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Charity calls on schools and medical service to give “EARS” to deaf women

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Alison Clarke
WVoN co-editor 

The deaf charity, Deafax, launched a campaign today calling on schools, teachers and medical service providers to supply adequate sex education and sexual health care for deaf people.

Research into deafness and sexual health is extremely rare and almost completely overlooked.

Out of a sample of profoundly and pre-lingually deaf mothers, 87% of whom were British Sign Language users, Deafax found that only 17% received sex education in a ‘deaf-friendly’ way at school.

Just over a third got information from friends and family, but a similar percentage had received no information at all. The remaining 17% received non deaf-friendly sex education at school.

A third of young women interviewed were under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of conception and many were unaware of walk-in clinics or heard of bad experiences when staff couldn’t understand the deaf person.

Medical service providers mistakenly assume that written material (leaflets, booklets, websites) are suitable to relay health information to the deaf community.

It is a legal requirement of the Equality Act 2010 for all service providers to make provision for the needs of deaf and hard of hearing people.

Yet research reveals that deaf mothers-to-be are generally unable to access antenatal classes and their midwives are not ‘deaf aware’ or trained on the best ways to communicate with a deaf person.

Information on maternity leave and benefits are not passed on and deaf mothers say they feel isolated and have no communication with health visitors.

Out of all the health trusts Deafax spoke to, just one had a midwife who could sign – and she had funded her own training. All of those who took part in the study believed that deaf expectant mothers do not receive the same level of service as hearing mothers.

As a result, Deafax is launching a sexual health package, tailored for deaf students and teachers to deliver invaluable information on safe sex and sexually transmitted infections to deaf students, using communication methods to suit individual needs.

The charity has also developed training packages for teachers of the deaf in the field of sex education and deaf awareness workshops for mainstream organisations.

It is asking all those in the deaf community to contribute to this under-researched area – so that service providers and schools can no longer overlook the needs of deaf people.

Please ensure that deaf people get Education and Advice on Relationships and Sex (EARS).

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