Network of Regional Youth Work Units England blog

A Network of Regional Youth Work Units, in England, collaborating across regions to promote good youth work and young people’s voices.

How inclusive are you in your practice?


British Sign Language image courtesy of

In this week’s blog, Jamie Mercer from Youth Focus: North East looks at the importance of making your work inclusive and also reflects on some recent training from the National Deaf Children’s Society.

In youth work, we like to think the work we do is inclusive to young people from all walks of life. But how accurate is that, really? Do you have the skills to work with young people with special educational needs? Could you put the relevant health and safety checks in place to work with blind young people? Could you check to see if a deaf young person understands the activity a group has been asked to do? We all include different approaches to learning styles in our delivery work but just how inclusive is it?

We pride ourselves on being a learning organisation so yesterday the staff at Youth Focus: North East took part in Deaf Awareness Training, provided by the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS), in order to make our work more inclusive and to allow us to confidently work with deaf children and young people.

I have no real experience to speak of with regards to deafness. I’ve spoken to plenty of people who are deaf but their lip-reading has always been excellent or they have had hearing aids to assist them so other than remembering to not cover my mouth when I talk and make sure to face the person I’m talking to I’ve never really given it much thought, to be brutally honest.

The training raised some serious points for consideration around health and safety and making sure environments are suitable for deaf young people and conducive to enabling clear communication with partially deaf young people. Something as simple as having a deaf-friendly fire alarm or agreeing some key signs early on can make a huge difference.

We learned about the different tiers of deafness and looked at the biological composition of an ear and where things can go wrong and where communication between the different parts can struggle. We also touched on the different types of technology that can be used to better communicate with deaf young people such as hearing aids, hearing loops, cochlear implants, and devices with vibrating notifications. We spent some time considering what activities deaf young people could and could not do while wearing different pieces of technology and also looked at when hearing aids would have to be removed and what you need to do prior to this.

Part of the training looked at some basic ways to include deaf young people in activities and group work while making sure you don’t alienate them (after all, nobody likes to be alienated or made to feel different!). NDCS explained that deaf children and young people can be more tactile than hearing children so activities involving touch or visual tasks tend to be more successful, which has value; if one sense is reduced then the others will be relied on more and will potentially develop further.

Finally, we looked at the cultural implications of deafness; young deaf people and young people who may come from a family with deaf parents or siblings. We also looked at how to work with an interpreter – some general dos and don’ts – and were given information about support that NDCS can offer us in our work.

The training was very interesting, and very well delivered, and it made me reflect on myself, the work I do, as well as the language I use. In the training it was explained that British Sign Language has its own grammar that differs from that of English as hearing people know it. Flowery and descriptive adjectives and adverbs are dropped in favour for straightforward phrases and in order to create context, locations are often placed first (e.g. “bridge man is on” as opposed to “there is a man on a bridge”).

I gave a presentation to a local Deaf Children’s Society a couple of months back and remember some difficulties during the presentation with some of the language I used, specifically two words: “Killer” (in the context of writing a killer headline) and “piggyback”. These words weren’t familiar in the straight-talking BSL and required further investigation and explaining for the point to get across.

It’s paramount that youth workers create an environment where young people can flourish regardless of background or circumstance so undertaking training like this can be hugely beneficial and make a real impact on the quality of your work and improve the experience of the young people you work with, as well as open up more opportunities for young people you may not previously have worked with.

Jamie Mercer

Youth Focus: North East


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This entry was posted on June 19, 2015 by in Youth Focus: North East and tagged , , , , , .
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