Dereham student’s sign language campaign was inspired by her sister’s struggles
- Credit: IAN BURT
A Dereham student has lobbied government ministers in a bid to get sign language taught in the nation's classrooms – a campaign inspired by concerns about her profoundly-deaf little sister.
Jade Chapman, 16, was stirred into action because of her 10-year-old sister Laura's difficulties in understanding spoken conversations, and in voicing her own feelings as verbal dyspraxia affects her speech.
The Dereham Sixth Form student wrote to her MP George Freeman to express concerns about Laura's future, as her only clear means of communication is through British sign language (BSL), which is not routinely taught in schools.
She said if sign language was treated with the same academic importance as foreign languages, society would benefit as a result because people with hearing difficulties, both young and old, would feel less isolated.
Her letter was forwarded to Edward Timpson, the parliamentary under-secretary of state for children and families, whose reply says Signature, the awarding body for qualifications in communication techniques for the deaf, is working to develop a GCSE in BSL. But he also says it would be up to individual schools to 'decide on what is right for them to teach'.
So now Jade plans to start a petition, and contact headteachers at other schools to rally support for her cause.
'The letter from parliament has pushed me even further with the campaign,' she said. 'It made me even more determined.
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'The issue is that schools don't treat sign language as equally as foreign languages like French and Spanish. It is seen as being out of the way, yet it is more useful in our society as deaf people are left feeling isolated because no-one can communicate with them.
'This has already affected my sister's aspirations for life, with her simply wishing to not work or socialise, but rather stay at home forever. This for me is deeply concerning and brings great worry to me for her future.
'It is my desire in life for sign language to be taught in schools and I urge all head teachers, governors, teachers and teaching assistants to get sign language into our schools.'
Jade and Laura live on South Green in Dereham with their nine-year-old brother Luke, and parents Matt and Jo, both 36.
Laura goes to Colman Junior School in Norwich, where they have a specialist deaf unit.
She had an operation when she was three to have a cochlear implant, an electronic device which allows her to perceive a sounds, giving her some understanding of speech and meaning she is able to enjoy music and watch the TV – although she can only really understand programmes if they are subtitled.
Although she can speak, her verbal dyspraxia, makes it difficult for her to form words.
Her father said: 'To understand Laura, we have to understand what she is trying to say through her body language.'
Her mother added: 'But if you are Joe Bloggs on the street, you won't know how to deal with that. Often it is just ignorance and people will just stop and stare. She is getting to the age now where she understands what is happening and she can feel that rejection.'
Laura said: 'I feel sad. They are hearing me, but they don't understand.'
Of Jade's campaign, Mrs Chapman said: 'I am just so proud of Jade. I have always encouraged her to know her own mind and to recognise that if something is not right she must say something, because if you don't do it, no-one else will.'