The Secret Deafie: Isolation, lack of communication and bad attitudes. The reality of my recent work placement

Posted on April 25, 2016

Today’s Secret Deafie writes about a work placement that didn’t work out as planned. Send us your Secret Deafie blog by emailing

Details about the centre promised a “specialised environment”, a “person-centred approach” and the chance for deaf and deafblind people to do “specific developmental activities”. It sounds great, doesn’t it?

Sadly, as I discovered on a work placement, the reality is very different.

Let’s take Jenny as an example. Jenny is 32 and deafblind. Her family looked for an opportunity to reduce Jenny’s isolation and get her involved in some activities she enjoys.

Her relatives felt confident that Jenny would have full communication with staff and develop her independence from her weekly attendance at the local centre.

The reality is very different but Jenny does not have the opportunity to complain.

On an average day, there are about 13 service users in one group attending the centre and approximately 9 staff.

The service users mainly communicate using BSL or hands-on signing. However, the majority of staff do not have sufficient skills to communicate beyond basic greetings.

A lack of communication is not the only issue. The attitude and behaviour of staff is not appropriate or respectful.

They are more interested in gossiping than ensuring the service users have a worthwhile experience. I attempt to communicate with all service users in the group.

What happens when I am not there? This is social isolation. The people are alone despite being surrounded by people.

A quick search on the NRCPD website came up with four interpreters for deafblind people, so this is clearly a shortage area.

However, that is not an excuse. An employer should have a responsibility to train staff to the appropriate level.

The majority of staff in the centre where I have been working do not even have Level 2 BSL.

Some staff are trying to improve their skills independently but why are deaf and deafblind service users guinea-pigs when the centre gets funding for the “specialist” service it allegedly offers?

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