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Helping Us Campaign in Northern Ireland

We want to make sure there is a powerful voice for change, demanding a fair deal for deaf children here. Our vision is to create a world without barriers for every deaf child - but we need your help.

All deaf children in Northern Ireland should be able to access the services they deserve - in health, education, transport and social care.

How you can help us

  • Share your experiences

  • Give your opinion on our work

  • Suggest issues you want us to tackle

Reform of Special Educational Needs (SEN) provision

Changes to the Special Educational Needs (SEN) system in Northern Ireland are on their way. We are campaigning for a better system for deaf children and young people.

There are around 1,500 deaf children and young people between the ages of 0 – 18 in Northern Ireland. Deafness in itself is not a learning disability. With the right support a deaf child can achieve like any other child. Yet in Northern Ireland there is a significant gap between deaf and hearing children.

The Special Educational Needs Act passed in early 2016. The Department of Education has consulted on Regulations and Code of Practice. Deaf children and young people and their families told us what they though of the new framework. Comments focused on:

- Eligibility and timescales

- The ‘Learning Support Coordinator’ role

- Individual Learning Plans

- Quantification and specification

- Quality of SEN services

- Annual review, appeals and mediation

Thanks to all the families who shared their insights with us. We used these to produce our response to the Department of Education, which you can find  here.

Emotional health and wellbeing of deaf children and young people

We want to improve the emotional wellbeing of deaf children and young people. They are four times more likely than other children to have emotional health and wellbeing problems. This can arise from communication difficulties within the family and with peers. Deaf children and their families need the right mental health provision to support wellbeing and deal with problems.

  •  Early intervention

Appropriate support during the early years is vital. We want to see a holistic package of early intervention for young deaf children. Deafness is a low incidence disability. Around 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents. This means that many parents and professionals have no experience of childhood deafness.

As a result, parents need specialist support to help with deaf awareness/communication. Practitioners need advice. We need Early Years staff trained to work with deaf and deafblind children. Age appropriate sign language classes could boost the development of young deaf children. We want the Northern Ireland Executive to give the family of every deaf child the chance to attend a free family sign language course.

  • Specialist Emotional Health and Wellbeing support for deaf children

Sometimes in a deaf child’s life they will need specialist support. Northern Ireland has not had a dedicated Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAHMS) for deaf children. We are part of a group working to improve support and referral pathways for deaf children. The group includes Social Workers, Speech and Language Therapists, Audiologists, CAMHS staff and voluntary organisations.

We are delighted to say that a pilot specialist service for deaf children has started. If a child needs help with their mental or emotional wellbeing, ask a Teacher of the Deaf, GP or other professionals to refer them.

Paediatric Audiology

Paediatric Audiology services identify, diagnose and respond to deafness. When the service works well, children with hearing loss can develop good language and communication from the start. This is vital if they are to achieve their educational and social potential.

Audiology Quality Standards for adult services came in 2013. We expected that paediatric standards would soon follow. We worked with the Health & Social Care Board, audiologists and parents on draft Paediatric Standards. It has taken years, but they are finally here.

On 6 July 2021, we heard from the Minister that he has introduced these quality standards. We will now work on monitoring, so that every deaf child in Northern Ireland can expect the same quality of service, no matter where they live.

Last September, the Assembly discussed early intervention and audiology for deaf children. Click here to view the transcript and video.

Improving Education for Deaf Children

Every year, the Consortium for Research into Deaf Education (CRIDE) reports on specialist education for deaf children. A tailored report looks at services in Northern Ireland. You can find the reports for Northern Ireland, including the most recent report,  here.

Age discrimination in accessing goods, facilities and services 

Age discrimination law on goods, facilities and services should include under 16s. The Equality Commission and Children’s Commissioner both back this change to the law. This could improve access to services for deaf children. Problems that result from age discrimination against deaf children include:

  • Auxiliary Aids and Services

Only children who are failing in school get guaranteed help from the Special Educational Need system. Schools are not legally required to provide “Auxiliary Aids and Services”. Yet, once young people are old enough for further and higher education they can get auxiliary aids and services. This does not seem logical, or consistent with a commitment to early intervention.

  • Paediatric Audiology

Paediatric Audiology is a crucial service for all deaf children. In Britain, new funding promised digital hearing aids and development of children's services. In Northern Ireland we only received digitalisation. Deaf infants have hearing checks in sound booths designed for adults.

  • Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS)

CAMHS are the 'Cinderella' service in mental health. A large injection of finance is needed to offer adequate services to our young people. Compared to Adult services there is a lack of preventative services. Age discrimination law that includes children would mean fairer allocation of resources.

Do Northern Ireland's schools sound good?

Education must be accessible for deaf children and young people in Northern Ireland. We want Northern Ireland's schools, nurseries and colleges to look good, and sound good as well. Noisy, echoing buildings create barriers to learning for all children, particularly deaf children. We want to see robust building regulations for new nurseries, school and colleges.

Northern Ireland schools are tested against the acoustic requirements in Building Bulletin 93. If schools fail, they must take remedial measures until they meet standards at a re-test. These adjustments or re-tests can be very expensive. It is vital that the acoustics of school builds are right from the beginning. Pre-completion testing can ensure this at the lowest cost.

We want the Northern Ireland Executive to:

  • Ensure that acoustic standards are met through compulsory pre-completion testing.

  • Extend the standards to cover all education settings, including nursery buildings.

  • Extend the standards to cover Further Education buildings.

We are advising that temporary changes to classrooms (for social distancing) must not affect deaf children’s learning.

A stronger voice through working together - The Coalition on Deafness

A partnership of organisations that represent deaf and hard of hearing people. Its aims are:

  • Promote the rights of people who are deaf, deafblind, have a hearing loss or tinnitus

  • Raise awareness of the exclusion faced by people who are deaf, deafblind, have a hearing loss or tinnitus, as a result of the barriers they encounter

  • Recommend actions to address those barriers

The Coalition launched its  Manifesto  at Stormont. The manifesto draws on internationally recognised rights for disabled people. Recent Coalition activity includes:

  • work with the Department of Communities on employment for young deaf people

  • action on facemasks in education and health settings.

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