News 2013

Title: Introducing Deaf Children to Climbing
System Date: 23/01/2013
Introducing Deaf Children to Climbing

23 January 2013
By Antonette Burns.

A young climber tackles the climbing wall at Hot Rock, Tollymore

A recent Sunday Times (04.11.12) article " Give us Grit not Grades" states that schools should be educating the whole child, not instructing them for tests. Character is far more important than exam results in determining a child's later success.

This is especially true for deaf children who may not reach their potential academically because of their deafness. This can result in low self esteem and does little to help prepare them for life after school. Extra curricular activities should be encouraged for all our deaf pupils.

The following is a report of one such activity I tried out with deaf children in our area last year. It involves the minority/ extreme sport of climbing.

Following a taster session through his youth club, my son became a climbing addict. He didn't enjoy traditional sports. He joined the NI Youth Climbing Team (NIYCT) a few years ago and is now an Irish, British and European champion! I thought of the deaf children I knew and taught and wondered if they would enjoy such a session. Initial responses from a sample of deaf children were positive.

Approaches were made to Karl Boyle, Chief Officer of Mountaineering Ireland (MI), Paul Swail, Youth Development Officer of MI, and the National Deaf Children’s Society.

Paul contacted the Belfast Activity Centre which runs activities for children with disabilities and a taster climbing session was arranged at the BAC for Wednesday 18th May.

Contacting the parents/children
I contacted teachers of the deaf and asked them to pass on with permission, details of any pupils interested in such a session.

I phoned the parents and explained what we were planning and answered their questions. It was explained that a £5 charge per child would be made.

Once Paul had arranged dates and times he emailed me a letter and consent form for parents. I included a letter from myself and passed these out to the parents. I also did some deaf awareness training with the coaches.

Seven deaf children (+2siblings) came with their parents. Ages ranged from 8 -14 years. They included six boys and one girl. Three have cochlear implants. The rest are moderately/severely deaf in both ears and wear 2 hearing aids. All use speech as their main form of communication. Six have statements of special educational needs as a result of their deafness. All use FM systems in school. Most attend their local mainstream schools, two attend a unit for hearing impaired. None had significant additional needs.

Taster Session
We met at the BAC and the coaches took everyone into an acoustically friendly room and explained what the session would entail. Pictures of climbers were shown and the children were encouraged to ask questions. They were very quickly put at ease by the coaches. Helmets were put on and harnesses demonstrated.

The group went outside to warm up and climb while the parents got cold! They were roped up and climbed many routes of varying difficulty while being cheered on by the rest and applauded for their achievements. After an hour and a half climbing they went inside rosy cheeked, with sore hands, starving and excited; the children that is! Refreshments were available and welcome. The coaches spoke to the children and explained ways of moving forwards if anyone wanted to pursue the sport. Most of them said they did and sounded very enthusiastic.

I was extremely impressed by how quickly the coaches put the children at ease. The children were so excited and pleased with themselves. They loved the small group and the fact that they could understand everything. They quickly got to know each other. Feedback from the parents and children over the following days was very positive. The children were so proud of their achievements and glowingly reported it to their teachers the next day!

Quotes from the children included:

"We made friends in less than 30 seconds because we have so much in common!" ( Aimee aged 9) "It was absolutely fantastic and I can't wait to go again. The coaches were really friendly" ( Diarmaid aged 9)

I was pleased that the children seemed to manage to hear the coaches so well. At an indoor wall it can be difficult with a lot more people, poorer lighting and acoustics. The helmets fitted well and I didn’t notice a problem with the coils. It was better to have the helmets slightly looser for the children with cochlear implants. Another possibility may be to use their FM systems especially when top roping up high routes.

Plans for the future included:
· Further taster sessions
· Training of climbing coaches by the NDCS
· Signing the pledge for the NDCS Me2 project
· Helping children to find suitable venues to attend climbing lessons
· NDCS to inform all members about climbing for interested deaf children
· Liaise with other areas where similar ventures are happening.

Since then:
Over the Halloween holidays last year Paul and myself then ran another taster session this time at the indoor climbing wall of Hotrock in Tollymore Mountain Centre, Newcastle. Most of the same children were able to come plus a few new ones and again excitement was high. The high walls provided further challenges to them and the sense of achievement was greater!

Over the year some coaches were able to avail of Deaf Awareness Training provided by the NDCS through their Me2 project. The NIYCT and MI signed the Me2 pledge and a "Deaf Friendly" poster is displayed in the Ozone climbing arena, Belfast. On it I am the named Deaf Awareness Officer.

I was fortunate to be put in touch with a parent who runs climbing sessions for deaf children at the Edinburgh International Climbing Arena in Edinburgh where my son often trains. It was great meeting him and comparing notes. I also feel our children are not yet confident to join mainstream lessons as communication is difficult and acoustics are poor in the indoor arenas.

The way forward:

As a result of the feel good factor from the Olympics and Paralympics sport has grown in popularity as an extracurricular activity.

With this in mind and because of having clubmark status, the NIYCT was able to apply recently for a grant from Belfast City Council. The secretary, club coach, Paul and myself drew up a proposal suggesting a number of climbing sessions at the Ozone specifically for a small group or groups of deaf 8-14 year olds on Sunday mornings when the climbing wall is much quieter. The proposal has just been accepted and at the moment we are planning to run a set of climbing sessions from January to March 2013.

The Ozone has the biggest wall in N. Ireland and Eddie Cooper the NIYCT and Irish National Team Coach has agreed to coach the children.This will be a brilliant opportunity for the children involved so watch this space!

Antonette Burns