Families campaigning for permanent in-class support for profoundly deaf children

Families campaigning for permanent in-class support for profoundly deaf children

ISL Teacher Tara McNally (L) with Eoghan Freeman who, along with his parents Orla and Shane, are calling on Education Minister Norma Foley to create the position of clasroom ISL teacher and interpreter for every profoundly deaf child.

Eoghan Freeman is six-years-old and he does an amazing impression of his favourite superhero, Spider-Man, flipping over in a somersault on the family couch while making the Spidey hand gesture, an open hand with the two middle fingers pressed to the palm.

There are probably few enough six-year-olds who know that the flourish Peter Parker makes to shoot his spider-webs when fighting baddies is exactly the same as the Irish Sign Language (ISL) sign for “I love you”, but it wouldn’t be lost on Eoghan, who is profoundly deaf.

Over Zoom, Eoghan, who is from Kiltimagh, Co Mayo, told the Irish Examiner through a combination of speech and ISL that he loves school because he gets to play with his friends, many of whom know some words in ISL, and because his ISL teacher Tara McNally helps him in class.

“I love all my friends in school, and I sign in school, and Tara signs with me.” 

Eoghan said that on the rare days Tara is not with him in class, he struggles. 

“It makes me sad when Tara is not there, because Tara helps me with the words I don’t know.” 

Tara, who is a qualified ISL teacher with a four-year Level Eight Bachelor’s Degree in Deaf Studies from Trinity College Dublin, is employed in Eoghan’s school as a Special Needs Assistant (SNA) as part of an interim arrangement now in its second year.

Eoghan’s parents, Orla and Shane, are calling on Education Minister Norma Foley to create a full-time position of classroom ISL teacher and interpreter for Eoghan and for every profoundly deaf child.

“A deaf child needs to learn at the same pace as hearing children, which is why they need a classroom ISL teacher and interpreter, and I think there’s just a lack of understanding of what the needs of deaf children are,” Orla told the Irish Examiner.

According to figures quoted by Minister Foley, there are fewer than 100 children in Ireland as profoundly deaf as Eoghan. Fewer than ten of those children currently have a classroom ISL teacher and interpreter.

“We have been blessed to have Tara, but someone with her level of qualification would expect to be paid more than an SNA’s starting salary, and we live in constant anxiety that she will be forced to leave the job,” Shane said.

Last week, Fianna Fáil TD Páidraig O’Sullivan raised in the Dáil the case of 12-year-old Calum Geary, from Ballyhooly in Co Cork, who is profoundly deaf and has been without a classroom ISL teacher and interpreter for four years.

The Cork North Central TD said: “People are being lost in the system and lost through the cracks, that’s four years of [Calum’s] education that he will never get back.

“These children have constitutional rights, and the State has an obligation to provide appropriately trained personnel to impart knowledge and teach these wonderful children."

The Department of Education did not respond to a request for comment.

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