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Campaigns - Northern Ireland

Photo: We're here for you Northern Ireland

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, transitions, 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

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Reform of Special Educational Needs (SEN) provision

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

There are approximately 1,500 deaf children and young people between the ages of 0 – 18 in Northern Ireland. Deafness in itself is not a learning disability and with the right support a deaf child can achieve like any other child. Yet in Northern Ireland a considerable gap exists between deaf children and their hearing peers.

The Special Educational Needs Act passed in early 2016 and the Department of Education has now consulted on Regulations and Code of Practice. We gathered evidence from deaf children and young people and their families on how to make sure the new framework meets the needs of deaf children. Comments focused on:

- Eligibility and timescales

- The new ‘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 .

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Emotional health and wellbeing of deaf children and young people

In Northern Ireland we have been campaigning on the emotional health and wellbeing of deaf children and young people.

Deaf children are four times more likely than other children to experience emotional health and wellbeing issues. This often arises from communication difficulties within the family and with peers. To develop and maintain good mental health and emotional wellbeing, and to deal with any difficulties that arise, deaf children and their families require access to the full ‘five-step’ spectrum of mental health provision, from early support to specialist expert services.

  •  Early intervention

It is vital that appropriate support is in place during the early years to address the emotional health and wellbeing needs of deaf children. We want to see a holistic package of early intervention for young deaf children and their families. Deafness is a low incidence disability (just over 1,500 deaf children and young people in NI) and around 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents. This means that most parents and many key professionals have little experience of childhood deafness.

As a result, there is a need for specialist support in the early years to help parents with deaf awareness/communication and to support practitioners. This means that we need Early Years staff who are trained in working with deaf and deafblind children, and access to Family Sign Language for parents. The opportunity to learn age-appropriate sign language would boost the childhood development of many deaf children, especially in the 0-4 years age range. We want to see the Northern Ireland Executive commit to providing the family of every deaf child with the opportunity to attend a free family sign language course.

  • Specialist Emotional Health and Wellbeing support for deaf children

Sometimes in a deaf child’s life there will be a need for specialist support. However in Northern Ireland, there is no dedicated Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAHMS) to support deaf children. We are working very closely with relevant services to make this happen. In Northern Ireland we support a group working to ensure appropriate support and effective referral pathways to respond to deaf children's emotional wellbeing and mental health. 

The group is composed of Social Services, Audiologists, Speech and Language Therapists, CAMHS professionals and voluntary organisations.

We recently  responded to the Service Framework for Mental Health  and Wellbeing to stress the need for specialist support for deaf young people, and the importance of ensuring a smooth transition to adult services for young deaf people who continue to need mental health support. 

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Paediatric Audiology

Paediatric Audiology services are critical to ensuring that deafness is identified, diagnosed and responded to as early as possible. When the service works well, children with a hearing loss are enabled to develop good language and communication skills from their earliest years. This is vital if they are to achieve their educational and social potential.

In 2013 the Minister for Health introduced Audiology Quality Standards in Northern Ireland for adult services. The understanding was that paediatric standards would quickly follow. It has taken years, but we are finally seeing action. We have been working with the Health & Social Care Board, the Regional Audiology Forum, the BAA and parents on Paediatric Audiology Standards for Northern Ireland. A baseline survey has been completed.

We hope to see the introduction and monitoring of quality standards before the end of the year, so that every deaf child in Northern Ireland can expect the same quality of service, no matter where they live.

The Assembly recently debated how to make sure that early intervention and audiology services for deaf children recover from the impact of COVID-19 restrictions. Click here to view the transcript and video .

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Improving Education for Deaf Children

The Consortium for Research into Deaf Education (CRIDE) carries out an annual survey of specialist educational services for deaf children. A tailored report looks specifically at services in Northern Ireland.

You can find the reports for Northern Ireland, including the most recent report,  here .

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Age discrimination in accessing goods, facilities and services 

We are in favour of extending age discrimination legislation on accessing goods, facilities and services to cover minors. This move could significantly improve access to services for deaf children. Current problems that result from age discrimination against deaf children include:

  • Auxiliary Aids and Services

Only children who are failing in school are guaranteed help from the Special Educational Need system. Children who are not failing academically may not receive specified services. Legally, schools are not required to provide services called “Auxiliary Aids and Services”. However, once the same young people reach the age to enter further and higher education colleges they are entitled to auxiliary aids and services. This does not seem either logical, or consistent with stated commitments to early intervention.

  • Paediatric Audiology

Paediatric Audiology is a crucial service for all deaf children. In Great Britain modernisation of audiology services included funding for digitalising hearing aids and the development of paediatric services. In Northern Ireland we only received digitalisation. Deaf infants have to have hearing checks in sound booths designed for adults. Great Britain has had paediatric standards for some years now; no such standards exist in Northern Ireland.

  • Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) Funding

Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services are very much the 'Cinderella' service within the mental health field, with substantial additional finance required to offer adequate services to our young people. In comparison to Adult services there is a lack of preventative services. Age discrimination legislation that included children would require that resources were more evenly allocated.

Support for change to the law

The Equality Commission and Children’s Commissioner have undertaken considerable research and secured legal opinion on the importance of extending Age Discrimination legislation to under 16s.

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Do Northern Ireland's schools sound good?

A campaign to make education more accessible for deaf children and young people in Northern Ireland.

We want Northern Ireland's schools, nurseries and colleges to not only look good but sound good as well. Noisy, echoing school buildings create a barrier to learning for all children, but particularly for deaf children so we want to see robust building regulations for new nurseries, school and colleges.

Northern Ireland schools are required to be tested acoustically to ensure that the requirements in Building Bulletin 93 are met. If the requirements are not met schools must take remedial measures until standards are met at a subsequent re-test. The department will not meet the cost of these adjustments or re-tests and they can often be very expensive. It is imperative therefore that the acoustics of school builds are got right from the beginning. Pre-completion testing can ensure this at the lowest cost.

We would like the Northern Ireland Executive to:

  • Ensure that acoustic standards are being met.

We need compulsory pre-completion testing for compliance with standards and require that when buildings fail these tests, that they then receive remedial action.

  • Extend the standards to cover all nursery buildings.

It is important that deaf pupils of all ages can listen and learn effectively. We need the NI Executive to ensure that educational settings, including all nursery buildings, are legally obliged to comply with the regulations.

  • Extend the standards to cover Further Education buildings

It is important as young people progress through their education that all of the buildings they are taught in are made as accessible as possible.

Our current priority is ensuring that temporary changes to classroom arrangements (brought in to support social distancing during the ongoing Covid 19 pandemic) do not interfere with deaf children’s right to learn.

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A stronger voice through working together - The Coalition on Deafness

This partnership of organisations that represent deaf and hard of hearing people aims to:

  • 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 on Deafness launched its  Manifesto  at Parliament Buildings, based on internationally recognised rights for disabled people. Recently the Coalition has worked with the Department of Communities on employment for young deaf people and has also worked together on facemasks in education and health settings.