VIEW magazine

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An independent social affairs magazine

Issue 59, 2021


We need a Sign Language Act now says Alanis Pages four and five


VIEW, Issue 59, 2021

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CONTENTS VIEW MAGAZINE – A social affairs publication with in-depth reporting and analysis Fighting for support

VIEW editor Brian Pelan talks to Allan and Wendy Newbronner from Glengormley about the challenges of finding support for their three deaf sons Pages six and seven

Drawn to architecture Richard Dougherty talks about how his love of football helped him to cope when he was the only deaf student on his course at Queen’s University Pages 10 and 11

Sign Language Act Majella McAteer, from the British Deaf Association, is confident that a Sign Language Act will be implemented in Northern Ireland Pages 14 and 15

‘I love my work’ Interpreter Donna McGlinchey tells how her journey into sign language began when she met a deaf women in her first job at the age of 16 Pages 16 and 17

New vice president Natasha Hirst, the new vice president of the National Union of Journalists, writes about the challenges of being a deaf photographer Page 21

Film review Jane O’Brien, who is deaf, takes a look at the Oscar-nominated Sound Of Metal, starring actor Riz Ahmed Page 22

THE BIG PICTURE Making a complaint to VIEWdigital –

Vilma Jackson, a deaf performance artist who has worked in film, stage, television drama, and music video, talks about her journey in The Big Interview on pages eight and nine

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VIEW, an independent social affairs magazine

Guest editor Dr Bronagh Byrne, Senior Lecturer, School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work, Queen’s University Belfast am going to open this editorial with a few reflective questions. When was the last time you met a deaf person? Were you able to communicate with them? Could you communicate with a deaf person in an emergency situation if you needed to? Do you know that we have two sign languages in Northern Ireland? And do you know that lips have accents? Deaf people have always existed. However, we have also been silenced and have lived in silence. Contrary to what you might think, this has not been because we cannot hear in the same way as everyone else, but because communicating with deaf people has always been ‘someone else’s problem’. Deafness evokes a fear of the unknown for mainstream society. It has been easier to ignore, to be ‘too busy’, or perhaps to panic when it comes to interacting with those who communicate in different ways from the so-called norm. Yet one in seven of the population has some level of hearing loss – that is over 250,000 people in Northern Ireland. Deaf people are very present in the community. They are mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends and colleagues. The majority (78 percent) of our deaf children and young people attend mainstream schools, and there are deaf people in many workplaces ranging from law, politics, healthcare, teaching, architecture, human resources, social work, engineering, construction, hospitality and finance to name a few. This presence belies the extent of barriers and discrimination that deaf people experience across the course of life and which most deaf people are required to overcome if they wish to succeed. These barriers and pressures also contribute to poorer mental health outcomes among deaf people when compared to hearing people. We might say that deaf people are good at pushing through adversity. This is nothing to be proud of. There does not need to be such adversity. The adversity we experience is not from a medical condition – it is man-made. As deaf people, we cannot easily adjust our mode of communication to access a world that has, until now, been



Deaf people have always existed. However, we have also been silenced and have lived in silence designed by and for hearing people. Imagine if the tables were turned, that to be deaf and communicate via sign language was ‘normal’, and that to be hearing was to be different, and in the minority. In this instance the world would be inclusive for deaf people as the majority. Imagine schools, arts, information, television all in sign language and how this might impact on hearing people. Imagine trying to follow ministerial briefings during the last year of the pandemic if these were solely in sign language. There might be calls for spoken language interpreters and hearing people might struggle to achieve educational qualifications because teaching and resources are based on sign language. You get the point I’m making. The power lies with each of us to create an inclusive, respectful society of which we are all part. Work to enhance the status of sign language has been under way in Northern Ireland for some time. In 2016, the Department of Culture, Arts and Languages launched a consultation on a Framework promoting sign language to ensure that BSL and ISL users have the “same rights, responsibilities, opportunities and quality of life as those in the hearing community by enshrining equality and social inclusion in legislation for the current and future generations of Deaf sign

language users and their families”. Central to this Framework are the proposals for draft legislation to safeguard ISL/BSL users’ rights as a cultural and linguistic minority to be able to access services in their own language. The collapse of the power-sharing Executive in January 2017 meant that progress towards the legal recognition of BSL and ISL stalled. Commitment to drafting sign language legislation was included in the New Decade, New Approach, however a Sign Language Bill will, unfortunately, not form part of the current mandate. The deaf community have many stories to share. When I first met VIEW editor Brian Pelan some years ago he – perhaps worn down by my incessant rambling on the barriers and challenges facing deaf people – proposed the idea of an issue of VIEW solely on deaf issues. I am so delighted that, thanks to Brian’s enthusiasm and commitment, this has come to fruition and that this special issue brings some of those silenced stories to the forefront. I am hopeful that this issue provides a snapshot of deaf people’s lives – the good, the not so good, and ways forward. The solutions are fairly clear: • Equality and recognition: through a Sign Language Act. • Communication: join a sign language class in your local area and let’s make sign language part of the school curriculum. • Ask – remember there is a spectrum of deafness and communication needs. Not everyone is a sign language user. If you aren’t sure how best to communicate with a deaf person, just ask. • Lips – lips are important! Make sure we can see your lips, be patient and try saying things a different way if we don’t get it the first time. Let’s make these solutions a reality. • Footnote: The term deaf with a lowercase ‘d’ refers to anyone with a hearing loss irrespective of degree of hearing loss and mode of communication. Deaf with a capital ‘D’ refers to those who identify as part of a cultural and linguistic community.

VIEW, Issue 59, 2021

Making her voice heard: Alanis Millar from Antrim

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Young and vocal Alanis Millar tells VIEW editor Brian Pelan why the demands for a Sign Language Act must be implemented if deaf people are to fully achieve justice and equality he voices of young deaf people will be essential as the campaign for a Sign Language Act gathers momentum in Northern Ireland. On a balmy day in Botanic Gardens in Belfast, I had the pleasure of talking to a young, passionate deaf woman called Alanis Millar. She embodied, in many ways, the voice of youth who won’t take no for an answer. In a recent article in the Belfast Telegraph, written by journalist Mark Bain, 18-year-old Alanis said: “Northern Ireland needs a Sign Language Act. It’s something that was promised as part of the New Decade New Approach Deal. It would improve self-esteem, build confidence and independence, help us feel less excluded from society, end disability discrimination, create equal opportunities and improve our health both mentally and physically. There are so many reasons why this needs to happen. But sign language is never seen as a priority. This is a language that can really make a difference to people’s lives.” Alanis, from Antrim, is currently studying for three A-Levels. Two of the subjects are at Jordanstown School for the Deaf and Visually Impaired where she is studying Maths and Life and Health Science; and Health and Social Care at Belfast High School. Her plan is to go to university after she finishes her A-levels. “I haven’t made


my mind up yet where I want to go,” said Alanis. “I’m interested in taking a degree in Health and Social Care.” Alanis was born deaf. “I was born deaf due to enlarged vestibular aqueducts known as ‘widen cochlea’ which is an overdeveloped part of the inner ear which prevents developing access to sounds,” she said. Her early primary school experience was a “frustrating” one untill on the recommendation of a teacher, she transferred to Jordanstown School to join fellow pupils in a primary three class. “It made a huge difference,” said Alanis. “I was also very determined to learn.” When we got to talking about the necessity of a BSL/ISL Sign Language Act, Alanis was very specific in talking about why she thought it was vital that it happened. “I want to see change. I want it to happen,” she said. “Everybody has a right to communicate. I was about 14 years of age when I got involved in the campaign for a Sign Language Act. Two guys who worked for the National Deaf Children’s Society came to Jordanstown School one day. “They asked us to give examples of what sort of communication barriers we had experienced, and what changes we would like to see happen. I give my

answers, and both of them thought I was quite articulate. They asked me to participate in a youth advisory board which would campaign for changes to help deaf people. “Once I was accepted to be a part of it, I got to meet other deaf children from Wales, England and Scotland. My friend and I travelled to a number of events in the rest of the United Kingdom, including London and Birmingham.” Alanis strongly believes that sign language should be taught as a subject in mainstream schools. “It should be taught at primary level, secondary level education, and universities. We also need more sign language interpreters in Northern Ireland.” “A Sign Language Act would also improve our access to essential services, such as hospitals. She gave an example of difficulties that deaf people can face when they fall ill. “A deaf man recently who was having a stroke had serious difficulty in communicating with ambulance staff because they were wearing masks,” said Alanis. “His life was at risk because they could not communicate with him.” I’ve a feeling we are going to hear more from Alanis Millar as the demands for a Sign Language Act intensify. It was a pleasure to meet her and experience the passion she feels and expresses for the needs of deaf people.

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The Newbronner family: Front row, from left, Carter, Wendy and Allan. Back row, from left, Dean and Rhys Images: Kevin Cooper Photoline

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We’ve had to fight for everything. It has been a constant uphill battle VIEW editor Brian Pelan talks to Allan and Wendy Newbronner about the challenges of finding support for their three deaf sons was first introduced to the Newbronner family from Glengormley, outside Belfast, when Wendy Newbronner wrote a few words to me in support of VIEW producing an issue about deaf people in Northern Ireland. Wendy, the mother of three deaf boys; aged 19, 16, and 10, wrote: “I would be very much in support of a publication dedicated to raising awareness on issues faced within the deaf community. I would particularly like to see the following issues explored: career support for deaf young people and opportunities of work experience placements.” After a series of email exchanges, Wendy put me in touch with her husband, Allan, who phoned me. And so I began to learn the story of the Newbronner family and the battles both parents have had to endure in order to get vital support for their sons, Rhys, Dean and Carter. All three boys attend Jordanstown School for the Deaf and Visually Impaired. Allan, who is orginally from South Africa, said: “We didn’t know that our firstborn son Rhys was deaf when he was born. There was no history of deafness in either Wendy’s family or mine. Rhys seemed to pass all the baby tests that were carried out on him. He wasn’t diagnosed as deaf until he was two-and-a-half-years of age. At that stage, Wendy was already pregnant with our second son Dean. “The process of getting to the actual diagnosis was quite traumatic.” Following more tests later on, Wendy discovered she had a rare gene which caused deafness. Allan recalled the time when Rhys got his first hearing aids at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. “I remember we were going down in the elevator to the car park,” said Allan. “I was carrying Rhys and his eyes just lit up and he was looking all around him, because he had just heard cars coming up through to the car park and other noises in the area. Wendy and I both looked at his little face and I will never ever forget that until the day I die. It was an absolutely amazing feeling. He was hearing some sounds for the first time. “Rhys is severely deaf. When he doesn’t have his hearing aids, he can barely make out noise. The hearing aids allow him


Brothers: Rhys and Dean to decipher sounds a bit more. His speech is actually pretty good and is very intelligible. We have worked very hard with a speech language therapist. Wendy had to leave work to be with our boys and help them to learn how to listen and speak. “Dean was screened through a newborn baby programme because of what we had went through with Rhys. We found out early on that he was also profoundly deaf. The hearing aids he wears only gives him a certain level of sound. Everybody is still a bit confounded at the way Dean talks and how he does it even with his hearing aids. He makes it his business to know what’s going on. “It has had a toll on the family. There has been a lot of stress involved, including economically, especially when Wendy has had to come out of work.We have found it really difficult to get the help we needed. We’ve had to fight for everything. It has been a constant uphill battle. “Wendy and I have both been on sign language courses. When we communicate with the boys, it’s total communication – sign language, speech, visual aids, writing things down – whatever works for us. “Our children not only have deafness,” said Allan. “They have other issues such as autism and Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). I’m 52 years of age and I sometime envisage the fact that I could be retiring and my kids could still be living with me. “We have learned to accept our situation many years ago. People often say: ‘How do you cope?’ We reply that we haven’t known anything different. We

would get out together about once a year for an overnight if we’re lucky. I can count on my one hand the number of times Wendy and I have actually been out to dinner and this was pre-Covid when there were no issues. “I don’t see why we shouldn’t have a Sign Language Act. They talk in school about languages such as English, French, German and Spanish, but what about the language of sign? “I would love to see sign language being taught in mainstream schools. Deaf people shouldn’t be cut off because of issues around communicating.” As our conversation came to an end, it was agreed that I could visit the family home to meet Wendy in person and her three sons. When I arrived at the house with photographer Kevin Cooper, Rhys and Dean came to meet us at the door. They were friendly, inquisitive and full of chat. Outside in the back garden, Wendy confirmed what Allan had told me earlier. about the challenges of caring for three deaf sons. “It has been really difficult to get help for our children who are deaf and who also have additional needs. We found it a struggle to get help for Rhys, and when Carter came along, we had the same struggles. Nothing has changed,” said Wendy. “Many times when we sought help, doors were closed and we were told that nothing was available. “It wasn’t until we contacted Sense (a charity set up to assist the Deaf and Blind) that any real, ongoing help was made available to us.” Rhys joined in our conversation to tell me that he has a desire to become a chef. Not to be outdone, Carter said that he wanted to become a classroom assistant. The youngest boy, Carter, arrived home as the interview was coming to an end. He rushed into the back garden to give his mum a warm embrace. The love between this tight of group of people was obvious to see and experience. We, as a society, can do a lot more to help them share the load of bringing up three deaf boys with a range of needs. They deserve no less.

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the BIG interview Vilma Jackson, a deaf performance artist who has worked in film, stage, television drama, and music video, talks to VIEW editor Brian Pelan about coping during the lockdown, why she set up her own company, and the urgent need for a Sign Language Act bring it more to light and to highlight issues that we really need to discuss more openly. BLM is a positive movement.

Brian Pelan: How was life for you during the pandemic? Vilma Jackson: When the pandemic hit there was very little access in terms of British Sign Language (BSL) which was really sad. We were really unaware of what was going on and we have been fighting for equality. For example, hearing audiences would be first to know the information about social distancing and lockdown requirements. It almost give a message from the government that the Deaf community isn’t important. This led to anxiety within the Deaf community.

Brian: Can you tell me why you made the decision to set up your own company. Vilma Jackson Productions.

Brian: What was the impact on you of people wearing masks? Vilma: It was really difficult to communicate with people who couldn’t sign as lip reading and facial expression would normally assist the communication. Brian: Has the easing of lockdown restrictions made a difference? Vilma: To be honest, for me there wasn’t much difference during lockdown and after lockdown. There were, of course, some limitations but generally I have been fortunate to have been working throughout. Brian: On a video you made, called Triple Oppression, you talk about being a woman being black, and being deaf. Can you tell me a little bit more about this? Vilma: Racism is obviously something that I’ve experienced for many years. So, when lockdown first happened it gave me an opportunity to reflect and develop my writing skills. Which then prompted me to write this

Passionate: Vilma Jackson piece of work based on my experiences about being deaf, being a woman, and being black, and the barriers that I’ve experienced. I wanted to show those out there who have struggled and who continue to struggle, don’t give up. Brian: How important was the campaign, Black Lives Matter, to you? Vilma: The issues raised by Black Lives Matter (BLM) are not new to me. There has always been a movement in the USA and the UK. As a community we have been aware of these issues for a long time. I think it’s great to

Vilma: I felt that there were not a lot of opportunities for Black and Asian Deaf people within the community. Representation was really at the forefront of my ethos. I wanted audiences to be able to look up and recognise people in the projects that I create. I also want to encourage the dreams of those who are watching. I’ve also created The Vilma Jackson Show on my Facebook page. In our first episode, we had an actor, an artist, and a musician. We talked about their experiences within the deaf community and what it was like for them. It was quite clear from our discussion that hearing people had more opportunities. Brian: Have you witnessed any significant changes for deaf people in terms of access to wider society? Vilma: The advancement of technology has undoubtedly changed things considerably. The use of mobile phones, FaceTime, and Zoom has allowed Deaf people to be more independent. I would also say, that in terms of access, I have been able to access interpreters more easily. However, in wider society, there is definitely room for improvement in regard to accessing information. Brian: How important is it that a Sign Language Act with accompanying legislation

