Life after deaf at the college which helps rebuild lives

Bricks and    mortar: Learner James Thompson in the plastering class at the Doncaster Deaf School.               PICTURES: STEVE ELLIS
Bricks and mortar: Learner James Thompson in the plastering class at the Doncaster Deaf School. PICTURES: STEVE ELLIS
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There is ‘life after deaf’ - especially at Doncaster College for the Deaf, where inspirational work is going on to train and empower students. The Star’s Rachael Clegg reports.

DEAFNESS came as a shock to Darren Emson.

In his early 30s, and working as an engineer, a huge car crash put him in intensive care where in hospital he contracted septicemia.

He survived after being given life-saving antibiotics - but the medication had a devastating side effect. It left him deaf.

Darren, now 42, said: “The most difficult part about becoming deaf was when I was in intensive care and I had a tracheotomy - I couldn’t talk to explain that I couldn’t hear anything.”

His resulting permanent deafness meant he was a health and safety risk in his old career.

But he started a new job, as an outreach worker helping adults who had lost their hearing, and then, in 2006, the job centre recommended he attend Doncaster College for the Deaf.

“I was a sports student for one year and then they recommended me for the job I have now. It was fate, I believe. The Deaf College gave me my life back.”

Darren is one of many to have found new life through the Doncaster College for the Deaf on Leger Way near the racecourse.

The college, which is run by the Doncaster Deaf Trust, provides vocational training for deaf people, residential lodges for students living away from home, and educational services for people with other special educational needs.

The college is nationally-renowned, with students travelling from across the country to study there, and its latest Ofsted report described its social care provision as ‘outstanding’.

One student is Wuqaas Shah, aged 20, who travelled all the way from Bedford to study in South Yorkshire.

Wuqaas is a student in construction, has had three work experience placements - and has already been offered a job.

“The college has made a big difference to my life,” he said.

“Before coming here I went to mainstream school but my English has improved since I have been here. I feel I’m ready for the future. I live in accommodation outside the college and I have learnt to live independently.”

Across the road from the construction department is the college’s woodwork department, where teacher Phil Plant, 49, passes on his carpentry and joinery knowledge to student Carl Vine, 21.

“You see the students transform when they have been here a while,” he said. “Some students are nervous and quiet when they first come and then they become more confident and eventually able to go out and get jobs.

“Coming here is a fantastic opportunity - it gives them the skills they need.” The college is extraordinarily well-equipped. Next to the joinery department is a car body workshop, where the staff and students have just prepared a car to race at Le Mans.

There is also a hairdressing department, a beauty salon, a plumbing department, a sports department and a catering department.

And while its 250 students have access to IT suites and industry-standard workshops, the roots of the college date back much further. The ‘Yorkshire Residential School for the Deaf’ was established in 1829.

The college was the brainchild and lifelong passion of Rev William Carr Fenton who, after visiting the Royal Institute for the Deaf and Dumb, wanted to set up a similar institution for ‘the deaf and dumb children of poor Yorkshire people’.

Initially there were just 11 boys on roll.

Of course, times have moved on, and ‘deaf and dumb’ is not a phrase that is used any longer. But there is, according to some deaf people, still a profound lack of awareness of deafness in society.

As many as one in seven people is deaf, yet few television programmes are available with interpreters and very few hearing people can communicate using sign language.

But the deaf community in Doncaster - thanks to the college - is strong.

“In Doncaster a lot of the community are deaf-aware and are willing to learn just to finger spell to offer assistance,” said Darren.

“It is very apparent when I am out in the community with my students. People who work in, say, Asda use basic signs to communicate or convey verbal gratitude and politeness to the students - which brings a smile to my face every time.”

Darren admits he wasn’t at all deaf aware when he could hear.

“In the past, before becoming deaf myself, I don’t think I can recall ever talking to a deaf person.

“And now British Sign Language is my second language!

“I do think people take their hearing for granted, but why wouldn’t they? Deafness is not something you consider unless you have experienced it.”

Technology has played a big part in improving the lives of deaf people.

“I don’t know what I would have done when I needed to contact my family when I was disabled, in a wheelchair, living alone, if I couldn’t have texted from my mobile phone,” said Darren.

“So it must have been very isolating for deaf people before text messaging came about.” But while texting opened up the social lives of deaf people, day-to-day practicalities are still challenging.

“Everything is done by telephone nowadays - banking and paying bills.”

Bobbie Roberts, Doncaster Deaf Trust’s chair of trustees who is partially deaf herself, has been working at the college for more than 30 years.

She says: “You don’t get as much sympathy with deafness as you do with other disabilities.

“But so much of your quality of life is lost through deafness, you can’t talk to anyone in a noisy room.”

But, while it’s hard to spot a deaf person in the street, at the college, you can hear the difference.

It’s a calm, quiet environment, devoid of the chitter-chatter of a regular college. But its quietness is no reflection of its atmosphere - the students are chatting, they’re just doing it with sign language.

“Our students are real social creatures,” says Bobbie. “In the lodges they are always having parties! Some of our students have a party every time a fly falls off the windowsill.”

As Darren says: “There is life after deaf.”

Factfile

One in six people - a total of 10 million in the UK - suffers some form of hearing loss.

As many as 45,000 British children are deaf.

Around two million people in the UK have hearing aids, though only 1.4m use them regularly.

At least four million people who would benefit from using hearing aids don’t have one.

On average it takes 10 years for a person to address their hearing loss.