Making A Noise For Deaf Kids

There’s a saying, you have to ‘walk a mile in a person’s shoes’ to really understand their situation. For Rag Week 2012, the Trinity VDP Society did just this. Here, Caroline Carswell has the full story of Hearing Awareness Day.

Deafness gives comedians many jokes – but can be an ‘invisible disability’, as the VDP students quickly found by limiting their hearing for a day.

Few people are brave (or crazy) enough to voluntarily ‘block’ one of their senses, with most opting to dip into the reality of having no hearing, or temporarily limiting it with ear-plugs, headphones or ear-buds – maybe with a MP3 player.

Early in January, some enterprising TCD VDP students visited Specsavers for advice. Resident audiologist, Rachel Walbanke, offered to completely fill their ears for the day, using syringes with the purple, pliable material from which hearing-aid mould-impressions are made.

Once these ear-plugs were fitted, sound could not travel from the students’ outer ears to their inner- ears, for processing by their brains. Therefore, they were voluntarily deaf until the purple material was removed at the day’s end.

The students’ comments on the Awareness Day, show each to have re-evaluated their full hearing after experiencing lectures, laboratory practicals and communicating with fellow students while their hearing was ‘limited’.

Effectively, the students experienced some of the key challenges of being deaf. They could not lip-read as some deaf people do. But they could articulate their position – unlike many deaf people – who can get ‘blocked’ from doing this by circumstance, or by people who just don’t want to know.

Some of the frustration the students felt at ‘being deaf’ is conveyed in their reports on the website. IDK is hugely grateful to the students for this awareness-raising day at TCD, and for the €700 they raised for the IDK project.

At a daily level, IDK works to educate schoolchildren on hearing, with a children’s book and tailored lesson-plans for teachers to use. By hosting this Hearing Awareness Day on the TCD campus, the VDP group brought a key IDK message to an even wider range of people.

Awareness is key for service providers to understand the different ways of being deaf. On two occasions, IDK’s Caroline Carswell, a fluent speaker and lip-reader after being deaf from birth, erroneously had sign-language interpreters hired for her use.

Such errors are awkward for Caroline, who is verbal and prefers real-time captions for larger meetings, training and conferences. The moral is to check before facilitation: a deaf person usually knows to confirm what supports they prefer in a structured group.

While studying History at TCD in the early 90s as a profoundly deaf student, Caroline Carswell had no teaching supports from College. However, Caroline managed to obtain her degree while finding a career path during an assistant-editorship at Trinity News.

With this publishing experience, Caroline never looked back. Happily, deaf students at Trinity now have supports like digital note-taking, real-time captions and transcribing, and can arrange their necessary student social life via Facebook, Twitter or SMS texts.

An IDK parent enthusiastically called for the students to bring their idea to schools in Ireland, when their feedback appeared on the site and Facebook page.

Coincidentally, one lesson in some teachers’ plans IDK shared with the resource is very similar to what the students did: proof that great minds think alike!

For loads more insights to hearing issues, I suggest following IDK’s Facebook or Twitter pages – they guarantee some great learning.

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