Sarah's a star volunteer
For most 18-year-olds, life during the COVID-19 lockdown was pretty quiet.But for young volunteer Sarah, lockdown was when life got busy!
“I live in quite a rural area so it’s difficult to join in with face-to-face events anyway,” explains Sarah, who’s moderately deaf and wears hearing aids. “When everything moved online, my volunteering work massively increased! Zoom makes it much easier to get involved.”
Although drama student Sarah has always been a confident performer, she hasn’t always been confident about her deafness. In fact, she wasn’t diagnosed as deaf until she was 11.
“My teachers used to complain that I wasn’t paying attention. My PE teacher said I just didn’t listen,” remembers Sarah. “It was like I was always in a daze.” Sarah’s mum also noticed that she wasn’t growing as fast as her siblings. After seeing lots of doctors, Sarah was diagnosed with Turner syndrome, a genetic disorder which affects her hearing, sight and growth.
“The first day I wore my hearing aids, I had my hair up and my PE teacher spotted them,” laughs Sarah. “She was really embarrassed!”
Sarah went to a rural Welsh high school and didn’t know any other deaf people until she was 15, when she joined our Young People’s Advisory Board (YAB).
“My first YAB meeting was the first time I got to meet other deaf people,” she remembers. “Hearing their stories and realising that other people were going through the same things as me was a lightbulb moment.
“It was such an amazing experience and I gained so much independence. Being part of the YAB and seeing all the other members’ bright and bubbly personalities helped me to come out of my shell and be like, yeah, deafness is cool! That’s when I really developed my deaf identity. I realised how awesome it was to be deaf.
“I honestly don’t think I’d be where I am today without the YAB.”
While she was on the YAB and before the COVID-19 pandemic, Sarah helped to run a series of workshops with the National Deaf Children’s Society, designed to raise deaf awareness. She also joined one of our Roadshow visits to a school in Birmingham, teaching deaf children in key stage 2 about technology and online safety.
“It was a really cool day,” says Sarah. “I love working with kids. Adapting the different workshops to the different age groups who attended was really fun.”
After her time on the YAB ended, Sarah knew she wanted to continue volunteering. “Before I joined the YAB, I didn’t have much deaf awareness myself. Now, I’m a lot more confident asking for the support I need.
“I want to raise awareness so that things are more accessible for other deaf children and young people. It’s something that’s really close to my heart.”
Over the past year, Sarah has volunteered at lots of online workshops for organisations including The Prince’s Trust. She also runs online workshops for deaf children and young people and has agreed to be a mentor for the National Deaf Children’s Society’s new mentoring scheme.
“My favourite thing about volunteering is getting to meet and interact with people I wouldn’t normally meet,” she says. “I’m an extremely sociable person and I love meeting new people. For me, the hardest part of lockdown has been not being able to go into college and socialise, so being able to connect with people over the internet helps me to feel less isolated. Imagine if we didn’t have Zoom, I’d be so bored!”
To help her communicate during Zoom workshops, Sarah uses the closed caption function, although she prefers using a palantypist as she finds automatic captions less accurate. She also asks participants to type questions into the chat box so that she can read what they want to say.
“As I’ve become more confident about my deafness, I’ve become more comfortable asking for the support I need,” says Sarah. “Asking for help can feel really nerve-wracking but I’ve realised that having communication support doesn’t just make life easier for me, it also makes life easier for the person that I’m communicating with.”
Now in her last year of college, Sarah thinks the skills she’s gained through volunteering have helped her prepare to study acting at university. While it’s been challenging this last year for deaf young people to get part-time jobs and work experience, volunteering can be an alternative way to develop new skills and add to your CV.
“I was already confident on stage but volunteering has helped me to become a better presenter,” Sarah explains. “It’s taught me to speak in a more condensed and considered way.
“I’ve applied to universities in big cities, which I hope will mean I can do more face-to-face volunteering once everything opens up again. I’m really passionate about the subject. After university, I’d love to actually work for the National Deaf Children’s Society. That’s my biggest goal.
“My advice to young people who are interested in volunteering would be to just do it! You get to meet so many new people and learn about new things. Make use of the technology at your disposal and be clear about the communication support you’ll need. If you need a palantypist or an interpreter, don’t be afraid to ask.