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Vilma Jackson: ‘Focus on your own personal self, your own passion. Be creative and follow your dreams’ is introduced in the UK? Vilma: It is really important to have that recognition. During the pandemic a deaf woman called Lynn Stewart-Taylor started a campaign insisting that BSL interpreters should be provided during government lockdown briefings. We wouldn’t need these sorts of campaigns if British Sign Language had the recognition it deserves. Brian: What would you say to young, deaf people who are struggling, either with mental health issues or a lack of confidence? Vilma: I would ask them not to give up and to keep going for their goals. Don’t think about what

society thinks about you, focus on your own personal self, your own passion, and then others will follow. Be creative and follow your dreams. Keep the fire burning bright. Brian: Did you have role models that you looked up to, or who inspired you, when you were growing up? Vilma: That’s a very good question. I wouldn’t say I had a role model when I was growing up. Unfortunately, there was nobody who was black, deaf, or female for me to look up to, to be a role model for me. Who I would really look up to are my parents. They never said you can’t do this because of such and such. Whatever my dreams were, they

really encouraged it and supported it. It was never mentioned that being deaf could be a reason for not achieving my goal. So it was a real blessing to have my parents, their positivity and their encouragement. They were definitely my role models. Brian: I really appreciate you taking some time to speak to me today. Maybe sometime, I’ll get to meet you in person. Vilma: Thank you so much, Brian. • To find out more about Vilma Jackson go to her website at or her Facebook page at

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Richard Dougherty in Botanic Gardens, Belfast

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If a deaf child doesn’t bloom, we mustn’t ask what is wrong with the child. We must ask what is wrong with the environment Richard Dougherty tells Brian Pelan about his journey from a small classroom for deaf children to becoming an architect arrived early for my interview with architect Richard Dougherty. For a change, the sun was shining. Perfect, I thought, for an interview in the scenic surroundings of Botanic Gardens in Belfast. But the God of weather had other plans as hailstones soon began to pound the ground and the top of my head. I saw Richard approaching as I was rapidly seeking shelter under a tree. We both quickly agreed that a nearby cafe, which had tables and, more importantly, large umbrellas protruding above them, offered better sanctuary. Forty-two-year-old Richard is deaf, as is his wife and two children. He lip-reads perfectly and we soon struck up a conversation. I asked was I easy to read? “Yes,” replied Richard. I decided to take that as a compliment. The waiter who took our order was wearing a mask and had no idea that my guest was deaf and that he couldn’t hear or lip-read what the waiter was saying. I briefly became the interpreter. A further farcical moment occurred when I had to ask the waiter to turn down the cafe’s sound system which was playing loud, screechy pop music. I think in this case, Richard had a definite advantage over me. Once our respective orders were brought to the table, Richard, who was born in Downpatrick, started to tell me a little about himself. “I was born profoundly deaf. I can remember from the age of three or four, a number of trips to a hospital’s audiology department. My father, mother, brothers and sister can all hear. My wife and her family members are all deaf. They are two completely different worlds. “I can remember a doctor at the hospital telling my mum, ‘I’m very sorry but your son can’t hear.’ In that very moment, I can remember feeling that I was a failure. But, luckily, I went to a small school for deaf children – that was my saving grace because I had a fantastic teacher with only around five pupils in the room. Bronagh Byrne (the guest editor of this issue) was one of my classmates.” Later on, Richard went to a boarding


An artist’s impression of the interior of the new building at Gallaudet University in Washington school for deaf young people in England, from the age of 11 to 18. “This all helped to make me the person I am today. “I then returned to Belfast to study architecture at Queen’s University. “I was the only student who was deaf on my degree course, and I struggled very badly in my first year. It was probably one of the hardest experiences of my life.” Richard paid tribute to a student friend who sat beside him in class and took notes for him. Socialising was also difficult as pubs were too noisy which made any kind of communication very difficult. “What got me through university was that I happened to be OK at playing football,” said Richard. “I also had a great group of friends who made me feel that I was one of them.” What drew him to architecture was that he felt he could communicate through the medium of drawing. He is now an associate architect with the firm, Hall McKnight. Richard is very proud that the firm was declared the winner in 2016 of an international design competition for a new building at Gallaudet University of the deaf and hard of hearing in Washington. The

project is due for completion in 2025. “They liked our poetical and philosophical approach to the design of the building,” said Richard. He shared a quote with me: “If a deaf child doesn’t bloom, we mustn’t ask what is wrong with the child. We must ask what is wrong with the environment.” Richard said: “I grew up in a hearing household whereas every single member of my wife’s family was deaf and a native sign language user. In many ways my wife has been more fortunate to be exposed to a community rich in values, beliefs and traditions. Too many hearing people view deafness as a deficiency rather than a separate linguistic context and culture. We are constantly told that we need to be ‘fixed’ in line with the socially acceptable norm. “Even today medical professionals are telling parents of a young deaf child that early exposure to sign language will harm a child’s ability to acquire spoken language when in fact it has been medically proven that children who are exposed to signing early in life are stronger in the acquisition of spoken English (a benefit of bilingualism). “This kind of prevalent societal attitude is what we call ‘audism’ (i.e. a form of discrimination or oppression towards the needs of deaf people) and we suffer this on a daily basis. Growing up I was constantly reminded of my hearing loss by medical professionals which had enormous impact on my self-awareness. “What the hearing world calls ‘hearing loss’, the Deaf community counters with ’Deaf Gain’ (which challenges and redefines commonly held notions about normalcy, disability, and human diversity). “With our two deaf children being schooled in a mainstream environment, it’s a daily battle making sure that they have all the tools and support in place so they can learn on an equal footing as their hearing peers. It is our hope that they will grow into confident and resilient individuals – proud of their identity and able to bridge both the hearing and deaf worlds.”

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Campaigner: John Carberry has dedicated his life to improving services for deaf people

Champion for the Deaf community By Brian Pelan he name of John Carberry, MBE, from Glengormley, Co Antrim, is certain to come up if you were to ask anyone who was deaf to name a champion for their cause. John’s own career in deaf work started when he was involved with CACDP (now Signature) as Development Officer for Northern Ireland before moving to the RNID (NI) to be their regional trainer for almost 23 years. John then decided to move on to work as a freelance trainer and has been enjoying his new move and career. At present, John is a member of the board for Disability Action, and, Jordanstown School for Deaf Children and the Visually Impaired. He is also part of the ongoing steering group of the Northern Ireland Health and Social Services Board. A long-time member and supporter of the British Deaf Association (BDA), John has worked with the BDA in Northern Ireland, campaigning for sign language to be part of the Northern Ireland Language Act. We met over coffee in a Belfast café. I first asked John, who is deaf, about his


experiences during the pandemic. “It was terrifying,” he said. “Many deaf people suffered during the lockdown and we lost a lot of day-to-day contact with each other. It was really difficult going out and encountering so many people wearing masks. I didn’t know what they were saying if they spoke to me. Lip-reading was impossible. John added that he tried to keep in touch with his friends through the use of online technology, such as Facetime. He give me a huge smile when I asked him was life better because lockdown rules had been eased. “It’s lovely to get out again and meet friends for a real face-to-face chat,” replied John. “Fingers crossed, I hope that will be the case going into the future.” John, who has four daughters and one son, and 10 grandchildren, said there had been a huge number of memorable highlights in his long struggle to improve life for deaf people. “We now have good ongoing contact with government departments to try and make sure that we get a Sign Language Act for BSL and ISL users. It’s vitally important that we get a Language Act as it would help to break down communication barriers

between deaf people and the hearing world. He believes that things have slowly improved in terms of access to education and work opportunities. John also said it was good to see more sign language interpreters being seen on TV and the growth in numbers of people attending sign language courses. He has a passion for reading books, especially those with a political theme, and going to concerts. “I wear hearing aids when I go to a show. I also need to have a good seat, near the front,” said John. He might also have a list of the songs in his hands in order to follow what’s happening. He also believes that theatres in Northern Ireland need to provide more sign language interpreters. We laughed together at the end of the interview when I asked him to name his favourite football team. “Chelsea,” he replied. As a long time Manchester United fan, it wasn’t the answer I wanted, but we both agreed on our favourite football hero – George Best. John finally expressed to me his strong desire for deaf people to be given a Sign Language Act and the full recognition of their rightful place in society.

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A big thanks to Bronagh and all those who supported this issue of VIEW By VIEW editor Brian Pelan first met Dr Bronagh Byrne at Queen’s University Belfast a number of years ago. I had actually turned up on the wrong day at our scheduled meeting, but Bronagh graciously consented to meeting me. During our conversation, I noticed something about the way she was speaking and asked her about it. Bronagh told me she was deaf and was lip-reading. It was my first ever experience of this. I still find it a remarkable communication skill. We got on really well, and it was agreed that we would try to do an issue about deaf people in Northern Ireland. For a number of reasons it never worked, but I never give up the hope that we could, one day, make it a reality. Fast forward to now, and VIEW magazine has produced an entire edition which is devoted to looking at deaf people. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to a number of people, including Bronagh, who, thankfully, agreed to be the guest editor, VIEWdigital co-founder Una Murphy, the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland, and Brian Symington, a long-time supporter of equality rights for deaf people. I have also learnt a number of valuable lessons and insights from our three-month long look at issues which affect deaf people in Northern Ireland.


