Deaf Unity’s Deaf Learners Conference: ‘The Past, the Present, What about our FUTURE?’
Published: May 31st, 2013
Deaf Unity’s first Deaf Learners Conference was held on 28th May 2013 from 9.30am to 3pm at the University of Westminster in London. The aims of the day were to facilitate discussion and share information about the future of deaf education and access to education in the UK. The conference was also a chance to discuss how to support deaf learners after education in jobs and training. A range of speakers and workshops were arranged, with stalls from our sponsors.
The day began with introductions from Ilan Dwek, our host for the day, and a talk from Abdi Gas, the CEO of Deaf Unity, discussing how to inspire change and empower the next generation of deaf learners through role models, networking and technology; emphasising the need for positive discussion and action.
The second speaker was David Chater from The Department of Education, who spoke about what the government is doing for deaf learners. The title of his talk was ‘Breaking Educational Barriers: Providing Deaf People with access to information, resources and support that leads to sustainable achievements.’ He explained how the Department is working with the Government to close the gap for deaf learners, and how he has always felt that there is a lack of involvement of people sharing their experiences to affect policy and decision making when the policies affect them; and that he is working to correct this imbalance and bring deaf people into the dialogue within the decision making process.
Liz Sayce, CEO of Disability Rights UK, presented a talk about ‘Breaking Work Barriers: Providing Deaf People with Employment Support to Find and Keep Jobs.’ She discussed the work she has done with Disability Rights UK, and how she has brought many different organisations together to work on breaking down barriers within employment for deaf and disabled people.
Next up was Rob Wilks, Deaf Lawyer and head of RAD Law centre, who discussed “Equality for Deaf Learners: Why is the law failing them?” He succinctly summarised the barriers facing Deaf people in accessing legal assistance and gave everyone something to think about in terms of making changes in this area.
The afternoon was action packed, with four workshops with Jane Cordell, Penny Beschizza and Dr Marian Grimes, John Hay, and Gary Morgan. All four did four workshops each as the delegates were split into four groups – much credit to them!
Jane Cordell spoke about her experiences in employment and the various roles she has had; what she took from them and learnt about herself. She asked us to talk within groups about what defining characteristics deaf people need in employment and what our experiences had been. John Hay gave a talk about the history of Deaf Education – interesting and relevant, as there are many parallels throughout history with the issues facing deaf learners now.
Gary Morgan led a workshop discussing his research as a Professor of Linguistics, and the linguistic needs of deaf learners in education. He discussed, amongst other interesting research findings, the need for parents of deaf children to have natural and informative conversation with their children, as opposed to results based conversations (eg. just ‘naming’ things), since learning starts at home. Penny Beschizza and Dr Marian Grimes talked about the need for good communication support for deaf learners. The workshops were informative, timely and food for thought.
There was also some chance for networking during the day, meeting new people and making new contacts. There was a buzz and it was brilliant to see people enjoying themselves, as well as discussing the issues surrounding education and employment.
Four deaf learners gave their accounts of their education journeys during the afternoon session of the conference – which brought home how much deaf learners need the right resources, information and access to support. All four had different experiences but the common thread was that they have had to work hard to knock down barriers within education and society to achieve.
The afternoon speaker, Asif Iqbal, recounted his education and employment journey, providing us with an example of what can be done with a ‘can-do’ attitude. There was a feeling of the need to have game changers, and to be the game changers, to remember that the important thing is to go towards your dreams, and support each other. The importance of role models and mentors was highlighted throughout the day.
Overall, the conference was a chance for organisations and individuals to come together and discuss how to change education and employment opportunities for deaf people for the better. We are proud to be involved in this work with our Deaf Learners project, providing information and looking for ways to improve the experience within education, and to support deaf learners into employment. We hope all who came had an informative and inspiring day.
Deaf Unity would like to thank our sponsors, 121 Captions, Microlink, CommunityID, SignVideo, Bee Communications, Deaf Umbrella, Lipspeaker UK, City Lit, and interacterable the speakers, workshop facilitators and ‘Team Unity’ for their hard work making the conference possible. We hope next year is just as successful: we look forward to making new connections and changing the educational climate for deaf learners.
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