With many schools across the country now closed, we’re facing a situation that presents a unique set of challenges for teachers, parents and children. It calls for a new, albeit temporary, type of schooling which is challenging for everybody. Yet for children who are deaf and may struggle with language, communication and literacy, it throws up some serious additional hurdles, many of which may not get considered.

There are over 50,000 deaf children in the UK and among those in education, more than three quarters attend mainstream schools. Many already find it difficult to access learning, but without the support they usually receive, they and their families will be apprehensive about how they’ll keep up. This is particularly worrying given deaf children already fall a grade behind on average at GCSE.

It’s vital that they can access their education at this difficult time, and with some consideration and simple preparation, they absolutely can.

Emma Fraser is a teacher and has been a specialist Teacher of the Deaf for over 20 years. She believes that schools, professionals and parents all have a role to play. Here, she offers five tips for parents to ensure that their deaf children can thrive at home during the school closures.

Make everything accessible

Many schools will use online platforms to set work, receive homework and provide contact between teachers and pupils. This could be an issue for deaf children, especially those who need a high level of in-class support or use sign language in some form. Video conferencing sites such as Zoom or Skype will help deaf children to pick up on some of the visual clues they usually rely on, helping them to understand information and activities.

If video content is used, it needs to be accessible, so using speech-to-text technology like Google Transcribe, or YouTube’s subtitling function to provide captions, will be beneficial. Although the quality of these services can vary, if needed they can be checked and manually edited to make sure they’re accurate.

Seek expert advice

When schools are setting tasks and activities for children to complete at home, they must do so carefully, making sure they’re accessible and deaf aware. Schools should seek support from their council or Teacher of the Deaf, who can provide expert help and advice.

Younger deaf children may need extra support for work set at home, but many parents will feel they don’t have the time or expertise needed. It’s important that they don’t feel overwhelmed and they should contact the school if they’re struggling. The National Deaf Children’s Society’s website and helpline, which are free and fully accessible, can provide advice, support and resources to anyone who needs it.

Let children use their radio aids

Many deaf children use a radio aid in school. Making sure that it’s available to take home will also support their access to spoken language and sound, so it’s important that local authorities, schools and parents make this happen. A radio aid will also help tackle the isolation that many deaf children could face. Many local authorities already allow radio aids to be taken home, so it’s vital the rest now follow suit.

Find out how to access their support

Deaf children may find their access to professionals like Teachers of the Deaf or Speech and Language Therapists is now restricted. This could impact on many areas of their life, including how their hearing technology is looked after and maintained. Concerned parents should contact professionals directly to find out what support can still be provided remotely.

Although key workers will most likely have to work from home and at a reduced capacity, there is still a whole workforce of talented, dedicated professionals in every corner of the country ready to help deaf pupils learn. With video technology now commonplace, there are so many possibilities for accessing a child’s support.

Guard against isolation

Finally, a major issue for deaf children is isolation. Spending more time at home, with less access to friends and deaf role models, may mean they feel more alone and have fewer opportunities to share worries and concerns. This is particularly important for deaf children who use sign language.

Parents and schools can both help by checking in on a child and making sure they’re able to communicate. Directing them to online groups and websites such as The Buzz can also provide good quality information on a range of issues, plus links to other deaf young people.  

There’s no way of knowing how long children will be out of school, so it’s important that everyone in a deaf child’s life moves quickly. With good preparation, understanding and expert advice, all deaf children can return to school fully prepared for the next stage of their education.

This week is Deaf Awareness Week and there are lots of videos, resources and guidance available on social media if you follow the hashtags #DAW2020 and #DeafAwarenessWeek2020.