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Thank you: VIEW editor Brian Pelan

• Sign language is the first language for many deaf people, not English. It is a rich and diverse method of communication. • Many barriers have been put in the way of deaf people being allowed to play a full, equal, and active part in society. These barriers include discrimination, poor educational development practice, lack of access to the job market, and stigmatisation in how they are often treated. • They should never be defined solely by their deafness. Among deaf people there is a rich, diversity of opinions on a massive range of topics which concern them – for example, lip-reading versus sign language; to wear cochlear implants or not; and the choice of being taught in a deaf school or deciding to opt for a more mainstream education. • The pandemic was a terrifying experience for many deaf people. Masks, that were not transparent, meant that deaf people, who often depend on facial gestures, including lip-reading, felt excluded from what was going

on around them. They often had to fight for the right to be heard. • A Sign Language Act for British Sign Language (BSL) and Irish Sign Language (ISL) users should be urgently enacted. Deaf people need the legislation to ensure that they have full access to full justice and equality rights. They deserve no less. One of my most enjoyable encounters was my meeting with deaf architect Richard Dougherty. At the end of our interview in Belfast (on pages 10 and 11) we wandered into the quad at Queen’s University. Richard referred to it as a ‘deaf space’ because of the absence of noise. I understood right away what he was saying. We sat still for a brief moment in the warm afternoon sunshine and enjoyed the silence together. I hope you enjoy reading this issue of VIEW magazine. Please share it with your friends and colleagues. Meanwhile, I’ve got to contact Bronagh Byrne to remind her of a promise she made to me if we ever got to produce an issue of VIEW about deaf people. She vowed to teach me all the swear words using sign language. I look forward to learning them.

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It has been a slow process to get a Sign Language Act, but we are confident that it will happen VIEW talks to Majella McAteer from the British Deaf Association VIEW: How important is a British/Irish Sign Language Act for the Deaf community in Northern Ireland? Majella McAteer: A Sign Language Act is a necessity because sign language is our only effective way of communicating. And just as a matter of comparison, can you imagine trying to understand, say for example, a change in the benefits legislation if it was presented to you in a different language? For deaf people, English is their second or third language and sign language is their first language. If you can imagine becoming profoundly deaf, and moving to a foreign country at the same time. That’s the comparison that I would make. How would you learn the language of the country you have moved to if you are unable to hear that language at all? It’s a very unrealistic expectation of deaf children and young people. VIEW: What practical differences would it make to the lives of deaf people if we had a Sign Language Act? Majella: Achieving this legislation would help protect and promote the use of sign language, the same as any other minority language. It would also means that deaf people would be able to use their own language to access public life in the same

way as their hearing peers. Companies will be given clear guidelines and obligations on how to make the workplace more accessible to deaf people. We’re also fighting to have a Sign Language Act because there would be an obligation to provide interpreters. VIEW: How frustrated are you with Stormont taking so long to implement a Sign Language Act? Majella: In 2015, the sign language framework was initially launched. There was a public consultation carried out and it was an amazing piece of work. It was so promising and the British Deaf Association (BDA) was there throughout it to see how it was handled. The Minister for the Department for Communities announced that there was going to be a 16-week consultation. And for the first time ever,

the consultation process was allowed to be run through Facebook. This meant that deaf people had the opportunity to respond in sign language, they were able to upload their videos and signings on Facebook. It was a brilliant piece of work. All those videos then had to be translated and passed over to the Assembly, and then the Assembly collapsed in 2017. We were taken aback by that. But the MLAs have still given us their commitment because of the New Decade New Approach programme for government that they are working on. We see sign language as a language of need. VIEW: Does the Deaf community need to become more vocal, in terms of asserting its demands and rights, to make politicians and legislators listen to them? Majella: The traditional role of the BDA is to ensure public services are improved for the Deaf community. The Deaf community and various groups have been campaigning and lobbying for the Act to come into play. We at the BDA continue to liaise with the local Government, MLAs, and other bodies to drive forward to the successful outcome of the Sign Language Act. BDA is always engaging with various government departments to ensure that we are up to date with information. It has been a slow process to get a Sign Language Act, but we

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Majella McAteer, Community Development Manager Majella started with the BDA NI in 1997 as a Community Advocacy Officer and since that time has been promoted into a variety of roles, resulting in her most recent position in June 2015 of Community Development Manager for Northern Ireland. Throughout her time in BDA NI, Majella has led, managed and delivered a wide range of projects and programmes involving a diverse range of funding sources and stakeholders. are confident that it will happen. It just might take another one or two years to get there. VIEW: Have you have sought the support of the Irish language speaking community for a Sign Language Act? The BDA organised an event in 2015 which was a pledge for a BSL/ISL Sign Language Act. All the five main political parties signed up to it. We have no formal agreement with deaf Irish language supporters, but we obviously support each other in our fight to obtain a Sign Language Act for both Irish Sign Language and British Sign Language users.

became more reliant on BDA services because they weren’t getting access to vaccination, they weren’t getting access to government guidelines, and they weren’t getting access to what lockdown actually meant. There were a lot of barriers during the lockdown such as home schooling which was really challenging. I have to put my hand up and say that during lockdown, I think that the Deaf community was brought together in a more closer environment because we were more likely to be online with each other. Unfortunately though, the lockdown also left some deaf people feeling very isolated.

VIEW: What impact did the pandemic have on the BDA and the Deaf community?

VIEW: Do deaf people still face a constant struggle to get the help and support that they are entitled to receive from the State?

Majella: Before lockdown we were the same as any other organisation, we were just getting on with our work. And then lockdown was officially announced. Being at home meant that deaf people had more time to look at Facebook, but they also

Majella: Definitely. But that has always been the case. We just had to accept that this is part of our life that there is going to be this barrier or we’re going to have to fight to try and get ‘doors’ opened to services.

VIEW: Have there been any significant changes since the struggles of the 1960s and 1970s? Majella: I think it’s better than it was back in those days. It’s possibly a generational thing. I think the older generations just accepted the situation as being the norm, whereas the younger generation now are more willing to fight for what they would like to see and have. VIEW: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the struggles that lie ahead for the Deaf community? Majella: In relation to the Sign Language Act, if it comes about and is set up, I think things could nearly be perfect, because the rollout of it would mean the protection of our language, the preservation of our language, and the awareness that would be raised. I think deaf children would grow up in a more healthier environment. So yes, I am positive about the future.

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Donna McGlinchey is fully qualified in British Sign Language

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A passion for connecting Interpreters play a vital role in assisting deaf people to communicate with the hearing world. VIEW editor Brian Pelan talks to Donna McGlinchey, who recounts how she developed a love of sign language after meeting a deaf woman in a lingerie factory at the age of 16 onna McGlinchey’s journey into the world of interpreting for deaf people is a remarkable story. At the age of 16 she was working in a factory in Limavady, making underwear and bras. She freely admitted that she didn’t know what she wanted to do in terms of career choices, except a desire to leave school after achieving seven GCSEs, and to make some money. “I had a boyfriend, who became my future husband, and I had a job in Courtaulds in Limavady. After a six-week training stint, I was put on to the factory floor with hundreds of other workers. There was a woman called Pauline who never spoke to anyone and no-one seemed to speak to her. “When I asked about her, I was told she was deaf. I was totally shocked and couldn’t understand it. I knew absolutely nothing about the concept of deafness.” She decided to write a note introducing herself and handed it over to Pauline. This simple but humane gesture led to both of them forging a life-long friendship, and to Donna, who went on to have eight children, tentatively entering the world of sign language by attending a night class in Limavady. “We had a lovely deaf teacher called Noel McCloskey. I did my level one and just fell in love with sign language. I then went to Jordanstown in 1992 to do my level two.” Donna then travelled to Queen’s University to get her level three. In 2010, she done a Junior Trainee Interpreter course. “I was able to get married during these years. I was also able to have my children whilst also learning and mixing with the Deaf community and learning about its history and culture. “In 2013, they brought a Master’s [degree] to Queen’s, and I was jumping to get in there. That was to get me fully qualified in sign language.


