Deafness is no barrier for inspirational tenants
Published by Jon Land for Salix Homes in Housing and also in Communities
The Salix Homes Deaf Focus Group members, pictured from left: Paul Alvey, Marion Brand, Christine Potter, Ann Quinn and Frank More
An inspirational group of tenants are on a mission to break the silence for the deaf community.
Deaf tenants living at Salix Homes’ properties across Central Salford have pioneered a groundbreaking initiative to improve the lives of deaf people and help them access services.
After years of struggling to get their voices heard, the tenants were supported by housing provider Salix Homes and the Windsor Albion Co-operative to launch a Deaf Focus Group – believed to be the first group of its kind in the housing sector.
The group made up of profoundly deaf tenants living in Central Salford, whose ages range from their 30s to their 60s, aims to make frontline staff deaf aware and ensure that deaf people can easily access the range of housing services offered to all tenants.
The group, whose members all use British Sign Language (BSL) as their first language, has now celebrated its first birthday and continues to go from strength to strength.
Joanne Slater, community involvement and new initiatives officer at Salix Homes, helped launch the group. She said: “A few members of the group had previously been attending the Salix Disability Focus Group, but deaf people don’t consider themselves as disabled, they see themselves as members of a cultural community.
“Deaf people can’t just make a phone call or pop into the office if they have a problem, so we wanted to make sure that they too had access to housing services.
“We believe we have started something very special here. The group has revolutionised the way deaf people access services and it’s wonderful to see them celebrate their first year.”
The group’s achievements so far include developing a text message service for deaf people to contact Salix Homes out of hours and during an emergency; and looking at methods of improving access to tower blocks where many deaf customers live.
Group members Frank More and Ann Quinn have also been running Communication Awareness training classes for frontline staff to help them understand life from a deaf perspective and show them basic BSL greetings.
Seven Salix Homes’ staff are now trained to Level 2 British Sign Language (BSL) and staff at Windsor Albion Co-operative have also undertaken Level 1 BSL training.
Regular group members Frank and Ann, along with Paul Alvey, Christine Potter, Marion Brand and Susan Ho now want to expand the group and assist other deaf people in the community.
Ann lives on Windsor Albion and says the group has helped change her life for the better.
She said: “For a long time we had felt our needs were being ignored, but now we have come together as a group we are getting a lot more done.
“Before this we had never had a meeting in our life, but now we are meeting every month and we feel we are being taken seriously and are moving forward.
“We are not disabled, we are deaf – they are two separate things. We are trying to change people’s perceptions and encourage people to see from a deaf perspective.”
Ann went deaf at just 18-months-old after contracting meningitis. Doctors also registered her as without speech, but miraculously, her voice returned at the age of seven when she was bit by a dog and let out an almighty scream.
She added: “We now want to expand the group to help other deaf people. Communicating can be very difficult and deaf people need that extra help and support.
“We hope that our group will inspire other housing associations to set up similar groups to help their deaf tenants.”
Frank More has been deaf from birth. He said: “We are trying to make people aware of what it’s like to be deaf and the difficulties we face.
“What may seem a simple task like making a phone call to report a problem is very difficult when you are deaf, but now if we have an issue we can send a text message – it’s simple.
“Every month we have these meetings and can discuss any issues together. It makes us feel more confident.
“We are grateful to Salix Homes and the Windsor Albion Co-operative for the help and support they are providing to us.”
To mark its first anniversary the group is hoping to formally constitute and is looking to access funding for future projects.
Projects in the pipeline include hosting community events for deaf people to advise them of the impending welfare reforms and the group is also seeking funding for the installation of cameras in their homes so they can see who is at their door.
Sue Sutton, director of customer and neighbourhood services at Salix Homes, said: “As a housing provider we are keen to ensure all our tenants can access the same level of service.
“I have been impressed by the enthusiasm of our staff to undertake BSL training in a bid to ensure they can respond to the needs of tenants who are deaf and hard of hearing.
“The Deaf Focus Group members are a real inspiration and we are very proud to support them.”