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March 5, 2004

Deaf Talkabout: And the award goes to a star

From: Belfast Telegraph - Belfast,Nothern Ireland,UK - Mar 5, 2004

THE motto of the Causeway Institute of Further and Higher Education is 'Making education accessible to everyone', and there was a big crowd of students and their families for the graduation ceremony at the Lodge Hotel in Coleraine recently.

Learning Support Co-ordinator Margaret McCormack met me on arrival and I had a front row seat near John Nicholl, a local deaf man who was being awarded a C grade in GCSE English in spite of the double handicap of suffering from Usher Syndrome - a narrowing of the field of vision that sometimes leads to total blindness.

Ian Williams, Director of the Institute, spoke on the happy atmosphere of the college and their belief in vocational education.

Many employers see this kind of education as an investment and, congratulating the students for their hard work, he quoted Churchill's words that "as well as needing the courage to stand and speak, we also need the courage to sit and listen".

Guest speaker Paul Donaghy, Regional Education Organiser, said that education was not so much the filling of a pail as the lighting of a fire and, when you enrich people this way, you enrich the entire community.

He thanked the teachers and families for their support and told the students he hoped they would achieve the hopes and dreams provided by these new opportunities.

John Nicholl sat quietly watching all this with the aid of his interpreter, Donna McGlinchey. He can see well enough along the narrow corridor of Usher to follow sign language and has come to know the interpreter well through her many evening visits to his home to help with his tuition.

After the presentations of diplomas by Mr Donaghy, Margaret came to the podium to make an announcement about the new Inclusive Learning cup. This is to be presented to the student who, with the aid of additional support, has attained the most significant achievement in the college.

The gleaming new trophy was presented to John amid loud applause, and his mother beamed with delight as Margaret went on to say the cup symbolises the Causeway Institute's commitment to supporting students who have a learning difficulty or extra disability but who, with extra help, have been enable to achieve their goals.

John has been working as a hairdresser in Ballymoney for the past fourteen years and, as a boy, attended the local Hearing Impaired Unit in the town.

Exams in English are difficult for all born-deaf people, as the structure and grammar are different from the sign many regard as their first language.

With John's extra handicap the struggle has been even harder.

Our sympathy to the family of Robert Gelston, from Ards, who died last week aged 72. Bobby, as he was known, worked for many years as a scene decorator and painter at the Ulster Museum and was a popular figure at deaf events around the country.

© 2004 Independent News and Media (NI)