Donna McGlinchey signing: ‘I love sign language’ “Learning sign language has changed me as a person, in terms of my confidence. I sometimes find myself signing with nonDeaf people. I think it’s just part and parcel of who I am now.” Donna’s friendship with Pauline led to her eventually signing at Pauline’s wedding, and also at the funerals of Pauline’s mother and father. We then went on to talk about the shortage of sign language interpreters in Northern Ireland. “There’s only around 42 to 43 interpreters for a population of around 5,000 deaf people, so the demand is very much there,” said Donna. “When Covid-19 struck in 2020, the Health and Social Care (HSC) set up InterpreterNow, which is who I’m now working for. The service is aimed at giving deaf people access to an interpreter, such as needing to talk to a doctor or a nurse.” Donna is also proud of the fact that,

as an interpreter, she has been present at eight births. “As a mother myself and knowing the pain that a deaf woman is going through, it’s fantastic being able to help them through that because of my own personal experiences.” My final question to Donna was would she recommend people learning sign language or taking it up as a career? “Absolutely,” she replied. “I love my job.” She has passed on her passion to her children. “They can all do the Deaf alphabet on their fingers, and two of them have level one in sign language.” It was pleasure to talk to Donna. She and the other interpreters do a fantastic job. The issue now is to make sure that more sign language interpreters become available. Will those in the hearing world, especially those who control the purse strings, rise to the challenge and the obvious demand?

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Passionate: Helen Ferguson, Policy and Campaigns Officer with the National Deaf Children’s Society

Tackling the barriers and delivering a positive message is vital, says Helen orth Belfast woman Helen Ferguson, who has a wealth of experience in the voluntary sector, has been in her present position as Policy and Campaigns Officer with the National Deaf Children’s Society for about threeand-a-half years. She started her career as a volunteer with a children’s organisation. “In some ways, I’ve come back full circle,” said Helen. One of the main things that she has learned, since taking up her position, is about the barriers to communication that deaf people face every day of their lives and the lack of understanding. “If someone’s first language is sign language then the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland can’t communicate with them,” said Helen. “The communication struggles that deaf people have are completely misunderstood by the vast majority of the general population. “And the thing I didn’t know before I started is that over 90 percent of deaf children are born to hearing families, and most of those families will have very little experience of deafness. They don’t know how best to communicate and how to support their children’s communication. “A diagnosis of deafness often comes


as a huge shock to families, and sometimes they experience that as a loss of the expectations they have for their child. “But a deaf child, with the right support put in as early as possible, can achieve anything that a hearing child can achieve. It’s really important that the child grows up in a language-rich environment. It doesn’t matter what that language is – it could be sign language, it could be spoken English – but as long as it they are in a language-rich environment so that they grow up to describe their needs, their feelings, and their emotions.” Helen also described the particular challenges faced by deaf children and their parents during the pandemic. “The two big impacts were delays for access to audiology (getting a diagnosis, assessments and the fitting of hearing aids) and education. When children moved to online education because the schools were closed, a lot of materials that the teachers were using were not suitable such as videos not being subtitled. “Seventy-eight percent of deaf children in Northern Ireland go to mainstream education. And very often they may be the only deaf child in their school.” Helen also talked about the difficulties that deaf children faced when they moved

from primary to secondary education. “Very often in secondary school, deaf children are discouraged from doing languages because there is often an assumption made that they struggle enough with English, so why would you give them another language? “But making those sort of assumptions and those blank decisions is potentially very damaging because there are deaf children who love languages. “Part of what we’re trying to do is to raise expectations and present deaf role models. We have a campaign called ‘Deaf Works Everywhere’ which is about getting more deaf young people into work – and into jobs that inspire them.” Deaf artist Vilma Jackson, (who features in the Big Interview on pages eight and nine of this issue), fronts a video about the campaign which delivers a very positive message of what deaf people can achieve. • Video about Deaf Works Everywhere is available to be watched on YouTube at • More information on the National Deaf Children’s Society at

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My cochlear implant journey

Esha Razak, who lives in Belfast, describes rediscovering the beautiful sounds the world has to offer, and the harsh side effects y name is Esha Razak. I am 18 years old and I am deaf. I wear two cochlear implants and have done so for nearly four years. Over the years I have faced the harsh side effects that come with cochlear implants such as unbearable migraines, vertigo, and facial twitching. The list goes on. In my journey I think that there have been more negatives that I have faced with cochlear implants than positives. However, day by day, I am rediscovering the beautiful sounds the world has to offer even if it does sound a bit robotic. From the hearing perspective, people would always look at me and question why I cannot hear because of the ‘quick fix’ that cochlear implants are supposed to be. After nearly four years, there is a lot that I cannot hear with my implants, if only retraining your brain to hear was that easy.


When I first did my research on cochlear implants, I was worried because a lot of people did not seem to like theirs and did not wear them, although I wear mine, I understand this struggle because sometimes the silence is better. Those with implants would argue that the sound post cochlear is not the same as previous hearing. I agree. I find my hearing quite robotic but with time I have got used to it and it is now normal to me. My ability to speak really well and to lip-read has given me communication advantages, but I still struggle and those who do not have these advantages also continue to struggle. During the pandemic, it has been really hard for me with my cochlear implants. I have had to overcome barriers constantly with the Coronavirus restrictions. I have had panic attacks because of everyone wearing masks. I cannot understand or hear anyone. I feel

like people are very unwilling to adjust to my needs and I have personally experienced a lot of disability discrimination during the pandemic. Staying at home has been extremely challenging for people with cochlear implants as the technological barriers that arise are difficult to overcome such as the lack of subtitles on videos and virtual calls. My implants are something that I am grateful for although it comes with struggles. I often get asked if you could go back in time would you choose to get cochlear implants? The only answer I can give to that is it made me who I am today. My cochlear implant journey, although extremely difficult, has allowed me to slowly progress in my hearing journey. Cochlear implants was an option for me to struggle less in the world. And with the right support in place I have been able to do just that.

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Two images above from Natasha Hirst’s extensive photography portfolio

‘My deafness is my strength on many levels’ Natasha Hirst, who has been elected as vice president of the National Union of Journalists, writes about the challenges and positives of being a deaf photographer and how she built that into her work love my job. It’s engaging, rewarding, and I learn from every commission.Yet, had I not chosen to step out of my comfort zone and challenge the direction I was pushed in as a child, I wouldn’t be here. I’m deaf. I was told I’d be lucky to even get a data inputting job and should pick a career where I wouldn’t need to deal with other people. My meandering path eventually brought me to photography and journalism, but it wasn’t an easy one. It concerns me greatly that a childhood diagnosis of hearing loss is so often accompanied by plummeting expectations and aspirations. Our potential to achieve and to contribute is not limited by deafness but by the level of support we receive throughout our education and the opportunities we are afforded in employment. My early career was stalled by my constant fight for access and the frustration of not being taken seriously by employers. Through union activism and voluntary work with disabled young people, I discovered two things. Surprisingly, I am a people person after all, and I loved documenting our activities and the emotional connections they generated. Following redundancy and a great leap of faith, my self-taught hobby turned into a professional career. Not being able to receive assignments by phone call or hear in fast-moving working environments steered me away


Lived experience: Natasha Hirst from frontline news photography. I made my name as a photographer by covering the Welsh Labour Assembly election campaign in 2011. I documented behind the scenes on the campaign trail, lending a daily insight to politicians as people, the activists and the emotional landscape of the quest for votes. My mixed career background and activism developed skills and expertise and a network of contacts across different

sectors which provides access to interesting stories and commissions. My clients choose to work with me because my values complement theirs and as a consequence, they are more likely to be inclusive for me. Learning British Sign Language as an adult, my skills are good enough for me to work with deaf and hearing people. As a photographer, I grew to realise that my deafness is my strength on many levels. My lived experience as a deaf woman provides an appreciation of the challenges that people from other marginalised groups face. I understand the importance of representing stories sensitively in a way that empowers and preserves dignity. This ethos builds trust and rapport within communities whose voices are often not heard. In the photography industry, debates rumble on about the male gaze and the ethics of who holds the power when an image is created. What has traditionally defined ‘good’ photography is being challenged. There is a place for an outsider’s view on an issue but not to the detriment of the diversity of those who create images, nor the validity of the perspectives they bring. It’s in this space that I’ve created my niche. I gain fulfilment in my career from precisely the kind of work that I was told I would never be able to do – connecting and communicating with other people.

