Being a presenter is a very beautiful challenge: Sam's story
What do you do as a volunteer?
As a Presenter, I go to events and give a 5 to 15 minute talk to families of deaf children about my journey and what I'm navigating through. The topic depends on what the event is about, so it could be talking about family, talking about adjustments when I was younger or when I was a teenager, that kind of thing. Since the pandemic it's also included Zoom meetings and talking to families on Zoom.
What inspired you to become a volunteer?
When I applied for university, I never wanted to apply for the Disabled Students’ Allowance to get support because I always thought, “Oh yeah, I can do it without it, I’m too strong for it.” But my sister said that it doesn’t look bad if you need help – and that was a real shift for me.
Once I’d warmed the idea of getting support, I started to think about how I could help others. Right before I went to university, I asked my doctor “How can I help the community?” They talked about the National Deaf Children’s Society and then the next thing you know I was doing the training in Birmingham. I've been a part of it ever since.
What's your favourite thing about volunteering?
I enjoy listening to the families because I feel like you see a lot of your own family in these people. I always say that if you're on a Zoom call or if you've made time out of your Saturday to come and learn about how you can better support your child, then you're doing something right.
It's great as a volunteer to be able to use your experience to help, but also to recognise that it's also something completely new for these people, and that they’re doing alright – you don't need to be perfect. It's great to be able to encourage them in that way.
How do you think your volunteering impacts the families of deaf children?
Sometimes with disabilities, you can let your mind limit the attainment that people can truly reach. But when families see people who have done everything they put their mind to, it makes them think differently. They think, OK, this isn’t going to stop my child from reaching their full potential. Being deaf is just something that makes that journey a little bit different, but it doesn’t halt the journey itself.
What do you think you've gained through volunteering?
I remember when I started doing the Zoom calls, I wasn't really that confident. So it was amazing to see that afterwards you get an email and people are saying ‘thank you’, and you're like wow! Because you’re there to help others, people aren't going to boo you, and that environment is really helping my speaking skills, my communication and my planning.
I want to be able to contribute, really be able to say things, and it’s really helped me in that. It has also made me a bit more proud of where I've come from and understanding that it's an important journey. Being a Presenter is a very beautiful challenge because you get to help, and you get to really explore yourself when you're looking at what you bring to the topic.
I went from being deaf and not wanting people to know about it, to talking to families and posting about it on Twitter, and it went viral. I was thinking, “Oh my gosh, what on Earth is happening?!”
What would you tell someone who's thinking about applying to volunteer?
I think what held me back was a bit of a misconception of what I thought it would be like. But you're not going to be chucked in the deep end. We did training where we had to do a talk to each other in a group of six. It felt scary at the time, but we were all in it together and it was about making our presentations sound better and be more engaging. It goes at your pace, and there are resources to help you. So if you're not the most confident in your verbal communication, then you can sign if you like.
Every time there's an event, you get there early or there’s a call that happens on the day just before, and it helps you prepare. And they’re always mad nice to me. They’re very organised and make it as easy as they can for everybody involved. It's a very welcoming environment where people are very considerate. They know about deafness, and all of the attendees will have experienced deafness in some way.
If you're thinking of applying, then just do it. Not everyone lives the same life, so it’s very helpful when you come and tell your story. You might be telling people how you navigated a situation, or informing people of the different circumstances that you've gone through – and that’s really valuable. Your experiences and life are enough – we want to hear what you have to say.