people. I imagine a lot of it they will have picked up and used subconsciously having seen us doing it, but if they take it forward with them win the future and it helps to promote their use of deaf awareness strategies with anyone else they meet, it will be so positive.

Our children gained also from the event and not just in socialising with each other. We explained to them that the learners had raised the money for the event for them. So often, they never meet the people who have helped to fund things for them. But on that evening they had met and enjoyed the experience with people who had made an effort for them. Lots of ‘cool’, understated, thanks were exchanged amongst the group and as it dispersed everyone went home a bit richer for the experience.

Tamsin Coates trained and worked as a Speech and Language Therapist for over 10 years. Her training came in useful when she had two sons who are profoundly deaf. She now juggles being a mum to three lively children, writing, running the Wirral Deaf Children’s Society (with her friend Lisa) and raising awareness regarding deaf issues wherever she can.

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