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Actor Riz Ahmed in the film Sound of Metal

A journey into the Deaf community In the Oscar-nominated fim Sound of Metal, actor Riz Ahmed plays drummer Ruben Stone whose life is turned upside down by the onset of deafness. We asked Jane O’Brien, who is Deaf, to review the film for VIEW

By Jane O’Brien n the film Sound of Metal it’s hard for musician Ruben to lose his hearing even though his girlfriend offers him huge support. He gets support from the Deaf Community when he arrives at a retreat. Although he is cut off from his RV, mobile phone and his girlfriend, he learns more about Deaf Culture as a Deaf person. The retreat is a fantastic way for him to learn about his new journey in the Deaf community as he teaches Deaf children with drums. The story showed a very emotional time for Ruben as it is so tough for him to adjust to his new life at the age of 30 plus I didn’t have a lot of empathy with him because I was born Deaf and silence has always been there for me. Ruben’s music is his life and he needs his career as a musician for income to live on. His


deafness is a big loss for him and it has a huge impact on his life when the loud music damages his eardrums. The group he attends with other Deaf people (who are addicts) for therapy lets him share his experience of hearing loss as well as his drug addiction. This film shows a lot of true Deaf culture. For example, when Ruben joined a dinner table with Deaf people, with conversations in ASL (American Sign Language). He feels a bit lost as he notices the noisy atmosphere as the other Deaf people bang tables, touch bodies, laugh at jokes, and talk about sex in a very openminded way. Ruben becomes lost as he is not able to communicate in ASL. In the middle of the film we see Ruben go on to learn ASL and he is able to fit more into the Deaf community. During a visit to a Deaf children’s school he notices a young boy who has lost interest in the class. Ruben asks the teacher if he can take the boy out of the classroom to a playground outside. They bond by tapping on the sides of a slide. Ruben, who misses his drums, notices how the young boy is enjoying the rhythms. Ruben gets inspired to teach Deaf children and the Deaf teacher how to play drums and to feel the music by vibrations through their hands, face and arms. Deaf children, children of Deaf adults (CODA), and people have who lost their hearing like Ruben, can learn ASL quicker than hearing people would learn sign

language because they are already part of the Deaf community. Language acquisition is a natural process in which infants and children develop proficiency in their first language or languages that they are exposed to such as Sign language. Sound of Metal is a powerful and moving film, which also shows that cochlear implants (CI) are not a magic fix for Deaf people. Lots of the medical world push CI for Deaf people or people who have lost their hearing, but they don’t work for everyone, only for some people. Ruben visits his girlfriend in her dad’s home. He becomes lonely again and feels he is not able to fit in when he goes to a garden party of hearing people. He feels left out and not able to focus on conversations because of the noisy background. Eventually he separates from his girlfriend. Later on Ruben walks around the city, sits down, and removes his cochlear implants to enjoy the peace. Ruben remembers what Joe had said when he first met him at the deaf retreat, “Respect the Deaf Community,” and how when Joe had found out that Ruben had opted to have CI, he had been asked to leave. Ruben had felt so included in the Deaf community, with no barriers. He realised that CI can’t fit both worlds. It is not a true story but Riz Ahmed (Ruben) wanted to make it feel realistic, about his struggle and losing his hearing.

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We need a regional deaf service Psychiatrist Holly Greer believes that early intervention is vital to help support deaf children as they progress through the education system in Northern Ireland am a psychiatrist working in the Northern Trust and have trained in both Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), and Intellectual Disability Psychiatry which has given me an awareness and varied experience of the many complex challenges of having a disability (or perceived disability) and the importance of communication in good mental health. Since 2017 I have been pursuing a regional deaf CAMHS service/network in Northern Ireland, and have been receiving referrals of deaf young people from across NI to build my experience. CAMHS services are critically underfunded, which has prevented the development of muchneeded specialist services comparable to those available in the rest of the UK. CAMHS staff may not be used to working with deaf children and so diagnoses may be missed. A US study showed that deaf youth require three times longer in treatment and over a third had impaired family relationships, living situation, communication, judgment, and physical health. This is an area where we need experienced staff who are mindful of the different challenges these children face and the different approaches required. There are approximately 1,600 deaf children and young people in Northern Ireland, according to the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS). Evidence suggests that at any given time 50.3 percent of deaf children will experience some mental health problems, and 3.4 percent will require highly specialist services. These children are also at higher risk of autistic spectrum disorder and/or ADHD, particularly if deafness is thought to have resulted from viral infections during pregnancy, severe prematurity or neonatal meningitis. This highlights the importance of clinicians who are culturally competent, and preferably fluent in sign language, being able to provide diagnostic



A regional deaf service offering early intervention and mental health support to all children, regardless of where they live, could make a massive difference clarity. Being deaf can lead to some similar difficulties to neurodevelopmental disorders, especially in communication and behaviour. This is particularly in the early years when communication within families may be limited; 95 percent of deaf children are born into hearing families and so it can be a steep learning curve and adjustment process for families. Families rely on charities for help learning sign language; these classes have had to stop due to the pandemic. As mainstream schooling becomes more frequent for these children, there are

problems with isolation, loneliness and lack of peer contact. The pandemic has highlighted this in terms of problems accessing home learning due to hearing technology, masks being compulsory in school leading to missed communication, lack of access to peripatetic teachers and speech therapy. Deaf children are already noted to be behind their peers academically as reported by NDCS in government attainment data at all stages of education. This pandemic will have compounded those problems. We have already seen an increase in referrals of children and young people with anxiety, low mood, and behavioural issues. Research is currently taking place in Northern Ireland to inform service needs and information is being pulled from the recent Youth Wellbeing survey conducted across NI on young people identifying as deaf. This will provide us with vital evidence of the need here and how best to meet that need. I believe that early intervention in terms of family support, communication optimisation, visual approaches to teaching about emotions and social communication is so important in supporting children through education.Voluntary sector providers are invaluable in offering support for children and families, but a regional deaf service offering early intervention and mental health support to all children, regardless of where they live, could make a massive difference in reducing future mental health burden in this very vulnerable group. • The term ‘deaf’ is intended to include all types and levels of deafness, whether augmented (by hearing aid, cochlear implants, etc) or not, and regardless of the preferred methods of communication of the deaf child or young person.

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Death of the innocents Brian Symington takes a look back in time at the devastating fire in Strabane in 1856 which led to six deaf children losing their lives or many years I have been drawn to the tragic event at the School for Deaf Children in Strabane 165 years ago. As a result of a fire at the school six deaf children perished. It led me to commission local historian and author, Clive Scoular, to write the book, Death of the Innocents, to ensure that the six children, who died so tragically in the blaze, would never be forgotten. On the night of May 7, 1856, the school was home to 18 boys and girls who were asleep in separate dormitories. The doors were locked as they were every night at 9pm. But some five hours later, a fire started in the kitchen which quickly took hold. There are conflicting reports of how it started and what happened next. The blaze could have been started by sparks left smouldering in an old broom made from twigs or branches or it could have been some clothes drying on a clothes rack near the fireplace which went on fire. Testimony at the time told of confusion about keys and access to the dormitories, which had high windows beyond the reach of small children. There is even suspicion that the superintendent , responsible for the children resident in the school was intoxicated, although there was some controversy about this claim. The six deaf children lost their lives because there was nothing in place to save them at the time. Their dormitories were locked when the fire broke out and the head teacher and superintendent panicked. The head teacher actually rushed to Strabane town centre to try and get a ladder but by the time he got back to the school the six children had perished. Some of the bodies were unrecognisable. The one story that touched the heartstrings is that of 11-year-old Ellen Walker. She had only joined the school a few days earlier. She managed to get away The headstone in Patrick Street cemetery, Strabane; which gives the from the fire but went back into the names of the six deaf children who died in the fire Image: Jay McGaghran school to get her new shoes that she had left behind, most likely because she was were caught by the crowd beneath. by Strabane District Council, in Patrick anxious what her parents would say. She The six children who tragically died in Street graveyard, which lists the names of never came out of the school alive. the fire were; the six deaf children. Local people and police officers tried • John Brandon – aged 12 frantically to break glass and knock down • Ellen Devenny – aged 12 doors to reach those trapped inside, but • Daniel Doherty – aged eight • Brian Symington is an advocate despite their best efforts, six children died. • James Lafferty – aged 15 for deaf people’s rights. He is a The oldest was 15, the youngest was just • Andrew Patton – aged 11 former director of Royal National eight years of age. Some of the children • Ellen Walker – aged 11 Institute for Deaf People (RNID were saved when they were successfully There is a permanent memorial in the NI) and the current Chair of encouraged to jump out of a window and form of a simple little gravestone, erected Sense (NI).


