Pandemic has posed 'terrific challenge' for Suffolk's deaf community

Ipswich Deaf Society/ Rev Penny Brinkley Ipswich Deaf Society secretary

The deaf community get together at the Ipswich Deaf Society coffee mornings - main image: Rev Penny Brinkley Ipswich Deaf Society Secretary - Credit: Charlotte Bond

Members of a deaf society in Suffolk have spoken about the challenges faced during the coronavirus pandemic - and how Strictly Come Dancing's deaf contestant Rose Ayling-Ellis has raised awareness in communities.

Ayling-Ellis will take to the Strictly dance floor for the final on Saturday night having done an incredible job highlighting sign language and the deaf community. 

Alison Berry Chairman. The Ipswich Deaf Society Coffee Morning PICTURE; CHARLOTTE BOND

Alison Berry Chairperson of the Ipswich Deaf Society - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

Alison Berry, 70, who is chairperson of the Ipswich Deaf Society, said: "Getting the message out as Rose has done brings tears to my eyes weekly.

"Rose’s contribution in highlighting the issues of deaf people has been tremendous - she has had the confidence to say ‘how it is’ and her personality has and will inspire many young deaf people today.

"Rose reminded me very much of the students I went to deaf school with but on leaving school found that society was ill equipped in understanding the needs of the deaf."

Alison Berry Chairman. The Ipswich Deaf Society Coffee Morning PICTURE; CHARLOTTE BOND

Alison Berry was a Teacher of the deaf for 43 years and is profoundly deaf - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

Mrs Berry, who lives in Offton, said: "Having to cope with people wearing masks has been by far the biggest challenge - the importance of facial expressions, lip patterns and body language is key to getting messages across.

"Someone talking behind a mask removes key elements of any conversation - that’s assuming they are even talking. I have said ‘pardon' to people who have clearly not said a word."

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She continued: "I avoided going to any shops for weeks initially - sticking to home deliveries or click and collect.

"The sad thing was I was better equipped than many deaf people so it must have been even more difficult for them."

Penny Brinkley signing the deaf sign. The Ipswich Deaf Society Coffee Morning PICTURE; CHARLOTTE BO

Penny Brinkley signing the deaf sign at the Ipswich Deaf Society Coffee Morning - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

Rev Penny Brinkley, 64, led her first ever church service using sign language.

Although she can hear she has immersed herself into the deaf community and is secretary at the Ipswich Deaf Society which holds regular coffee mornings at Suffolk House. 

Speaking about the impact Alying-Ellis has had she said: "Rose has helped raise deaf awareness terrifically on Strictly. 

"It's not just about sign language, it is about the deaf culture."

Penny Brinkley. The Ipswich Deaf Society Coffee Morning PICTURE; CHARLOTTE BOND

Rev Penny Brinkley can often be found at the Ipswich Deaf Society coffee mornings - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

Rev Brinkley, who lives in Felixstowe and started learning to sign in 1997, said: "There are more and more adults wanting to learn."

She added: "You learn better if you learn from a deaf tutor - it helps you learn the colloquialisms that we all have.

"I was told I would be competent in British Sign Language when I could have the same conversation with my deaf friends as I could have with my hearing friends."

"Be patient"

Rev Brinkley described occasions during the coronavirus pandemic when a deaf person has asked someone politely to move down their face covering so they can lip read - only to be faced with a refusal or verbal abuse. 

She said: "It has been a terrific challenge."

John Mott and Albert Southgate aged 93. The Ipswich Deaf Society Coffee Morning PICTURE; CHARLOTTE

John Mott and Albert Southgate aged 93. Wearing face shields or a face mask with a clear section makes it easier for people that are deaf to lip read - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

"Just be willing to take your mask down as long it is safe to do so and keep your distance - then they can lip read.

"Be patient with them as they have this extra challenge on top of Covid. Try and put yourself in their shoes just think about how isolated you would feel." 

Lesley Keeble. The Ipswich Deaf Society Coffee Morning PICTURE; CHARLOTTE BOND

Lesley Keeble signing at the Ipswich Deaf Society Coffee Morning - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

How can I get involved with the Ipswich Deaf Society? 

As well as encouraging adults to learn sign language Rev Brinkley is keen that more people get involved with the Ipswich Deaf Society. 

She said: "The more people we get involved the more we can do, we have had two years with no funds and no government help."  

You can get in touch with the Ipswich Deaf Society by emailing - ipswichdeafsociety@gmail.com

John Mott and Albert Southgate aged 93. The Ipswich Deaf Society Coffee Morning PICTURE; CHARLOTTE

John Mott and Albert Southgate at the Ipswich Deaf Society Coffee Morning which takes place on a Wednesday - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

Where can adults learn sign language in Suffolk? 

Rev Brinkley said that many people confuse Makaton, seen on BBC children's TV show Something Special, with a form of sign language.

In fact Makaton is not a language but a type of communication used by children and adults with special educational needs. 

British Sign Language, as the name suggests, is classed as an actual language - the deaf communicate using a mix of hand signals, facial expression, body language and lip pattern. 

Places to learn sign language in Suffolk include Sensing Change, iSign Learning and development and Attrill Productions (through Michelle Attrill).

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