Written by Simona Bojare

Nottinghamshire Deaf Society

Today marks World Hearing Day. Organised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) annually, it’s not only a prompt to us all to look after our hearing, but also an opportunity to raise awareness of the challenges that deaf people experience. With this in mind, I wanted to lift the lid on the great work one of our Partner Charities is doing in this space. It’s my great pleasure to introduce our Partner Charity Nottinghamshire Deaf Society (NDS).

NDS works for the benefit of deaf, deafened and hard of hearing people across the East Midlands, empowering them to live their lives to the fullest. Anne Darby and Tim Hastings are both long-standing board members at the charity, (Anne, a trustee since 1999, Tim, the Chair since 1996) and shared some of their insights with me.

I asked Anne, as a board member, how does your lived experience with deafness (coming from a deaf family) impact your role as a trustee and shape your leadership style?

“With half my maternal family being deaf, I have always felt deafness to be normal and have adjusted throughout my life at each stage to losing hearing and becoming deaf,” she explained.

“My great-grandfather, my grandfather and his brother were all successful deaf farmers. My grandfather was a huge role model for me. He fought in the First World War, organised the local Home Guard in World War Two, was the churchwarden, and a ‘gentleman farmer’ who also laid the path to the church with his own hands. He loved social occasions, had a great sense of humour and was an excellent storyteller (a feature of deaf society too).”

It's the role models in her life that have shaped the kind of determined leader and trustee she is. She is a staunch believer that, with the necessary support, deaf people are valuable members of society, capable of education, integration into a workplace and so much more.

“I came to the deaf community via social work with deaf and hard of hearing people. I met social workers before I met British Sign Language, a language that was only recognised as such by linguists 50 years ago and was not understood or generally known about at that time,” Anne continued.

“When I came to live in Nottingham in 1994, the Deaf Centre was one of my first ports of call. I had the experience of eight to ten Deaf Centres and clubs, but none was as impressive as Nottingham’s. I think it’s worth saying that most have closed and those that have survived no longer offer traditional services as well as social opportunities.”

50 years is hardly a long time, and the current (tentative) post-pandemic landscape, has seen many small charities unfortunately close that provided essential support. Obstacles still exist that prevent NDS reaching its long-term vision of a society in which all deaf people can fully participate. With this in mind, I asked Tim how can leaders in business better support the deaf community?

Tim feels that organisations such as NDS are not only invaluable to their communities but can also hold the key for employers to becoming better allies.

“We engage with local and regional employers to promote awareness of deafness. We also support deaf people in seeking work and whilst in work with interpreting services and through the Access to Work programme (a publicly funded employment support programme to help Deaf people start or stay in work),” he said.

After speaking to Anne and Tim, one thing’s clear – partnering with small charities such as NDS can not only open our eyes to challenges we don’t face ourselves, but those charities can also actively help businesses to support deaf people into the workplace.

What humbles and motivates me to be a better ally, is remembering our value at Pilotlight of bringing people from seemingly different worlds together. Together, through our programmes, we create long-lasting impact for charities. However, supporting people who experience social disadvantage doesn’t just start there. Actively listening to the challenges others face and really hearing how we can support them is the first step we can all make to do more for our world.