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Speaking out for deaf people

• Bob McCullough –1929 to 2016 Among his many achievements was setting up the first essay competition for deaf children and writing the ‘Deaf Talkabout’ column in the Belfast Telegraph for 30 years.

• Francis Maginn – 1861 to 1918 Francis was born in Mallow, County Cork. He was a visionary who was – and is – hugely acknowledged for his tireless work on behalf of deaf people in Ireland and Britain.

•Rev. John Kingham – 1823 to 1895 He spent a lifetime dedicated to the education and welfare of both deaf and blind children and adults. He is buried in the City Cemetery in west Belfast.

• Wilhelmina Tredennick – 1837 to 1891: Wilhelmina was born in Ballyshannon, County Donegal. She was one of the giants in the Deaf community in the 19th Century. She is buried in the City Cemetery in west Belfast.

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Forging a strong link between deaf people and the police Sergeant Johnny Hamill talks to journalist Anton McCabe about his work magh-based Sergeant Johnny Hamill holding the Bible. “Whenever you’re speaking is the PSNI Police Link Officer for the oath, you hold the Bible in your right hand deaf people. He is one of a network throughout. But you can’t hold the Bible and of such officers throughout the United sign. And I hadn’t realised that until we tried Kingdom. “The key word in it is ‘link’,” he said. doing it in a role play with the group.” “We are the link between deaf members of As a result, it is now acceptable for a deaf the community and the police service.” He is person to put their right hand on the Bible, not just there for the deaf community, but for take it off again and sign, then put their hand back on police colleagues in their interactions with the Bible. deaf people. “Another issue was that you always give your For a variety of reasons, police officers feel answer to the magistrate,” he said. However, the laythere is a greater difficulty communicating with out of the court meant deaf witnesses or defendants deaf people than with hearing persons who are not would be forced to give evidence with their backs to the English speakers. judge, which is not possible. Resulting from the tour the Sgt Hamill, who is learning sign language, was interpreter now sits alongside the court clerks, only appointed last year. However, he had so the deaf person can see them and already been working with deaf face the judge. people for a couple of years. “Another matter was He accepts that many deaf handcuffing,” he said. “If people people do not perceive use sign language, they use the themselves as having a hands to sign. If we cuff them, disability. “However, they we are reducing or removing may still be at a their ability to disadvantage when communicate.Thus, with trying to communicate deaf people, there should with ourselves,” be handcuffing to the he said. front, not to the back of To ascertain their hands.” wider needs, a His interest in links public meeting with deaf people came for deaf people from his commitment was recently to neighbourhood organised through policing. Some British the Police and police forces have a Community Safety system allowing deaf Partnership. “It’s people to dial a video very difficult for me call and sign to an to put myself into the interpreter. “There was shoes of a deaf person,” a person, resident here in Sgt Hamill said. “It would Northern Ireland, who be very arrogant for me contacted police through to sit in an office and Leicestershire,” he said. say: ‘I know what deaf “Because it fell into the Omagh Accessible: Sgt Johnny Hamill using sign language to people need.” Town neighbourhood, it passed get his message across Image: Jay McGaghran One of the things back to me. And my first thought he recently organised was that I wasn’t comfortable with was to bring a deaf group to visit Omagh Police Station. “We this lady, who lived within a five-minute drive of Omagh Police started here in this room and we all walked outside to the gate, Station, feeling that she had to contact Leicestershire Police in and I said to them, ‘You tell me what’s wrong with our station.You order to make a complaint about a local matter.” tell me what would make this station more accessible to you. What would make this station more welcoming?’ ”, he said. After the tour, the group then went to Omagh Courthouse • Sgt Hamill can be contacted by text on 07584 on a day when there were no sittings. “The staff were brilliant,” he 167194 or by email on said. One issue emerged when it came to taking an oath and


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Pauline Doherty, information officer for the Co Derry charity Hands That Talk

One-to-one counselling on offer By Anton McCabe ental health in the Deaf community is being tackled by North West charity, Hands That Talk, by providing deaf counsellors. The isolation of lockdown has led to mental health problems for many individuals, deaf and hearing. The Dungivenbased charity for the Deaf community is planning an online course for staff, to equip them to deal with the surge in inquiries from deaf people seeking help. Pauline Doherty, the charity’s information officer, who is deaf, said that many distressed deaf people had been in contact with the organisation, which is now empowering its staff to deal with mental health and wellbeing issues through additional training. She believes that many men who are deaf have been particularly hard hit by isolation during the pandemic. She said the advantage of providing deaf counsellors for people who are deaf was that clients can be reluctant to open up fully about private and personal matters when a third person is present. “Plus there is the empathy of being deaf yourself, you know what the person is going through,” Pauline said. “The deaf person prefers knowledge in their [sign] language. It’s as simple as that,” she said.


“Most deaf people in Northern Ireland that have seen a deaf counsellor, it’s always been a one-to-one with a hearing counsellor and a [sign language] interpreter. I don’t know of many deaf people in Northern Ireland that have had a one-to-one with a deaf counsellor. We want to gather some evidence to take that forward in the future.” Pauline said that deaf people have had difficulty accessing information during the pandemic. For example, watching television news can be a problem. “Sometimes there’s a [sign language] interpreter,” Pauline said. “The interpreter is very small in the corner of the screen and sometimes you’re really struggling to see what they’re saying. Maybe it should be the other way round. The interpreter should be the big picture on the screen and the news reporter should be someone small, because at the end of the day, hearing people don’t need to see the person on the TV, they can hear what he or she is saying.” In the Deaf community, she has noted a gender difference about the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. “I think the isolation thing is a bit more hard for men, and I think they isolate themselves a bit more than women,” Pauline said. To counteract this, Hands That Talk

has organised online workshops. Currently the courses are in art and woodwork, as part of its Men’s Shed. Though initially designed for men, women are doing the woodwork course as well. Like many others Pauline said the Co Derry charity has been using one of the popular online meeting platforms, Zoom, to keep in touch. But she cites a problem. “You know when we speak, the wee yellow box?” she said. “Sometimes that wee yellow box will come on, and that person, we won’t know if it’s their turn, so there is a wee bit more difficulty with it that way. “And the more people you have, the smaller the little boxes become. Sometimes somebody will be talking, and they will be off the screen.” In all of the Hands That Talk activities, including its mental health work, Pauline said that encouraging deaf people to take part is key. “The Deaf community, we like to think is a big family. Getting somebody to make the first step can be a difficult thing,” she said. • Hands That Talk Information Officer Pauline Doherty can be contacted via email at

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We all need to embrace sign language and treat our deaf children as equal, says dad By Noel Welch FATHER, whose 12-year-old son is deaf, has called on Ireland to treat all children as equal citizens. The recent appearance by Garda sergeant Andrew Geary on RTÉ’s Late Late Show with his twin sons, Donnacha, and Calum, who is deaf, left viewers moved after it raised awareness of the struggles faced daily by those in the Deaf community. Andrew said his hope is that more people in Ireland will learn sign language. He and his wife, Helen, have two other sons, Barry and Matthew. They live in Ballyhooly, near Fermoy, in County Cork. Calum was born without hearing nerves, meaning he has never heard anything. The twins were born in 2008, and their parents found out three years later that Calum was deaf. Andrew and his wife travelled the world seeking a treatment, but none could be found. “I had no experience of deafness whatsoever,” said Andrew. “Deaf people live on a total island on our island, until you come on to that island you have no idea of that kind of life. “You go into that world and you have to open the door and take one baby step at a time until you understand the journey that you’re on.” Andrew spoke about a recent experience with his son. “Calum came to me and my wife Helen and said, ‘Mom, dad, I have something to tell you.’ It was one of those sit down moments, but we didn’t sit down,’’ said Andrew. “Calum said, ‘I’m never going to have a job and it’s because I’m deaf.’ Then he just walked off. My son is so wanted inside our home, but when he steps outside the front door, this country, that I love with my heart and soul, doesn’t want my son.’’ Calum said, with the help of a sign language interpreter, “At the moment, there’s so many barriers, and I don’t feel that I can get there as easily. I will always have to fight for an interpreter and because of that fight, it will always leave me behind.’ “I’m not lonely when I’m at home, it’s always when I’m out. There’s not a lot of people who know sign language which is really difficult. When people don’t know sign language, how can you communicate?’’ His father Andrew added: “I would love if our country embraced our third recognised language, Irish Sign Language. “It’s a beautiful language. The world should embrace that Deaf culture and its


