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Form support groups
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Families of deaf children are important resources for each other. By organizing regular meetings, they can help each other with problems they face, and share suggestions of new ideas and opportunities for their children. This can be a great help, not only in organizing for their children's needs, but also in giving each other support as they overcome challenges.
The community can help this happen by providing space for meetings (for example, at a local temple, church, or mosque) and by letting people know about the meetings, so that other families can join.
Families with deaf children face many similar challenges and experience similar joys. See Chapter 14 for examples of how parents can start a group where they share feelings, information, and ideas to make a community more supportive for their children.
Other community organizations can give support
Many local community-based groups such as women's groups, parents' groups, farmers' groups, or credit or income generation groups can provide support to parents of children who have difficulty hearing.
For example, families may need extra time to teach and look after a child who cannot hear well. This might make it difficult to find paid work outside the home. A community-based group could help parents find ways to earn an income. Community-based groups such as a mother's group can also help deaf children get hearing aids, find resources to pay sign language teachers, arrange opportunities for early childhood education, subsidize payment of school fees, or help in other ways.
Bring deaf children together with other deaf people
A community's efforts to support deaf children can also bring them together. When children who are deaf or cannot hear well have an opportunity to meet together they can begin to form a natural community and develop their language and communication skills.
One town in China took a survey to find out how many deaf children there were who might attend a deaf school. Because of this survey, two families living next to each other were surprised to find that they both had deaf family members who had never met!
If you live in a large town or city, you can probably find ways to meet other deaf people. Even if you live in a small village there may be some deaf and hearing people who communicate using signs and gestures. They will often be happy to help families with deaf children.
Many larger communities have social clubs, associations, or large informal groups made up of people who are deaf. Sometimes these associations have programs for deaf children and their families. You and your child will be welcome there.
Every year the Delhi Foundation of Deaf Women, in India, has a talent contest for deaf children. After the contest, families meet and learn about deafness. This is part of the foundation's 'Catch Them Young' program to involve families with young deaf children in deaf community activities.
Help deaf children get education and training
Many families struggle to give their children who cannot hear well the chance to go to school. It takes time, energy, and resources to organize opportunities for deaf children to learn. But when a whole community works for educational rights for deaf children, it can make a big difference.
Chapter 12 describes in more detail the benefits that different kinds of schools or classes may have for deaf children and their families.
Communities interested in organizing better education and training for deaf children should contact their local or national association for the deaf, and the Ministry of Education. This will help them learn more about the opportunities and laws about deaf education in the area. The laws of most countries support the rights of all children — including deaf children — to a public education.
Here are some ways a community can help schools meet deaf children's needs better:
- Offer extra training to teachers so they can learn how to communicate with deaf children.
- Invite deaf adults to help teachers, families, or students learn sign language. Or they can work in the classroom and give extra attention to the deaf students. Chapter 12 includes more activities that help deaf children learn in local schools.
- Offer extra training in skills that will help students earn an income.
Bringing deaf children together in their own school or classroom can create a community of children who might otherwise have been isolated from each other. Some communities get money from local or national associations, donor organizations, or their government to help pay for training and facilities.
Everyone benefits from efforts to support deaf children
The entire community becomes stronger when people take care of each other, are responsible for each other, and when they accept people's differences as well as the things they have in common. So when attention is given to the special needs of deaf children, it often improves conditions for the entire community.
All children in the community can benefit from improved social services like hearing tests and better access to education and training.
When people learn to work together toward a common goal they learn that they can achieve much more together than alone. A community that organizes around one issue will be able to use that experience to address other needs and do other projects.
When teachers find ways to communicate with children who cannot hear, it can help all children to understand their lessons better.
If children who cannot hear well do not get education and support, they may never learn to communicate with other people or learn useful skills to get work, take care of themselves, or live peacefully with others. Their unhappiness and poverty may become a burden on their families, neighborhoods, and communities.
Here is a story about how a group in Brazil is working in their community to change the lives of deaf children.
A town learns a new language
In a northeastern town in Brazil, a church started a small school for deaf children. Soon the families that attended began a parents group, the Association of Parents and Friends of the Deaf in Cabo (APASC). As a group, APASC decided to offer sign language classes to hearing people so that they could communicate with their deaf children. They contacted the deaf association in the neighboring big city and hired a deaf man to teach the parents and their family members sign language.
APASC also got the local government to open the local school to their deaf children. The school hired trained teachers and started classes for deaf children. The deaf children joined the hearing children in many of the school's activities. Soon, the town was seeing sign language in the schools, in the shops, and in the streets.
Before, many people had thought that deaf people were mentally slow. Now, they have new ideas about deafness. They see sign language interpreters at church services, deaf teenagers getting jobs in the community, and deaf children studying and playing with hearing children.
APASC helped raise the level of awareness about deafness in their community. They have workshops and monthly meetings where parents can find support from other parents, and learn about deafness and how to communicate with their deaf children. APASC also printed a simple sign language dictionary with 500 signs that many people in the community use.
By working together, they are building a society that helps all children develop to their full potential.