Deafway: From Preston to Nepal, the Deaf charity changing lives

Deafway has been supporting the Deaf community for 125 years. Founded in 1894 as a Deaf school, it is now the only Deaf charity in Lancashire, with its work extending as far as Nepal, Uganda, and Kenya. But their work is far from over. "It's 2020 and Deaf people don't have the same quality of life as other people do," said Nicola Terry. "They face barriers every day."

Tuesday, 7th January 2020, 6:00 am
Nicola Terry

Fundraising and Development Manager at the charity, Nicola has worked at Deafway for 13 years, helping provide support for people who are Deaf, particularly by promoting equal access in all parts of society.

"We're also really pushing service providers to become more Deaf-aware," explained Nicola, who is in her mid-40s. "If you're a profoundly Deaf British Sign Language-user (BSL), the obstacles to accessing services are quite profound as BSL is very different to standard English."

And those obstacles are everyday issues. Deafway's Equal Rights, Equal Lives research project showed that 84% of the members of the Deaf community who took part needed help reading and responding to written correspondence, while 74% said they regularly received correspondence that required them, as a Deaf person, to make a phone call without giving other accessible options.

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Mike Greer of Deafway

"We provide interpreter drop-in sessions weekly in Preston and once every two weeks in Lancaster for members of the Deaf community to come along and get letters translated, have responses written, and even get someone to speak on the phone for them," explained Nicola. "We also offer Deaf-awareness training and BSL courses; it's all about encouraging service providers to work with us to make Lancashire a standout county for accessibility for Deaf people."

Far more than just a vehicle to promote awareness, Deafway also offers residential care for 30 Deaf people from across the UK with additional needs such as mental health problems and physical difficulties, Deaf and sign language heritage projects, and sponsorship work with Deaf sports. At the centre of the charity's vital work is Deaf culture and sign language, and they work on the mantra that every Deaf person should have access to sign language provision.

And that mantra is global.

Deafway started working in Nepal in 2000 and currently supports two schools in Sindhulimadi and Nawalparasi as well as having run a Deaf project for older people in Kathmandu and Kirtipur. They have funded a school in Nkose, Uganda since 2012, and a small school in Yala, Kenya since 2017, and with deafness still often treated as a curse in Africa, the charity cares for a number of children who live at the schools full-time. The charity has a sponsorship scheme to allow people to sponsor a child.

Ben Bowen

"Things are not great for Deaf people in the developing world, but even with how much more advanced the UK is in terms of provision, the barriers Deaf people here face are significant," said Nicola, who lives in Chorley. "We're making progress but there's still a massive lack of understanding, which can be massively isolating."

Isolation is precisely what Deafway is out to combat. With a mix of Deaf and hearing staff who are either fluent in BSL or working towards fluency, the charity's staff all complete nationally-recognised BSL qualifications. They also have an Activities Coordinator and raise funds for 'Dream Activities' - special experiences which the Deaf residents would not normally be able to access and which they choose themselves: a few years ago, some of the residents holidayed in Barcelona.

"The job is different every day, there are always challenges and so much to do, and you're learning all the time," said Nicola. "When I travel abroad, it's challenging and sometimes upsetting but amazing at the same time to see the difference we're making to people's lives."

"There's a lot of pride in the work: if we can support one Deaf person - be it here or overseas - it's great."