Calum Geary, above, and, left, with his twin brother Donnacha and father Andrew on RTE’s Late Late Show

language and put it on the school curriculum. Calum needs a bridge to realise his full potential. He is just as bright as his brothers and he works so hard. He would love to be an architect or a chef.” On the Late Late Show, there was a special surprise for Calum as actress, Marlee Matlin, appeared by video link. She won an Oscar for Best Actress for the 1986 film, Children of a Lesser God and todate is the only deaf performer to have won an Academy Award. She told Calum: “When I was little, I would ask my mum and dad, can I become this? Can I become

that? What can I be when I grow up? And they said: ‘You can be whatever you want to be.’ “So I’m telling you, Calum Geary, you can be whatever you want to be.You can achieve your dream.You rock, you’re cool, you’re smart. I’m so proud of you and I can’t wait to see what you are going to be after you finish college.’’ • You can find out more about Irish Sign Language at

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PROFILE: Michael Johnston Language Officer with Belfast City Council VIEW: Can you tell us a little about yourself? Michael Johnston: I’m originally from Newtownards. I worked in the voluntary sector for around 20 years for various deaf organisations. I’m now employed by Belfast City Council as a Language Officer. I’m passionate about supporting the Deaf community. I’m the chairperson of NI Deaf Sports. I use to manage Belfast Deaf United FC and played for the club for around 20 years. VIEW: What are you passionate about? Michael: I’m passionate about helping young deaf people, that when they leave school they’ve achieved the required life skills and realise their full potential. VIEW: Where did you meet your wife? Michael: I met my wife Alice at a regular social gathering of deaf people in Belfast. She works for the British Deaf Association. We have a 23-year-old son and a granddaughter. VIEW: When were you diagnosed Deaf? Michael: I was born deaf. My parents are hearing. I was diagnosed with hearing loss at the age of three. It was quite a late diagnosis, compared to most babies now who are diagnosed straight away. VIEW: What was your education experience like? Michael: At primary school I was taught to speak as opposed to using sign language. I then went to the Mary Hare School for the Deaf in England. It was a fantastic experience going there. I still have friendships from those days at Mary Hare. I then went to Ulster University where I did Business Studies. I was the only deaf person on the course. VIEW: When did you learn sign language? Michael: When I was 18 and left school, I had very little knowledge of sign language. All the communication skills I was taught were on a aural learning basis. I had friends though who communicated through sign language. I started to learn some sign language from them. I went on to aquire good sign language skills because of fully integrating with the Deaf community. VIEW: Tell us about your present role at Belfast City Council. Michael: I’ve been working with the council for the last two-and-a-half years. My role as a Language Officer is to implement Belfast City Council’s language strategy. I cover four language strands – Ulster Scots, sign language, communication and language needs for disabled people, and new communities. VIEW: What percentage of your work is aimed at assisting deaf people? Michael: About 25 percent of my work is devoted to working with the Deaf community. About two years ago Belfast City Council signed up to the ISL/BSL Charter from the British Deaf Association. As a result of that we set up a sign language user forum. We’ve been able to develop a range of services, such as a video relay service. It allows deaf people to independently communicate with hearing people via an interpreter. VIEW: What was the impact of the pandemic on you? Michael: It was hard being stuck at home and not being able to fully engage with my work colleagues and wider family. I’ve been working from home for the past year, but technology has helped. If this pandemic had occured 20 years ago, I don’t know how I would have survived. I would have been really frustrated and isolated.

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Frustration: Stressful time for Sarah O’Connor as mask-wearing cut off communication

Sarah tells of her daily struggles during the outbreak of Covid-19 arah O’Connor is a volunteer with the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID Northern Ireland). She is deaf and uses British Sign Language. She told VIEW magazine why the pandemic had been so difficult for deaf people and how communication barriers had become even worse during the outbreak of Covid-19. Forty-one-year-old Sarah, who lives in Newtownabbey, Co Antrim said that deaf people already face a lot of barriers but the last year had been really hard. “I have two young children and adjusting to home-schooling was really, really difficult,” she said. “English is my second language so I often struggled to understand the school work. The teachers didn’t seem to understand the difficulties I was facing and it was a barrier communicating through English. Sometimes I had to ask my older daughter to help me communicate with the teacher but she was often working. I felt stuck on my own at home. My son has autism and there were lots of frustration and meltdowns. Sometimes we had to guess the answers and he was very upset when we got it wrong.” Sarah pointed out that face masks had made communication even more stressful. She said: “I usually went to the Co-op to do my food shopping but the staff were


wearing masks and were behind screens. I could not lip-read them. I used to go once a week but now I only go once a month as I find it so stressful. “Recently, a shop assistant charged me the wrong amount. He wouldn’t take his mask down to help me lip-read so I couldn’t communicate with him which made me really frustrated. I tried to explain but he wouldn’t listen and just told me to go; there was a big queue and it was very embarrassing.” The closure of public buildings and reliance on email and text also increased barriers for Sarah. “Another problem was accessing advice. During lockdown, I got a letter from an agency but there was so much jargon I didn’t have a clue what it meant. I sent a text to a contact and he broke it down into plain English. I understood eventually but it was an extra barrier. “Before the pandemic struck there was a support service once a week with an interpreter but now that’s not happening and a lot of deaf people are stuck. I think after the pandemic there will be a big backlog of people waiting for support.” Since the pandemic started the Deaf community have been able to use InterpreterNow to call NHS 111 or book medical appointments with a remote

interpreter. “It’s great. It means I can phone the doctor and there’s an interpreter so I understand what’s being said,” said Sarah. “It would be great if deaf people could contact Citizens Advice or the police this way too. At the moment if I need to contact the police I have to text 999 and fill out my details every time which makes it really slow. If they visit they have a face mask on and I may not be able to get an interpreter at short notice so communication is difficult. Sometimes the wait for an interpreter is four to six weeks so there are big delays in the process, which is frustrating.” Sarah has had some positive experiences and said it would be great if more people would learn sign language. She said: “I went to Spar recently; it’s a new one and I hadn’t been before and the shop assistant actually used sign language. It was brilliant. I’ve had my coronavirus vaccine and that was a positive experience too. My doctor knows I’m deaf and showed me the form so I could see the questions and understand – little things like this make a big difference.” • For more information on RNID Northern Ireland, go to

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Success: Paul Clarke had to overcome a range of hurdles before graduating in 2001

Falling between the cracks Paul Clarke, who was born in Belfast in 1971, writes about his many battles since losing his hearing at the age of four lost my hearing in 1975 at the age of four after contracting meningitis. After surviving that traumatic experience I have experienced a range of challenges as I got older. The first big change was in education. I was moved from the primary school I was attending to another which had a Partial Hearing Unit (PHU). My experience at secondary school wasn’t great either. We were not pushed very hard by the teachers in terms of achieving academic success and I was bullied by some pupils because I wore hearing aids. I also felt like an outsider from the Deaf community because I didn’t use sign language. In many ways I believe that I fell between the cracks with my fellow pupils and my social life outside of school. I left secondary school with a handful


of exam passes. Further education was discouraged because of my perceived disability so I ended up going on a Youth Training Programme (YTP) which led to me getting a bit of experience in the workplace. Since1989 I have been in continuous employment with the same company that I first started with. Whilst working I went to night classes to get some better grades and, eventually, I pushed myself to the point where I went to university and graduated in 2001with a degree in business studies. The same place that I had been discouraged from going to earlier in my life. I still face a lot of struggles, especially with communicating with friends and socialising. I have always tended to withdraw into the shadows and not to engage a lot with others because I was fearful of being laughed at because of my

perceived disability. As I have got older my lack of hearing, in many ways, has defined me. I have recently been battling with the Department for Communities regarding my Personal Independence Payment claim which has been turned down twice after the Disability Living Allowance scheme was ended. This has had a severe impact on my mental health as depression and anxiety have kicked in. As an older person I felt like I was being shunned again similar to what I had experienced as a child. Throughout my life, many people have ignored my hearing loss because I choose to wear hearing aids. I am passionate about making more people aware of the impact of hearing loss. I hope that my experience, and what I have achieved, can help others who might be going through similar struggles.

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V I E W This issue of VIEW was supported by The Community Foundation of Northern Ireland (CFNI), and the Comic Relief Community Support Programme