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October 5, 2005

'I'm sorry, I didn't know you existed'

From: News & Star - Carlisle,Cumbria,UK - Oct 5, 2005

Ellen Crozier would arrive home on a Friday night from her factory shift and watch the news. She enjoyed the last five minutes when Noreen Turner presented the news for the deaf in British Sign Language (BSL).

One Friday, in June 2001, Ellen got her redundancy notice from the Grasshopper babywear business in Maryport.

The same day, in The Cumberland News, she saw an advert for a support worker with Cumbria Deaf Association.

Ellen applied and went through an intense selection process. She had an informal chat and met one of the clients she would be helping.

Then followed a work placement with Garden Links, and a formal interview. Ellen got the job.

"I've been here ever since," she said. "I'm a senior support worker now. Learning BSL led into a dream job."

In July this year Ellen achieved her Level 2 Deafblind support worker certificate, having passed her Level 1 certificate at the Maryport Educational Settlement in 1998.

Level 2 included finger spelling, which was needed when it came to helping me recently.

I was reading the News & Star on August 23. The front page headline said: "Despicable Carer Stole from Blind OAP."

She was blind, deaf and 93. I knew her name, sort of. My cousin rang, she knew it too. It was probably our second cousin, our mutual Grandma Wallace's niece.

I couldn't think how to track her down. We left it that I would go to CDA the day after, to do my usual volunteering day, and try to get an address.

I ran straight into Ellen. Did she know of her, did anyone? Ellen knew her very well, did her admin and correspondence.

I was told to write her a letter, say who I was, say I would like to see her, and Ellen would meet her that Friday and have my letter interpreted.

I was to learn and be fluent in finger spelling. Ellen phoned me back to say it was OK, my second cousin once removed would like to see me.

We agreed a time, and on no account was I to be late.

I sat in my car in front of the immaculate bungalow in Harraby, thinking things through, 10 minutes early, clutching my list of finger spelling signs.

When I entered the house I spelled into her hand my name, who I was, and that I was pleased to meet her.

She spelled back: "Why didn't you come sooner?" They said it at Belsen, and Beslan and they'll say it in Baton Rouge, if the 7th Cavalry ever get there. My universal answer appalled even me: "I'm sorry. I didn't know."

When she was born she had partial sight and some hearing. She told me in clear English about my Grandma.

Grandma didn't like people who were different. I clearly remembered her dislike of another particular cousin. She had dark hair. My cousin had dark hair.

I stayed about an hour, had a cup of tea, toured her pristine home and met her new kitten and said I would come again and perhaps bring my cousin, who remembered her.

Learning will lead you in new directions, to a new job, perhaps a new relative, or new information.

BSL is a fascinating language you may not have thought of learning. There are 400 people right here in Cumbria who would love you to try.

CDA holds an open evening at Age Concern, West Strand, Whitehaven, tomorrow.

© 2005 News & Star