Hi Penny. It’s fantastic to hear you’re going to be a Mentor Trainer for our Motivating & Inspiring Young Deaf Learners project. Can you start by telling us about yourself and your work with the deaf community?
I was born deaf and it took me a while to learn to speak. Although I was academic, I had delayed social awareness. I attended a number of mainstream primary schools then two deaf boarding schools, but I returned to mainstream education for my art degree. With no communication access awareness at the time, I only got a 2:1 in Woven Textiles & Furniture-Making through sheer doggedness. I also managed to achieve the top grade among 450 students in the History of Art examination.
I started to become involved in the Deaf Community during my last three years at art college. The exposure to a variety of deaf people using BSL and other communication methods lead me to explore my own deafness in my degree thesis – using metaphors and illustrations. Unfortunately there was no publication about Deaf Identity in the 1970s.
What inspired you to pursue this line of work?
Almost all of my ‘milestone experiences’ i.e. progression in social and study skills awareness, were learned the hard way. Perhaps it was because I appeared ‘capable’, but during times of social and learning challenges no one approached me, or thought of checking in with me. Assertive skills were unknown to me until the 1990s, but as I became more involved in teaching and learning, I recognised the ‘missing links’ towards positive assertion skills that are essential for young deaf higher education students. Since then, all my encounters, teaching, and training are interwoven with study and behaviour awareness tips.
Mentoring deaf people is best run by responsible and insightful deaf adults with the aim of handing down deaf-led/deaf-friendly tool-kits for coping within the mainstream learning environment. My current teaching role in secondary school (after over twenty years in further, higher and adult education) has shown me the lack of deaf-appropriate preparation for post-school education opportunities for young deaf teenagers in the current educational climate.
What are you looking forward to as our specially appointed trainer for the mentoring days?
Being part of Deaf Unity; I understand its aims and values for d/Deaf people of all backgrounds and experiences. Using non-judgemental approaches, in the training days I will be adopting more of a facilitating role rather than the role of someone who orders people about.
On the day I will be using Q&A strategies in whole group and small group activities. These questions will cover attitudinal and assumed perceptions which we will discuss ‘clear the air’ wholly. I will use role play scenarios with each participant and feedback to the group what works well, what is not working well, and why.
Mentoring training enables all of us to see our own parameters in social skills and in our ability to comprehend issues in everyday life – especially within Higher Education.
From your experience, can you explain just how valuable mentoring is for helping to inspire and motivate others?
Mentoring is essentially a way to prepare and alert others of the realities of mainstream learning in today’s challenging, costly, and short-sighted hearing world. As I mentioned before, ‘mentoring deaf people is best run by responsible and insightful deaf adults with the aim of handing down deaf-led/deaf-friendly tool-kits in the same language, culture, peer values and experience. This is essential for helping them to cope within the mainstream learning environment.
What do you think is the biggest hurdle for young deaf people in terms of pursuing higher education and fulfilling careers?
It’s the huge gap of post-school knowledge from school staff. This is due to a number of reasons, such as the lack of exposure staff have to Deaf undergraduates and graduates. Furthermore, young deaf people need greater awareness of charities and organisations such as ADEPT and Deaf Unity, which provide up to date and accessible information to help them manage every day situations better and find the support they need.
Ultimately though, a lot of it comes down to the fact that the government, in the past two decades, has created a domino effect of changing goalposts concerning training, study and employability. In short, instead of better access to skills development, the pathways to Higher Education are covered with new challenges every day.
We are now facing the latest constraints to the Disabled Students’ Allowance in the next academic year, and Universities are expected to cover part of the access arrangements.
Can you offer any advice for young deaf people who may be unsure about their futures and in need of support?
Knowledge is power. However, for deaf youngsters considering HE, both peer support and knowledge of challenges and opportunities is the best way forward.
Are you feeling inspired to work with young deaf learners to help them feel more empowered to pursue higher education? Find out more about our Motivating & Inspiring Young Deaf Learners project and how you can get involved as a mentor.