Campaigning for Free Access to BSL Courses for Parents of Deaf Children – Katie Littlejohns

This month we are delighted to share an interview with Katie Littlejohns, who has become well known in the deaf community and beyond for her passionate campaigning for free BSL courses for parents of deaf children. This is a barrier to access Deaf Unity understands well, having recently worked with the Greater London Authority (GLA) to provide free British Sign Language Level 1 classes for families with deaf children. Read on to discover more about the woman behind the campaign, and her journey to get there.

Katie and Alfie

My name is Katie, I’m mum to 2 beautiful little boys, Leo 5 and Alvie 3. I work in the mental health team at our local inpatient Unit in Cornwall and have been there for 13 years. We live in Cornwall and love trips to the beach and the woods. I love food and eating out and catching up with friends. 

Alvie was diagnosed with hearing loss at 7 weeks old. It was a whole new world. We weren’t advised to learn Sign Language, actually the opposite: focus on speech. However, before Alvie turned one, it had become clear to us, myself and husband, that actually it was something we had to do for our son. It made no sense why he couldn’t learn a language that no matter what he will always have access to. I started a petition after realising the costs involved. I was so shocked to learn that this wasn’t something that you have access to and have to fight for.  

Speech is what is pushed. Speech speech speech, and when you’re in that postnatal whirlwind you follow what the professionals say. Why wouldn’t you? It was so scary – we were in lockdown and I had been struggling with postnatal depression. When I saw Rose on Strictly, something clicked. 

A small smiling boy holds a ghost puppet

My first introduction to the deaf community was all online after I started the petition for free BSL classes for parents of deaf children. So many deaf people got in touch after I shared the petition in support. That led to my introduction to the BDA. Rebecca (Mansell) was incredible. She was so inspiring and I got to meet so many deaf people when I was invited to present at their conference last year. I have met more people around my local area who are deaf and my tutors from college for BSL. They are wonderful people and I have formed great friendships. 

For things to improve in the future, I believe that professionals need to work with the deaf community more. On diagnosis all of our advice and support was from hearing people. As a parent who this is all new for, you follow that. It can take a while to research and find what is right as a parent. I’m sure I will always be trying to figure out if I’m making the right choices, but that should be lead by deaf people, not hearing.  

I want to see that there is immediate offer of BSL Courses. Not to rely on technology. Technology is great, I’m not disputing that. But I feel speech is pushed mainly as it is more convenient for hearing people. Parents need to be given the opportunity to learn BSL – with no barriers to find a course, let alone pay for it. 

I think for deaf and hearing communities to achieve this vision of the future, professionals working in this area should be more deaf led. It is really important that the experience of deaf people is reflected in the support given. 

A woman wearing sunglasses crouches next to a small boy wearing a rainbow t-short and holding a leaf

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *