Deaf and Hard of Hearing children generally attend mainstream schools, and opportunities to meet other deaf peers are rare. This means that they often have no peers who can relate to the unique challenges they face.
For example, despite hearing aids and cochlear implants being effective devices that can assist hearing, Deaf and Hard of Hearing children still face challenges when listening in noisy environments, such as the classroom and playground.
Effective listening in these contexts is critical for educational and social outcomes. Additionally, Deaf and Hard of Hearing children often have poorer psychosocial outcomes such as anxiety and difficulties with peer relationships when compared to their typical-hearing peers. Stigma and bullying can lead to social isolation in childhood and beyond.
Sparking change—in a small but significant way—for Deaf and Hard of Hearing children was the reason Hearing Hub Science Camps for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing children were first created in 2018.
Championed by Macquarie University Hearing researcher, Dr Chi Yhun Lo, the process of creating camps brought together a collaboration involving community stakeholders, such as the Parents of Deaf Children with researchers and other stakeholders at the Australian Hearing Hub, Macquarie University Hearing and educators at the Junior Science Academy.
The camps continue to grow with collaborative partners including organisations such as Hearing Australia, National Acoustic Laboratories, Cochlear Limited, NextSense, The Shepherd Centre, Hear For You, SoundFair, The Child Language Lab, Hearing Matters Australia, and Dolby.
All camps are provided free-of-charge, relying on many stakeholders to provide funding and/or in-kind support, as well crowdfunding and donations.
The aim of the camps is to provide opportunities for Deaf and Hard of Hearing children to engage with science and peers in an accessible communication space with the curriculum and activities well-designed for their needs.
For example, small class sizes are capped at 12 children to reduce noise and to provide a higher educator/volunteer to child ratio. The educators use assistive listening devices, captioning and print outs are utilised for instructions and videos, and Auslan (Australian Sign Language) interpreters provide support for children who use Auslan. All educators and volunteers undertake Deaf Awareness training before the camps and the volunteers who assist with the camps include Clinical Audiology students, and Deaf and Hard of Hearing adults who serve as inspiring role models.
The camps are all about nurturing a love for learning and science in a fun and inclusive space. The philosophy of the camps is simple: make science fun, accessible, and inspiring! Feedback from camp attendees and their parents has been overwhelmingly positive who report that the camps are sparking change in the experiences of their children.
As one parent wrote: “Most deaf and hard-of-hearing children are mainstreamed and advocating for themselves at school. It is important to be able to do that, but it can be difficult at times. It is great for them to be able to enjoy a camp with other students and adults who ‘get it’ about deafness.”
Similarly, another parent wrote: “She really appreciates having something special just for Deaf and Hard of Hearing kids and I notice that she feels very comfortable and relaxed going to an activity where she knows that people will be aware of her needs”.
Children agreed with one participant saying : “I loved it when you signed me up for the science camp! My favourite part was when I got to meet other deaf people.”
And another: “Sharing the experience with other DHH kids made it easier for me to speak up when I couldn’t hear because if I couldn’t hear, they probably couldn’t hear either.”
Since the first successful pilot Science Camp for Deaf and Hard of Hearing children with 12 children was held in 2018, camps have run biannually with 48 enrolments per year.
In 2022, the first regional camp will be run on the Central Coast of NSW. Enrolments are scheduled to increase to more than 72 from 2022, yet the camps regularly receive more applications than there are places available.
A fundraising campaign is currently underway to increase the number of places on offer for Deaf and Hard of Hearing children to attend these camps, to provide regional scholarships, and to fund more accessibility technologies to improve communication access via FM systems or captioning support and Auslan interpreters. Learn more.
The organising committee and all those involved, hope to continue expanding this unique program, which has recently been named as a Finalist in the Engagement Australia 2021 Excellence Awards. They look forward to seeing many Deaf and Hard of Hearing children continue to enjoy the camps and receive great benefits from them socially and educationally. Hopefully many of these children will become Australia’s next generation of scientists, sparking change in even bigger ways!
Learn more about the Hearing Hub Science Camps for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing children.
Feature image by Morris McClennan. Guest post by Louise Dodd, Australian Hearing Hub. For more information contact Louise by email