For hearing-impaired children, life presents extra challenges that have only been made tougher by lockdown and the lack of face-to-face contact.
But Blackpool’s Sign Hi Say Hi! group has been a lifeline for deaf children and their families in the area, providing the means for them to get together and have fun – even when that had to be done remotely.
“We run activities so the children can make friends and we make sure their parents get the support they need,” says project co-ordinator Karen McLeod. “Many deaf children are born to hearing parents, so it can be a shock to them. We have school-age and pre-school children and their siblings can also come along because being deaf can be very isolating.”
The past year has added to that isolation, but Sign Hi Say Hi! has helped families through it with Zoom quizzes and craft challenges. One member made face coverings with a clear panel to allow lip reading, and the group provided advice on practical things such as the shortage of batteries for hearing aids.
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Now it has been organising more face-to-face events, such as an alpaca walk and a trip to an adventure playground.
Sign Hi Say Hi! was awarded a £30,000 grant to help with its work, which benefits more than 40 families. It's just one of many community charities funded by People's Health Trust using money raised through The Health Lottery, which supports 3,200 grassroots projects throughout Britain – 333 of them are in the North West.
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“The funding has enabled us to provide activities that bring families together and pay for an interpreter,” says Karen.
She and chair Jane Thomas have children and grandchildren with hearing impairments, so Sign Hi Say Hi! is close to both their hearts.
“It’s so important to have that support,” says Jane. “The activities we’re doing now are so much better because of that funding. We could provide some support from our experiences, but nothing like we’re doing at the moment. It’s a godsend – we’re so grateful for it.”
‘I’d felt like the odd one out’
Sign Hi Say Hi! committee member Emma Williamson is mum to Grace, seven. “When a doctor told me at Grace’s newborn hearing test that she was profoundly deaf and nothing could be done, it was shattering. It took me several years to get my head round it.
“We were put in touch with Sign Hi Say Hi! when Grace was six months old. It was the first time I’d seen deaf children playing together. Before that, I’d often felt like the odd one out as a hearing mum surrounded by children who could hear. Coming to Sign Hi Say Hi! meant I could connect with other families in the same position.
“Now Grace is doing well at school and boy, can she lip read! It’s absolutely incredible.”
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