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Sign of a spirit that needed freedom

British Sign Language (BSL) brought relief and success to profoundly deaf student Simon Douglas, 16, after a troubled school career. He explains why.

"I spent six years in deaf education units attached to mainstream nursery and infant schools in Bedfordshire. I wore hearing aids which sounded awful and irritated my ears. The teachers did not use sign language and I could not really understand their lip patterns. I was very angry and got into trouble.

I could not speak when I was seven and my teachers thought I should use signing. I attended a unit where Signed English and Signed Supporting English were used. This was much better but sometimes the signing did not make sense. I'm afraid I continued to be naughty and was suspended several times.

In 1990, I moved to a secondary unit where teachers of the deaf and communicators used signing. Again I became frustrated and angry because the signing was not good enough and the lessons were boring. I refused to wear my hearing aids. I was suspended and my parents were advised to send me to a residential school for the deaf. But I did not want to leave my family and friends and be tied to a deaf campus. I wanted to be free to explore the world for myself.

I then went to my local school, Kingsland Community College, accompanied by Sandra Dowe, a teacher of the deaf who acted as my communicator. Fortunately, the school accepted that I needed BSL and an individual education programme. I was allowed to decide which subjects to follow, which lessons to attend and when I could work on my own, in the library or at home. Luckily, a very suitable BSL communicator, Lorraine Elliott, supported me so I could take part in lessons.

I was allowed to study GCSE photography at evening classes at Barnfield College, Luton, with Sandra translating my assignments into English from BSL. I managed a grade C aged 15, which would have been impossible without BSL. Using BSL, I achieved Grade Cs this summer in GCSE double science and geography, and a D in maths.

I am now studying for a BTEC National Diploma in Computer Studies at Barnfield. With Lorraine as my interpreter I am completely integrated with the hearing students. I hope to do a computer degree at Luton University.

Without BSL, I could not have done any proper school work and there must be other young people with experiences like mine."

This is an edited version of a letter sent by Simon to the British Deaf Association earlier this year.

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