Deafhood conference

Becki Josiah, DPPi Information Officer, describes the Deaf Parenting workshop co-presented by DPPi at the Deafhood conference organised by The Royal Association for Deaf People.

In July 2001, The Royal Association for Deaf People (RAD) organised Deafhood, a three-day conference for deaf professionals and those with an interest in deaf issues. DPPi was asked to co-present a seminar, held on 131h July. The title of the seminar was ‘Deaf Parenting: Gaps in Services’ and was based on research by Sabina Chowdry, a Deaf social worker. The conference was very well attended with delegates travelling from all over the country. There were seven strands running through the event and seminars were organised to allow attendees to follow their particular field of interest.

Workshop

Our workshop came under the category of ‘Family, Children and Youth’. Both Sabina and I were pleased but rather nervous when the room began to fill with people. Pleased that so many were interested in our work but nervous that we were about to present to such a large and discerning audience. I began by describing how DPPi had become concerned at the apparent lack of accessible information and services for Deaf parents and had set up the Deaf Parenting Information Group in response to this. Sabina then went on to talk about her research in the UK and US, looking at Deaf parents and the challenges they face. The second part of the seminar was in workshop form and we split into three large groups. Each group was asked to discuss their experiences of being a Deaf parent, working with Deaf parents or their thoughts on becoming a parent. They were then asked to write down what they thought would be helpful to Deaf parents or what had made things difficult for them. Each group reported back at the end of the session. From the feedback it was very clear that more needed to be done to support Deaf parents and that’ there was a real lack of information available to them.

Findings

The reports from the three groups had common themes including service providers’ lack of deaf awareness, lack of access to interpreters, shortage of accessible information and lack of services tailored to meet the needs of Deaf parents.

Parents talked about their feelings of isolation and their wish to meet others with young children. This had been difficult because of communication difficulties at mother and baby groups and health clinics. They felt that this sort of network was closed to them and they wanted the opportunity to meet Deaf parents. There was little access to basic information about pregnancy as this was mostly in written form that was difficult for many British Sign Language users to understand. It was felt that videos would be more appropriate. Access to this sort of information was particularly needed when decisions about having a Caesarean or whether or not to breastfeed had to be made. The need for improvement in services seemed to run through every aspect of parenting. Parents wanted to know more about how to cope with bullying, adoption and issues around their children’s education and had found it difficult, if not impossible, to find out what they needed to know. However it was not all bad news, with reports of good local initiatives and helpful social workers and health visitors. The overall feeling of the workshop was that a great deal of work needed to be done at a national level in order for Deaf parents to have equal access to maternity care, childcare, education and family services.

Overview of conference

Overall Deafhood was an excellent opportunity for DPPi to publicise its work with Deaf parents and to share information with parents, organisations and professionals. Sabina and I ran an information stand throughout the event where we collected contact details of those interested in the issues around Deaf parenting.

Note: Sabina has since set up an independent charity called Deaf Parenting UK - www.deafparent.org.uk.

Parents’ experience: Looking back at life with an invisible disability (Becki Josiah, 2000)

Molly Quaife has been deaf since the age of three. She was born in 1915 and was married for nearly 60 years to Charlie, who was also profoundly deaf. Molly is the grandmother of DPPi information officer, Becki Josiah. Molly and her eldest child Valerie, Becki’s mother, talked to Becki about their experience of parenting with a disability. DPPi 30, July 2000

Molly’s story

I had meningitis when I was three years old, which left me profoundly deaf. I went to Blanche Nevile School for the Deaf, Tottenham, London, when I was seven. No one had realised I was deaf until then. I had been sent to a hearing school for two years. Charlie went to Hugh Myddleton School in East London. Signing was not allowed at either school and we had to learn English. It was very hard. I can speak very well and my written English is good. Charlie found it much harder because his speech was not good.

When I was fourteen my dad took me to Manor House Deaf Club, run by the church. Suddenly I was surrounded by people chatting away in British Sign Language and was amazed because no one else in my family was deaf and I had no friends who could sign. They even had a vicar who was deaf, Reverend Jones. I remember some of my old school friends were there and they told me off for not wearing a hat to church! Three years later I met Charlie there. It was love at first sight for me but it took him a little longer to realise I was the one for him!

