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Jovita's tour guiding success

Photo: Jovita led a successful museum tour in British Sign Language

Jovita (14) who is severely to profoundly Deaf has become a teen tour guide for the Wallace
Collection in London.

When her mum saw a poster asking for young people aged 14–18 to be trained to deliver a tour of the Wallace Collection, an art museum in London, she asked Jovita if she was interested. “I said, ‘Why not?’” says Jovita. “I applied, and they asked me if I wanted an interpreter, which was amazing – it was the first time someone had asked that! I was the first Deaf young person to be presenting.”

Although Jovita was born Deaf, parents Karen and Johan, who are both Deaf themselves, had to battle for almost five years to get a diagnosis for their daughter, which was the start of a long struggle to get her the support she needed. “People think a Deaf parent with a Deaf child will be absolutely fine because the Deaf parent can sort it out and know what’s best. Actually they don’t think about the additional barriers we have as parents and the accessibility we need to get support and advice,” says Johan.

Jovita put in a lot of work to prepare for her tour. “I practised for an hour a weekend over five weeks. The first weekend was introducing all the items and narrowing down the ones I wanted to talk about,” she explains. “I was then trained on delivering a tour. Most of the young people trained were 16 or 17 and hearing. I was the youngest. I practised and practised about my objects and did more research, gathering information and talking to people to find out more. Then I did a bit of a fake run-through in the training room and then out into the actual gallery to practise.”

“I had such a feeling of accomplishment and was constantly smiling. I felt really giddy!”

Jovita delivered her tour in British Sign Language (BSL), which is her first language, but she also speaks and lipreads well. “I rely heavily on lipreading but that’s quite tiring so my preference is for Sign Supported English and BSL in school as well as BSL with my family,” she explains.

On the day of the tour, Jovita arrived three hours early to have a full final run through. “I was very nervous. My legs were actually trembling!” she remembers.

She conducted the tour with an interpreter providing a voiceover for hearing guests. It lasted half an hour, attracted 15 people and was a resounding success, leaving Jovita feeling very proud of herself. “I was amazed – genuinely surprised I’d actually done it. I had such a feeling of accomplishment and was constantly smiling. I felt really giddy!” she beams. “Afterwards I got feedback – it was quite positive but there were obviously some areas I needed to improve. But it was only my first time delivering the tour so I expected that. Hopefully, over time, I’ll practise more and get it down to a tee.”

“We met the Minister for Education and had a discussion with him which was fantastic – really interesting.” 

Jovita is also a member of our Young People’s Advisory Board (YAB) which she’s really enjoying. “I’ve definitely made some friends,” she smiles. “It’s great fun and I’ve really enjoyed everyone’s company. We wind each other up massively, especially those of us who use BSL! It’s kind of like a mini, new family I suppose.”

It was with fellow members of the YAB that Jovita went to the Houses of Parliament to campaign for a GCSE in BSL. “We’ve been trying to get various schools and education institutes involved to try to improve opportunities for deaf young people,” she says. “We met the Minister for Education and had a discussion with him which was fantastic – really interesting.”

Jovita has never let her deafness hold her back and her long list of other achievements includes teaching BSL at school, playing a young Dot Miles (a famous deaf poet) in BSL Zone’s programme Dot and training to be a trampoline coach.

"I’d also like to become the first Deaf judge,”

 “I love trampolining. My trampolining group are used to communicating with me but I was thinking about other deaf people trying to access the group. When people are jumping up and down you can’t lipread them so how are they supposed to communicate? You have to wait until they jump back down to sign, but a hearing person can just listen to instructions or conversation and that’s fine,” explains Jovita. “I talked to my mum about it and she encouraged me to become a trampoline coach so maybe one day I could teach deaf children.”

Jovita delivered a second tour of the Wallace Collection in November and hopes to develop her tour-guiding in the future. “I’d love to do tours of universities or perhaps in museums but my topic will always be history because I really love history,” she says.

But she also has bigger ambitions. “There are two things I’d like to do. I want to work in law to help deaf children in mainstream schools to make sure they have the right support and know their rights. I’d also like to become the first Deaf judge,” Jovita says. Johan agrees, “I hope she realises that ambition and has an impact on the government in terms of better provision and access for deaf children.” “It’s very ambitious,” adds Jovita. “But I don’t see why not; I’m allowed to dream!” Good luck Jovita!