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Holyrood backs Deaf Awareness Week

Published Date: 06 May 2022

• More than half of eligible MSPs have backed Deaf Awareness Week motions calling for more support for deaf children
• MSPs also support a petition launched by deaf young people, signed by nearly 50,000 people across the UK, calling for teachers to be given deaf awareness training.
• Deaf children in Scotland are twice as likely to leave school without any qualifications.

MSPs from across the political spectrum have come together to back Deaf Awareness Week and call for better support for deaf children.

The National Deaf Children's Society is using this year’s Deaf Awareness Week (May 2-8) to celebrate the achievements of the 3,000 deaf children and young people across Scotland, as well highlighting some of the barriers they face.

Deaf children in Scotland are twice as likely to leave school without any qualifications and half as likely to go to University.

Two motions celebrating Deaf Awareness Week, lodged by Gillian Mackay MSP and Karen Adam MSP, are now drawing attention to the need for better deaf awareness.

They say this would not only help thousands of deaf children achieve the same as their hearing classmates, but also lead to them feeling less lonely and isolated in class.

More than half of eligible MSPs (57 out of 101) have now pledged their support. Scottish Government Ministers and the Presiding Officer aren’t able to sign motions such as these.

The motion from Ms Mackay also asks politicians to support a UK-wide petition launched by deaf young people, which has been signed by nearly 50,000 people across the UK. It calls for mandatory deaf awareness training for all teachers.

Billy-Jack Gerard is 17 and from Edinburgh. He’s also a member of the charity’s Young People’s Advisory Board in Scotland, which created the petition. He said:

“If all teachers had deaf awareness training it would improve things for deaf young people like me as we would be able to understand more of what we're being taught - we would finally be given a chance to do as well as our hearing peers.

“Deafness isn't a learning disability, so with support like this, we definitely can learn just as well as others, and this is the first step to achieving that."

Mark Ballard, Head of Policy and Influencing for Scotland at the National Deaf Children’s Society said:

“This Deaf Awareness Week we wanted to celebrate the incredible potential that deaf children and young people are showing across Scotland. I’m delighted that so many MSPs have got behind the two Holyrood motions supporting the week this year. However, there’s still a lot to do before Scottish society can call itself truly inclusive.

“Deaf children are being held back at school by a lack of support and the gap between them and their hearing classmates is clear to see. If we’re going to give them all the chance to reach their potential, we need better deaf awareness, more training for teachers and an increase in the support they receive.”

Gillian Mackay MSP (MSP for Central Scotland, Scottish Greens) said:

“I understand the experience of problems with hearing loss, and we know deaf learners in Scotland are twice as likely to leave school with no qualifications. That’s why I am delighted that a focus of Deaf Awareness Week is a celebration of the achievements of deaf learners. Clearly, there is a lot more schools and individuals can do to remove barriers so that more children and young people who are deaf or have a hearing loss can reach their potential.”

Karen Adam MSP (MSP for Banffshire and Buchan Coast, Scottish National Party) said:

“People often seem surprised to learn that I am a child of a Deaf adult, or CODA. My dad is Deaf so I spent a considerable part of growing up with the Deaf community, learning to engage and communicate with Deaf people.

“Many of the challenges Deaf people face are because so many hearing people are unable to communicate using language like BSL. Although, we saw during lockdown, Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, ensured BSL users were included in all communications and broadcasts when she had BSL interpreters by her side on the screen giving live updates. I know this was a tremendous step forward for so many Deaf people and normalising the regular use of BSL on television. We need to see more steps like this for inclusion of Deaf people.

“I am delighted to have lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament that for Deaf Awareness Week, shining a light on the attainment gap that exists between hearing and Deaf children. I will continue to use my platform as a politician to do all I can to highlight this as an issue so we can get the positive change that Deaf children and adults deserve.”

Foysol Choudhury MSP (MSP for Lothian, Scottish Labour) said:

"I am committed to supporting my deaf and hard-of-hearing constituents. Earlier this year, I wrote to NHS Lothian to ask about accountability within their paediatric audiology service, particularly regarding how profound deafness in children is diagnosed and supported across Lothian.

"There is a Deaf Awareness gap in our society, even today in 2022. There should be a more proactive recognition of the diversity within deafness and different needs and perspectives of deaf people.

Liam McArthur MSP (MSP for Orkney, Scottish Liberal Democrats) said:

"Too many deaf people, and those who suffer from hearing loss, still face social exclusion across all aspects of their daily lives.

"While I am pleased British Sign Language has finally been formally recognised in UK law, there is still much more we can do to ensure those in the deaf community are not made to feel powerless or isolated. We all have a role to play in ensuring there is genuinely equal access to public services, information and opportunities."

Jeremy Balfour MSP (MSP for Lothian Region, Scottish Conservatives) said:

“I am delighted to support Deaf Awareness Week. The last two years has been difficult for those with hearing loss. Having to wear masks and keep social distance has excluded those in the community. We need to learn lessons and improve services as we move on.”

Colin Beattie MSP (MSP for Banffshire and Buchan Coast, Scottish National Party) said:

“As Convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Group on Deafness, I know how important it is to raise awareness and understanding of hearing loss and deafness. Many deaf people, especially our young people, experience great challenges in terms of social isolation. I believe by raising awareness we can help bridge the gap between hearing and deaf people to make our society a more socially inclusive place for the deaf community."