Some challenges of being a deaf parent

Memnos Costi is a presenter on BBC’s See Hear and is married with 2 daughters, 9 and 7 years old and his wife who is also Deaf but has good speech. Janice Tillet, one of DPN’s trustees and a parent who is a deaf/blind, recently met him and he kindly agreed to write about his experiences as a Deaf parent, whose first language is BSL (British Sign Language), and the challenges and barriers he faces.

My daughters and I let each other be who we are. They know I am a Deaf father.  BSL is my first language. I am very active within the Deaf community and they play a part in this community as CODAs (Children Of Deaf Adults). I strongly believe that their lives are richer from being a part of this community. They love going to the Deaf Club, travelling to events around the UK and Europe and making new friends. I will never forget going to an event in Germany where my girls played happily all day with a group of children who were German, French and Belgian: All the children were hearing and they used signs and gestures to communicate with each other all day!

My daughters are hearing girls, very much a part of their local hearing community.  My wife and I encourage them to participate in after-school activities and to have friends from school over for a play and tea, and we get involved with local events such as children’s fun runs etc where they will see their friends. When my eldest was first born we bought a CD player and CD’s to ensure she had access to music.  Now she’s grown up its iPods and downloading songs. There is a worry about lyric content and language but unless we read through them all there is no way of controlling this! But knowing her friends are listening to the same songs does reassure me in some way that it must be OK if their hearing parents are letting them!

When you ask about barriers, there are no barriers to my two daughters. They are hearing and I am Deaf. They understand me, I understand them although sometimes both of us need to be a bit clearer from time to time! I am gutted that I will never hear their voices. Fathers say it is magical to hear their children’s voices, that will not happen for me. My wife says it can be a blessing because I am oblivious to their moaning when they tend to go on and on!

However, it is not always easy out in the ‘hearing world’ as us Deafies tend to call it. I am the main carer, dropping off and collecting my children every day from school, yet I usually communicate with only 2 or 3 other parents. One parent knows signing, the others through text or gestures.  Many parents seem to look down on me as a Deaf parent being unable to use speech, or appear frightened of me being so different.  Communication is a huge barrier.  My wife, although she speaks well, also struggles to really get involved with the other mothers. She works full time so has less contact with them.

Difficulties in communication with other parents does have an effect on the children because they can often miss out on social activities with their everyday friends that they are growing up with.  This became a serious issue when our daughter was not invited to her friends’ houses or parties for several months as a result of a lack of communication between us and other parents.  Thankfully, at the end of the year the two classes were mixed up and she was taken out of her whole friendship group and put into another class. Although initially we were very upset about this, it turned out to be a blessing as she had a fresh start with different friends (and different parents!) So in our experience so far, it is the parents who are more of an issue than the children and their friends!!

The children’s school is generally good. For meetings the school will book an interpreter if we request one. For one to one parent consultations, we go without and my wife does the communicating.  For school plays we request a copy of the script and reserve seats at the front so it’s easier to follow.

For other services such as doctors, hospitals, dentists etc. I insist on dealing with them myself, either through gestures, pen and paper or if needed, an interpreter. Getting interpreters for appointments is not easy at all which is why I tend to ‘DIY it’. My daughters do love to interpret for me although I don’t usually let them.

I am a very blunt person and if I face a bad attitude due to my disability – I will let them know I do not like it. I will remind them of my rights and also their responsibilities under the DDA.

In general, the greatest difficulty I face is being a parent!! It is never easy. You want the best for your children and strive for that but life, attitudes and growing pains all get in the way! Time is also an issue, there is never enough of it! That’s why I treasure school holidays which are truly family time.

We often get involved with Deaf Parents UK who seek to support Deaf parents by arranging events and activities supported by sign language interpreters to ensure equal access for all. Caroline Montgomery is our local co-ordinator.  It is a chance for us parents to get together and discuss similar parenting issues that we have and share solutions. The children are all CODA’s, both deaf and hearing, and in their own way they support each other too because they all grow up going through the same thing.  Support groups like these are invaluable for many.  My worry is that there are many disabled parents out there who need this support and do not realise it’s there or perhaps do not know how to access it.

From my daughters:

Eldest (age 9).  It is embarrassing when I am told off in the playground by my dad and he uses his voice which is a deaf voice and very loud! I really like getting the scripts for my parents when I do a play because I get to learn all of the lines!  It’s difficult because if I’m upstairs and I need something, I can’t shout down to my parents to get it for me.

Youngest (age 7).  The best part about having deaf parents is when you go to a restaurant or something and there are weird people, you can talk to your parents about them and no one understands you!  But it’s not fair because all the other parents are hearing and my parents don’t understand them and that makes it hard.

BSL (British Sign Language) is a form of sign language developed in the UK for the use of deaf people, the fourth most widely used indigenous language in Britain.  BSL is a fully recognised language and is independent of spoken English.

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