Clare Vale, managing director of Sign Solutions

With the majority of further education students now engaging in a split between in-person and remote learning, many providers are taking lessons from previous lockdowns and using them to inform their work. However, despite their best efforts, Deaf pupils and Deaf parents of hearing students are not getting the specialist support needed to minimise the risk of them falling behind. Furthermore, Deaf teachers are struggling to communicate properly with hearing parents about their children’s work and progress.

Whilst a continuation of remote teaching in some form is necessary for many further education institutions to help gradually bring students back to on-site learning, communication barriers between Deaf teachers and parents as a result could have long-term consequences for the life chances of students.

Something must be done to provide more support for the Deaf community throughout these unprecedented times.

Improving access for Deaf pupils

The ongoing disruption to education could leave a negative effect not only on the education of Deaf pupils but also on their emotional growth. Teachers have a vital role to play in ensuring Deaf pupils get the most out of the months ahead, and there are many steps they can take to do so.

Firstly, hearing teachers must become ‘Deaf aware’ and think about how they are going to meet Deaf pupils’ communication and support needs. Deaf Awareness Training workshops can help educate hearing teachers on the challenges their Deaf pupils may face during remote learning and can help them communicate confidently and comfortably.

In addition to becoming Deaf aware, hearing teachers must assess their teaching content and ensure it is suitable for delivery through a remote online platform. Deaf pupils have individual requirements and learning preferences which need to be taken into account when preparing and delivering remote online learning. Hearing teachers must ensure they are familiar with Deaf pupils’ needs by talking to their SENCO [or equivalent] and Teacher of the Deaf, sharing content with them and seeking feedback.

When speaking on camera during virtual lessons, teachers should speak slowly and ensure their faces are well lit and can be seen clearly. It is important that they avoid covering their face or hands or turning away from the camera, as Deaf pupils use visual cues and physical movements to help them learn.

Giving Deaf pupils access to lesson content or overviews in advance could also help them become familiar with new vocabulary, ideas and learning.

Some Deaf students will need an interpreter and it is their college’s responsibility to put that provision in place before delivering the lesson, as well as to provide the interpreter with access to lesson content well in advance. Similarly, education institutions must ensure provisions are in place for Deaf teachers who require video interpretation tools with BSL interpreters in order to deliver their lessons clearly and effectively.

Through these tools, Deaf teachers and pupils can be provided with remote video interpreters to translate lessons in real-time, and further education providers can also include a video link on their websites so Deaf pupils and parents can phone enquiry lines for advice via an online interpreter.

Education providers must opt for a suitable platform to enable user-friendliness for Deaf pupils, teachers and parents, as their accessibility, security and quality features vary widely.

The InterpretersLive! service, powered by Starleaf, delivers real-time access to qualified and registered British Sign Language interpreters using a secure encrypted and ISO27001 accredited, HD quality video platform. The Starleaf platform has millions of users worldwide and is already familiar to the Deaf community in the UK, who use the platform to contact a range of organisations free of charge in their first or preferred language of BSL. Starleaf’s interoperability with other secure video platforms ensures that BSL interpreters can be brought into Teams, Skype for business and many other secure video platforms.

Supporting Deaf parents of hearing children

Further education students with Deaf parents are a unique group who grow up in a very special cultural environment, and they could be significantly affected by college closures if provisions are not made which consider their home circumstances to ensure remote learning is accessible.

Many Deaf parents in the UK communicate using BSL. Their needs are similar to those of parents whose home language is not English and education providers must make provisions to encourage effective co-operation and communication with Deaf parents.

The role of the parent as primary contact person for a pupil applies equally to Deaf parents and they must always be the first point of contact for the education provider. Colleges and sixth forms must ensure Deaf parents can contact them easily by text message or email to a named person throughout the pandemic and beyond. If BSL is the first or preferred language of the Deaf parent, further education providers should consider providing a BSL video interpreter or translations of English to BSL to ensure all parents can understand and respond to communications equally.

It is important for further education providers to be aware that pupils with Deaf parents may sometimes require more streamlined support when it comes to remote learning and homework.

Colleges and sixth forms should be prepared to provide a video interpreter for any meetings where parents are to be briefed on lessons, or to discuss pupils’ progress and attainment.

Conclusion

Remote teaching and learning is challenging for all students, teachers and parents, not least those with hearing loss. Education is a right, not a privilege, for all young people, regardless of whether they, their parents or teachers are Deaf, and they should all be provided with the support needed to help them through these unprecedented times.

By becoming Deaf aware, making adjustments and seeking support from an on demand BSL interpretation company, education providers can assist Deaf teachers and give Deaf pupils and hearing pupils with Deaf parents the chance they deserve to reach their full potential.

Clare Vale is managing director of Sign Solutions

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