Lisburn woman determined to change ‘appalling’ lack of deaf awareness

Sharron Slade (left) with Christine belshaw, chairperson of Knockmore Community Centre.

Sharron Slade (left) with Christine belshaw, chairperson of Knockmore Community Centre.

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An “appalling” lack of deaf awareness locally has moved one Lisburn woman to mount her own determined campaign for change.

Sharron Slade from Knockmore, whose daughter, now 26, lost her hearing after suffering meningitis at age two, is offering free instruction in the basics of sign language after discovering what she called a “disgusting” absence of awareness in the area.

Nowhere was that lack more evident, she said, than among the local business community, many of whom were keen to learn but didn’t know where to start.

Sharron, who takes informal classes at Lisburn’s Atlas Centre in Bachelor’s Walk, began looking into the extent of the problem after visiting the library for books to help her with those classes, only to find they had just one, the same book she used 24 years ago.

She was also distressed to find that decades later people were still having to pay for sign language lessons, as she herself had to pay to be able to communicate with her daughter.There followed a tour of a range of local businesses that Sharron said headed off any suggestion there was no need to raise awareness.

“I meant to visit even more,” she said, “but I had to stop, I was so upset . I went to banks, estate-agents, phones shops, even government agencies, and there wasn’t one person with any deaf awareness.

“Some places had a hearing loop and staff didn’t know how to use it.” Sharron, whose daughter found shopping a “degrading” experience, she said, is seeking whatever help is available to allow her to pass on her own knowledge on a broader front.

“I’m just so passionate, as a parent, that there’s still this segregation between the deaf and the hearing, and it should’t be happening.

“I don’t know it all myself, but for someone in a shop or business just to be able to sign ‘Hello, how are you? I’m sorry, I can’t sign; would you write it down?’ - for people to know how to be around deaf people, that they’re not some sort of different breed; that would help get rid of the stigma.

“I’m happy to give my time for free , to work to get the deaf and the hearing communicating.” Sharron can be contacted on 075 1190 4825 or via Facebook at deaf awareness lisburn n.i

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