Stoke-on-Trent dad’s 40-year battle to break down the barriers faced by his daughter and the hearing-loss communityDate: 01/08/2022
A man from Meir has become an advocate for the deaf community and now teaches others British Sign Language after having personal experience of hearing loss.
Graham, who lives in one of our over 50s schemes in Stoke-on-Trent, decided to learn how to sign after his daughter, Joanne, was born deaf.
Joanne's mum had measles during pregnancy, which resulted in Joanne having hearing loss when she was born.
After going on his own journey and learning British Sign Language, he decided to teach others and do more to support the deaf community. Graham explains: “When my daughter was born we didn’t know she was deaf. It was only when she was about three, that we realised she wasn’t developing as quickly as other children.
“I took her to the doctors and they told me she was deaf. Over 40 years ago there wasn’t a lot of information, help or support out there.
“The doctor told us the only thing we could do would be to send her to a boarding school for the deaf.
“I didn’t want her to have to go through that. I’d heard horror stories about places like that and I just wanted her to have a normal life.
“After some perseverance we were able to convince social services to not send Joanne away. Instead, to let her go to nursery so she could catch up on her early year’s development.”
Graham was pleased to keep Joanne at home but found this was the first of many barriers Joanne would face in her life. He continued:
“She loved school and once there developed faster than children her age. But when she came home from school she was frustrated because she couldn’t tell us about her day.
“She would make signs with her fingers, but we didn’t know what she was doing. I was so frustrated because we couldn’t communicate with each other.
“I decided to speak to her Headmaster to ask if I could learn sign language. I was told I wasn’t clever enough and that only teachers could be taught.
“I was astounded, I just wanted a way to speak to my daughter but at every official road I was turned away.”
An older student heard about Graham and offered to teach him how to sign. He continues:
“Other parents in the community found out and within 10 weeks we had a house full of parents wanting to know how to sign.
“Eventually we had to look at hiring a room and asked the school if we could carry on teaching the course there.
“It would’ve been a no, but because of the number of people there they had to accommodate the class.
Graham learnt sign language and was finally able to communicate with his daughter. He said he felt ‘like a weight was lifted’:
“Finally she could tell me about her day and we could build our family bond.
“It also meant I could help translate for her and help her through normal everyday situations.
Graham went on to complete degrees and training courses that now qualifies him to teach British Sign Language:
“One day Joanne asked me if I knew what it was like to be deaf. It stunned me and made me think. Although I’d seen what being deaf was like I’d never personally experienced it.
“From that moment on I decided to do more to advocate for the deaf community and help people struggling like we had for so many years.
“I completed degrees, training courses and went on to teach British Sign Language to professionals at Royal Mail, Staffordshire Police and Stoke-on-Trent City Council.
Now retired, Graham moved into Lime Tree Court. The accommodation is an over 50s scheme and brings residents together as one community. Graham offers his services to both residents and staff to help people struggling with hearing loss.
“Most people my age will get some kind of hearing loss in their life. Finding other ways to communicate is vital to having a good quality of life.
“I’m currently running a sign language course in the village and even bring my daughter into the classes so people can put what they’ve learnt into practice.
“I don’t do it for fame, money or praise I do it to help people, raise awareness and to break down the barriers people with hearing loss face every day.”