We got married in 1939 and two years later I became pregnant with Valerie. I was very pleased to be pregnant. My teacher at school had told me about sex and babies, which was just as well because we certainly didn’t talk about such things at home. My mum had to come to the doctor with me because there were no interpreters available then. I saw the doctor once when he confirmed I was pregnant and I never saw another doctor throughout all of my five pregnancies.

When I went into labour I wasn’t scared at all, in fact I was very relaxed. I went to the Royal Northern Hospital in Holloway by ambulance, with Charlie following behind on his bicycle. He wasn’t allowed to stay with me of course - that just didn’t happen in those days. I was left on my own for hours with no one to talk to me. No one came to see me until I had my beautiful baby girl. When they saw how lovely she was, the nurses took her round to the other mums and said, ‘Look at this beautiful baby that the deaf girl has had.’ I don’t know if they expected me to give birth to a monster or something!

I had one more of my children in the Royal Northern. I had the next three at home and I preferred that. All of the births were very easy. The midwives that helped me with the labours were all different. Some really tried to communicate but some couldn’t be bothered. I remember one awful one who drank and was always covered in dog hairs!

Valerie and Barry were born during the war and there were lots of air raids in North London at the time. I made a baby quilt into a sleeping bag and used to put Valerie in it when we went to the outside shelter. Things got so bad that I moved to Nottingham with them for a while. I missed Charlie so much though. We had never been apart before. The children and I came back after three months.

My mother-in-law lived upstairs. She would help me with talking to people, but she was not very nice, so Valerie used to do quite a lot. No one seemed to think that I wouldn’t manage the children because I was deaf. When my babies were small I just seemed to know when they needed me at night — mother’s instinct, I suppose. I also looked after my grandchildren and was a childminder for lots of other children. I didn’t go out to work, except for a bit of cleaning here and there. Charlie always had a job. He was a good father to our children.

Valerie’s views

I have vivid childhood memories. I remember the war even though I was tiny. I remember waking up Mum and Dad when the sirens went off. We had an indoor shelter under a table in the back bedroom.

I did a lot of interpreting for Mum and Dad. Dad’s mum didn’t like the bother, so she made me do it instead. I used to go to the doctor if my parents or brothers and sisters were ill. He was very abrupt and mumbled so there was no way Mum or Dad could have understood him. He once got very angry with Mum when I had suspected appendicitis. He had told her to wait for an ambulance, but she didn’t hear him and took me to the hospital on the bus!

I would always answer the door to callers and took my brothers and sisters to school on their first day or to hospital appointments. There was no choice really. There was no one to help with things like that. It was OK at the local shops because they knew Mum. People probably think that it is strange that none of us children learned to sign, but you must understand that it was different back then. I think that although the war made people more tolerant, it was still very important that you fitted in. I could hear when people made fun of my parents and I didn’t like it. I didn’t like them signing in public and I would be very bossy about it, I wish now that we had learned to sign, but Mum’s speech is very good. I think that is because she spoke to us all the time.

Becki’s comments

I never thought it strange that Nanny and Granddad could not hear. It was something we grandchildren accepted. I have been inspired by my grandparents and am now completing a Stage II British Sign Language course. I also teach my children signing so they can communicate with Nanny Molly. I have found the following books on signing very useful.

Happy Birthday (ISBN 1-85714-096-6) and Opposites (ISBN 1-85714-097-4). A Bednarczyk and J Weinstock, Starbright Books. Distributed in the UK by Ragged Bears Ltd.

These are two bright, cheerful board books for young children. Each has photographs depicting words familiar to toddlers and a clear British Sign Language illustration on every page. These books would be fun to use with young children, both deaf and hearing. A basic knowledge of British Sign Language is needed to use the books effectively.

Signs for Health, Cath Smith, Co-sign Communications. ISBN 0-935069-1-6

This book is designed for use in healthcare situations and contains common words with illustrations of the British Sign Language equivalent. It is not meant as a substitute for learning sign language, rather as a useful resource in conjunction with basic signing skills and Deaf awareness.

First published in Disability, Pregnancy & Parenthood international, Issue 40, October 2002.

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