Deaf Awareness Week is held annually to promote the positive aspects of living with deafness. In 2023, it will take place from the 2nd to the 8th of May and will highlight the isolation that deaf people can experience, while also encouraging those with hearing loss to be socially included.
According to the UK Council on Deafness, in the United Kingdom, 12 million people are deaf or have hearing loss and 151,000 people use British Sign Language. Meanwhile, Action on Hearing Loss, formerly known as RNID, estimate that 14.2 million adults will have a hearing loss by 2035. They highlight the importance of establishing a support network for members of the deaf community to ensure they do not feel isolated. It is critical that deaf employees are supported in the workplace, as 74% of deaf people believe their employment opportunities are limited due to their hearing loss.
Dr Julie McElroy is one of the 12 million citizens who has profound hearing loss. Julie said: ‘I have bi-lateral hearing loss which means I wear two hearing aids every day. These are my miniature devices that I rely on to communicate with others.’ Julie earned her PhD followed by a Master of Knowledge Exchange, Innovation and Commercialisation and Master of Law in 2020. She is currently finishing her MBA as well as completing her Diploma in Journalism through the National Council of Journalists Training (NCJT) provided by Ability Today.
My life was very different thirty years ago. My mother was adamant that I was deaf, but it was chalked up to the long days of intensive physiotherapy I was undergoing because I was determined to walk! Five diagnostic appointments were required thirty years ago to confirm that I was deaf. Firstly, I had a speech therapy appointment, it was there that I couldn’t tell and hear the difference between ‘moon and spoon’. After seeking various opinions, my mother requested that my case be transferred to a different consultant; I met with the consultant again when I was 21 years old. I wanted to express my gratitude to him.
I was offered home pre-nursery schooling and my mum doesn’t recall how this came about. However, I had two home visiting teachers who came and played with me and twin sister, Amy. To learn and interact, I just literally copied what my twin did!! From there at the age of five, I was offered two hearing aids in time for starting special needs primary school. Mum said that I had a lot of catching up to do in terms of writing, speaking, listening.
When it came to having siblings, they helped me too. There was no rivalry – it was merely the case that anything my twin and older brother did, I wanted to do too. My mindset was ‘nothing was going to be impossible’. Perhaps in recent years, academic success was driving me to propel a successful career like my mainstream counterparts.
Another aspect of my home life is that my parents never wrapped me up in cotton wool, they didn’t send me to disability sports clubs which were often outside of the boundaries where I lived. I focused on mainstream recreational pursuits like the Duke of Edinburgh Award (DofE). It was instrumental to turning my life around and equipping me with various attributes for life.
Overall, I can’t really complain about life because I have been fortunate and privileged enough to have experienced some amazing adventures and will continue to seek opportunities while making a difference along the way. Twenty years since leaving special needs Secondary, Ashcraig School, I have now found personal contentment with my life having worked hard to have a career. I am excited to see where it takes me.
The UK Educational Landscape for Additional Needs School
The educational journey for Julie was presided by a robust and efficient Scottish educational system which was designed to support individuals like Julie with additional needs to thrive and achieve their potentials. It was the BRITE (Beattie Resources for Inclusiveness in Technology and Education) Initiative which was founded in 2001 in response to the Scottish Government’s report on the implementation of the inclusive Beattie Report. This report examined young people’s commitment to qualities, opportunities, and support in education and life-long learning. The Beattie Report was established in 1999 to investigate post-secondary education and training for young people with special needs. The Beattie commission’s goal was to evaluate the variety of needs among young adults who need additional support to successfully transition to post-secondary education and training or employment. It also included the assessments of need, equality, as well as the effectiveness of developing their abilities and employment prospects. It made recommendations to improve the ongoing progression. The Beattie Report concluded that all young people’s needs, abilities, and aspirations should be acknowledged, recognised, and met in a supportive environment.
The BRITE Initiative offered Julie and many other young people to excel in education at the time. When Julie left additional needs school, she progressed to Further Education at Cardonald College (known as Glasgow Clyde College today). She achieved a HND (Higher National Diploma) in Information Technology with Merit which allowed her to articulate onto Higher Education at the University of the West of Scotland. According to the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), articulation pathways are offered to students who study HNC, (Higher National Certificate) and HND and gain a 2nd/3rd entry at university. The articulation route is designed to support students with every stage of their educational journey.
When Julie attended the University of the West of Scotland, she opted for a blended learning approach with studies, undertaking internships and employment as well as undertaking extra-curricular activities. Her remarkable journey took her from a BSc Hons to a PhD, which is the pinnacle of the educational hierarchy. Julie’s educational journey is an example of how the variety of different types of learning are recognised on the Scottish Credit and Qualification Framework (SCQF), supporting the Scottish Government’s goal of ensuring the Framework is truly learner-centred. The SCQF collaborate with a wide range of awarding bodies, professional bodies, and other programme owners to ensure that qualifications are universally available to learners at whatever stage they are learning at.
More latterly, in an astonishing transformational turnaround Julie is about to earn her MBA from The Open University. She said: ‘There has been unprecedented changes in the marginalisation of those who fit in the widening access category progressing to Executive positions within organisations across the public and private sectors.’ She added: ‘Having a disability, myself, I have become a renowned advocate in championing the rights of people with disabilities and now I have upskilled my knowledge of business theories to make myself attractive for corporate employers. Furthermore, it was during a conversation with colleagues at the Scottish Government who also indicated that my leadership skills could be developed further by pursuing an MBA.’ The expectation is that it would give her the theoretical awareness of the organisation from a business perspective. For her personally, undertaking an MBA will equip her to be a champion of diversity, inclusivity and accessibility in the international business world.
Determined to bow out and close her chapter on her studies in style, she is currently doing a Diploma in Journalism through the National Council of Journalists Training (NCJT) provided by Ability Today which will complement her freelance journalism career. She is very grateful to have been offered the opportunity after she was initially approach by Grant Logan, the CEO of Ability Today. Grant said “‘I first met Julie in 2008 when we both climbed Ben Nevis with the charity Capability Scotland and the Beyond Boundaries Series with Ken Hames. Straight away she struck me as someone with immense get-up-and-go and a drive for success. We have kept in touch over the years and I have always been impressed by Julie’s achievements and commitment to pushing boundaries. I felt that the Diploma in Journalism would be a great fit for Julie as I believe she would make a fantastic journalist and be able to show the world what is possible with a disability.’ It was further echoed by her good friend, Ken Hames, persuaded her and gave her the impetus to succeed in doing the qualification simultaneously alongside the MBA. He said: ‘Julie McElroy is a leading activist for disability rights and an advocate of people with disability realising their dreams, whether that be on the sports field, or in the great outdoors. Julie has a great future in writing articles or news items and books to benefit her expanding relationship map. I commend her to complete the CIC Journalism course’.
A glittering educational journey for an individual who has surpassed the expectations of those who have taught her. Julie now expects her career to blossom.