As I write this we are in the middle of Deaf Awareness Week 2014, which has the strapline Equality in Communication for All.
I’ve just returned, with a group of colleagues, from Estonia, where we have been flying the flag for Doncaster and pushing this message. We are proud to be part of a European programme called Spread the Sign which is the online dissemination in Europe of Vocational Sign Language.
Unless you have personally been touched by communication problems or have a family member or friend who has, you will probably be unaware of the day-to-day problems that people can face when communicating is an issue.
Spread the Sign is a fantastic project which has meant 13 partner countries developing a web-based translation tool which provides the possibility to directly translate words and sentences into sign language and is shown as video clips. This will help deaf and hard-of-hearing people who rely on sign language for communication to gain employment across Europe.
Sign language differs from country to country and this project is about developing an international web-based translation tool for sign language. It currently shows 230,000 signs in 15 different sign languages, and access to the website is free.
It is important for us as a specialist education provider in Doncaster to be at the forefront of promoting equality in communication for all. This has been something that Doncaster Deaf Trust has been providing for the past 185 years.
The Trust, which was founded in 1829 by Rev William Carr-Fenton, was originally established as the Yorkshire Institute for the Deaf and Dumb. The organisation became the Yorkshire Institute for the Deaf from 1904 and the Yorkshire Residential School for the Deaf in 1941. By the late 1970s, it had educated more than 3,500 students.
Today known as Doncaster Deaf Trust, with the Little Learners Day Nursery, Doncaster School for the Deaf and the Communications Specialist College Doncaster under its management, the organisation is at the forefront of teaching and training for the deaf, hearing-impaired and those with specialist communication needs, including Aspergers and autism.
While it is clear to see that a lot has changed in the close-to two centuries the college has been based in Doncaster, much also remains the same, including a shared vision with our founders to offer a great learning experience in a supportive and creative environment designed to meet the needs, talents and ambitions of our students. In the 1960s students took their first overseas trip to Spain and Portugal. Sharing best practice and learning from our European counterparts is very much an approach we have continued with into the 21st century – last year trips were taken to places including Iceland and Slovenia.
* Alan Robinson, Executive Principal of Doncaster Deaf Trust