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November 5, 2004

Deaf Talkabout: Hear, hear... good news

From: Belfast Telegraph, United Kingdom - Nov 5, 2004

By Bob McCullough
05 November 2004

As Bangor expands, the number of deaf people in the town and surrounding areas has continued to increase rapidly and now totals around 200 sign language users. A committee was formed to discuss the setting up of a deaf club for the whole North Down area and last Friday things kicked off with a halloween party in a social club just off the dual carriageway to Donaghadee.

Around 90 people turned up and in the relaxed yet electrifying atmosphere many of the adults and nearly all the children were disguised in elaborate fancy dress.

I was asked to judge the children's section of the fancy dress and it struck me how many of these children of deaf parents have normal hearing, yet feel perfectly at home in the deaf community.

The children are born with perfect hearing, yet often grow up with BSL as their first language and sign fluently before they learn to speak. It is one of the striking anomalies of the deaf world that 90% of deaf babies are born to hearing parents, and deaf parents have hearing babies who are bi-lingual in sign and English before they start school.

In such an atmosphere the few profoundly deaf children at the party were perfectly at home with their hearing peers, and judging the parade was made all the more easy because I was honestly unable to distinguish the deaf children from the hearing and communication was the same for both.

Over supper I met Ards girl Julie Graham, and she told me about her move to England and new life teaching English and maths at Heathland's school for deaf. Julie was voted graduate of the year at Queen's and then taught English for three years at Hunterhouse School on the Malone Road - a deaf women effectively teaching hearing children with the help of an interpreter.

Julie was a great success at the school and got on very well with the pupils, but she felt it was time for a change and, following an invitation from Heathland's head teacher Mabel Davis, who is also deaf, is enjoying the challenge of educating deaf children in their own language - trying to inculcate a love of Shakespeare and encouraging them to see the value of learning and higher education.

The North Down club will meet every fortnight at Kilcooley Community Centre and new members will be welcome. Fax Bertie Humphries at 91 479443.

© 2004 Independent News and Media (NI) a division of Independent News & media (UK) Ltd