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December 3, 2004

Deaf Talkabout: Making people aware of the invisible disability

From: Belfast Telegraph, UK - Dec 3, 2004

By Bob McCullough
03 December 2004

HRH Sophie, Countess of Wessex, was guest of honour at Wilton House on Tuesday, and with interpreter Janet Beck in attendance was introduced to all 44 staff celebrating the first anniversary of the RNID's Rehabilitation programme, which helps people who have suffered hearing loss as a direct result of the troubles in Northern Ireland.

Accompanied by Dr John Low, Chief Executive of the RNID, and Brian Symington, NI Director, the Countess was greeted by a small band of deaf and blind children from Jordanstown Schools singing and signing Silent Night accompanied by their teacher Mrs Moore and classroom assistant Rita Abernethy.

Everybody I spoke to said the Countess was lovely and her attitude exceptional. Instead of staring at the interpreter as some people do, she looked directly at the children when speaking to them and made eye contact with the deaf staff she was introduced to during her tour of the room. She also mastered the sign for 'thank you' and used it appropriately.

We were told that people deafened due to a bomb blast are liable to become lonely, isolated and excluded from their friends and family. The rehabilitation programme addresses this by providing support and helping them reintegrate into society. Brian said it was wonderful to have the work recognised by this royal visit.

I have always felt that the attitude displayed by the Countess was the most important part of deaf awareness, better even than proficiency in sign language, and I was very interested in the new project the RNID is providing throughout the province under new training officer Conor Mervyn.

Conor told me that the RNID has received funding from the National Lottery to provide free deaf awareness training for small companies or not-for-profit organisations with fewer than 250 employees and an annual turnover of less than £11.2m.

This is distinct from the paid training in deaf awareness given to large companies such as hospitals and service providers. Under the DDA Act all employers are required to make reasonable adjustments for their disabled customers and employees and Conor would like you to contact him at his Belfast office: conor, with recommendations about local small or medium businesses that you feel would benefit from this free training.

The training would concentrate on making places like hotels, restaurants, hairdressers and doctors' surgeries aware of the three main divisions of the deaf world - the born deaf using sign language, the hard of hearing and those deafened by disease or accident (or bomb damage like above).

Deafness is an invisible disability and staff need to be made aware of how to spot it and the best way to communicate. This is where the importance of a right attitude becomes vital as the ability to sign is not always the answer and sensitivity and a willingness to get involved are paramount.

• Around 180 deaf from all over Ireland joined Omagh Deaf Club last Saturday in celebrating their 25th anniversary with a dinner-dance at Kelly's Inn, Ballygawley. Guest of honour was the Mayor of Drumquin, James Buchann, and Dorothy Neill from Dromore writes to say that it was a wonderful evening and much thanks is due to Florence Corey and her husband. They started the club when they became parents of a deaf son and saw the need of a centre in that area for friendship and social life.

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