As many as one person per hundred of the population may become deaf through disease or injury after birth.
As many as one person per thousand of the population may suffer such a severe hearing loss at birth or in childhood that their ability to learn and produce clear speech is seriously affected.
Deafness is the single largest “disability” in society if all types of hearing loss are counted.
I first became interested in deaf people when I moved to Northern Ireland and met my profoundly deaf neighbour. She introduced me to the world of deaf teenagers and shared her dismay at the lack of suitable educational services for profoundly deaf children at that time. (1972) Sign language had been officially banned from the classroom for many years .
I soon realised that deaf children were handicapped, not by their disability, but by their environment and lack of suitable language skills.
Deaf adults and their parents felt frustrated that they had received inadequate advice after the birth of their deaf children. As a result I went back to University to learn about language acquisition and human psychology. In those days there was not a specialist course in deafness per se in Northern Ireland, forcing me to design my own research projects around the subject.
One such project resulted in a local charity setting up a playgroup for pre school deaf children and inviting me to work in sign language and speech with two profoundly deaf three year olds. They successfully developed sign language skills to equal that of their hearing peers’ spoken language, unheard of at that time. (see reading list). The statutory services still did not listen to parental pleas for help with early sign language instruction. In many areas today, the situation has not changed and parents are being denied help with a total communication system for their profoundly deaf children.
A PROFOUNDLY DEAF CHILD MUST HAVE ACCESS TO A VISUAL LANGUAGE AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE IN THEIR LIFE.
Deaf children and their parents have a right to learn the language of their choice by visual means if they have insufficient hearing to process speech. Signs can be dropped later in life if and when intelligible speech is developed but those critical early years for language acquisition can never be regained.