Katie O’Reilly, trustee and founder of Wigan and Leigh Deaf Children’s Society, talks about the lack of resources for parents of sensory impaired children in the area and how she decided to do something about it.
“In Wigan and Leigh there was no way for deaf children to meet, no place for them to form connections or community. You could grow up in an area, go to school there and not know there were other children like you. We expected maybe a dozen people at our first meeting and 60 people showed up. There was a real demand for the work of Wigan and Leigh Deaf Children’s Society (WLDCS).
We started by raising awareness so that the wider community had a better idea of what it was like living as a deaf child. Our youth group is made up of teenagers aged 11-16 and some of our them spoke about their experience, what it’s like to never be able to hear birds sing. These are the kind of things that most people wouldn’t even think about and would just take for granted.
We set up swimming lessons supervised by lifeguards who understood the needs of the kids, and we arranged for our youth group members and a British Sign Language Interpreter to communicate the teacher’s instructions to help the children learn to swim.
We put on Stay and Plays where parents can talk to one another and ask questions. We try to move them around different locations in the borough every month, and any venue we go to, we make sure it’s accessible to the families and the children. We turn off the sound systems and we arrange transport or contribute to costs if we can.
We’ve found that sharing experiences is so important. Our trustees always go to events and parents ask them practical stuff like how might their children react to going on an aeroplane for the first time, and more personal, emotional things as well. Being able to talk to people with experience of what you’re going through is life-changing.
It's so pleasing to see the children become more confident. One girl called Caitlin became a member at 13, started the youth group and later volunteered. She’s now gone to Dublin to study, which is a whole new challenge for her. She’s moved to a new health service, found a new health centre, found where her nearest audiology is. It’s incredible that she’s come so far, and I hope she’s as proud of herself as we are. We’ve really helped a few people who have become isolated.
Because of the need in the area, we’ve grown so much over the last few years. We now support deaf children and children with visual impairments. It's about bringing people together - the siblings, the parents, the children - and providing opportunities to build relationships and learn from one another. We’re able to reach people by putting on events and regular activities and giving people an outlet. We’re putting the platforms in place for children in our community to live better lives.”
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