First published in the October 2011 issue of The Hearing Times.
You have to feel sorry for deaf people in Bristol. In early September, Bristol city council withdrew £240,000 of funding for Bristol Deaf Centre, putting it at severe risk of closure. This comes on the back of a decision in the summer of 2010 by the University of Bristol to cut a Deaf Studies Bsc course, which means the loss of over 75% of staff in their Deaf Studies department by 2013. And not forgetting that the future of Elmfield – the local specialist deaf school – remains in doubt pending a review by the city council.
Those three cuts together could mean the loss of services, jobs, skills, and even people (who might move) from Bristol. For one area to potentially suffer so many cuts at once is scary. But what’s more worrying is the prospect that the situation in Bristol could turn out to be an indicator of how the cuts will affect deaf people everywhere.
On another front, the National Deaf Children’s Society is currently campaigning to protect educational services for deaf children. The charity say that one in five local authorities have made cuts to provision, and they’ve even produced a handy map on their website to show just which areas have been affected. It’s scary – because you can see the impact in so many different places.
I am partially deaf and I was educated in mainstream schools. It’s no exaggeration to say that without the support of the teacher of the deaf who visited me and my brother every few weeks, I might never have made it as far as sixth form, let alone university.
My peripatetic teacher made sure my equipment (hearing aids and a radio aid that directly picked up what my teacher was saying) was working properly, ensured my teachers knew how to make sure I could hear what was going on, and more importantly, was someone I could talk to about any problems I was having. Even better, he could then act as a middleman, talk to my teachers and find solutions, which I might have lacked the confidence to do for myself.
Support services are crucial, especially now that so many children are being educated in mainstream settings. So it came as a relief that the NDCS recently won a High Court case to force Stoke City Council to back down over cutting a teacher of the deaf. But in other areas, such as Southampton, parents are still fighting.
Here I’ve written about the cuts affecting Bristol and the wider education system. However, over the next few months we’re going to get a much better idea of where the cuts will fall, and it seems inevitable that many more areas are going to feel the impact.
What’s at stake is not only the future educational attainment of deaf children and the ability of deaf adults to access vital services, but ultimately, the quality of life for thousands, perhaps millions of deaf people in Britain today.