Republish this article
3rd December 2015

Roadshow (rəʊdʃəʊ/) noun: A clever way to teach deaf awareness in schools

You may not find this definition in the dictionary, but for National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) Roadshow manager Damian Ball, it’s the one that matters most.

Damian inspires young deaf people every day by driving around to schools across the UK in a lorry-turned-classroom, where he teaches deaf awareness to students, their families and school staff. As well as challenging misconceptions about deafness, he shows young deaf people how they can realise their dreams.

He tells This Is Medtech, for example, about a 15-year-old boy he recently met who was interested in photography but wasn’t sure he would be able to fulfil his ambitions. “He was so pleased when I told him about a successful deaf photographer called Ashton Jean-Pierre, who immediately became his idol,” says Damian, who’s deaf himself.

The father of three has also worked with children who want to be involved in sport or the arts but are worried about communicating with others. “I remember one girl who was interested in skiing, but didn’t think she would be able to understand her ski instructor on the slopes,” he recalls. “When I told her I was a snowboarder and that it was possible for a deaf person to hit the slopes, she didn’t believe me! It wasn’t until l showed her a video of me riding down a mountain that I saw that flash of realisation on her face.”

One of the biggest misconceptions Damian comes across is that the use of hearing aids and cochlear implants restores hearing and enables deaf children to be able to hear in the same way as other people do, which isn’t true. He therefore spends a lot of time educating both deaf and hearing pupils on good communication skills.

Another common misunderstanding is that deafness is a learning disability. Damian is emphatic that nothing could be further from the truth, and that given the right support, deaf students are perfectly capable of achieving in line with their hearing friends. It’s vital to understand the needs of each individual deaf child and get that additional support in place. This can come in many forms, depending on the challenge.

“If their classroom is noisy, their hearing aids or implants will pick up all that background noise, which makes it difficult for them to understand the teacher or to have conversations with their hearing peers,” Damian explains. “Classrooms with better acoustics, together with the use of a radio aid (which enables the teacher’s voice to be fed directly to the aid or processor) can make a huge difference to a deaf child’s life. Such measures also help reduce concentration fatigue, as focussing on lip reading all day long requires a great deal of energy,” he adds.

Damian also points out that deaf children and young people know surprisingly little about the hearing devices they use, despite the fact they’re wearing them for up to 12 hours every day. “It can make a real difference to their lives to know how to manage them in various environments, such as being able to set different programmes to listen to music or go to the cinema,” he says. To this end, the Roadshow lorry is filled with the latest technology ‒ from Bluetooth neck loops (for iPods, mobile phones and TV) to vibrating alarm clocks, flashing doorbells and amplified phones ‒ that visitors can try out.

Another issue that arises with hearing aids or cochlear implants is that the devices can make a deaf child feel different to their hearing peers. “We know that being at school is often about ‘fitting in’ rather than wanting to stand out. This can make deaf children and young people self-conscious and reluctant to wear them. My role is to instil confidence to ensure that, when they do face challenging situations, deaf children have the self-belief and support network they need to overcome them,” says Damian, who thinks it’s wonderful that people like Sarah Ivermee are coming up with ways to personalise their devices. “It’s great to see deaf children feeling proud of their devices,” he comments.

For more information about the National Deaf Children’s Society, please visit ndcs.org.uk.