"Even though I’m deaf, it does not mean I can’t play the violin!": a touching, but also troubling story

(Post made at 2110 on 24 Dec 2017 in a personal capacity.  Please see here for important background and disclosure of interests). 

I must confess to ignorance here: I knew about virtuoso percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, but before reading a recent article in the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) magazine, I did not know that deaf people could play the violin.

The NDCS has a “Get Deaf Aware” poster (the link should download a copy to your device) that includes as one of its phrases “Even though I’m deaf, it doesn’t mean I can’t play the violin!”. There is a touching (but also troubling) article in their magazine about a girl with moderate deafness who has been playing the violin and has really been enjoying it.

To quote the article:

“This summer Olivia, who’s been playing the violin since she was seven years old, won our Raising the Bar competition.  Her prize was to spend a weekend playing in an orchestra with professional musicians who are deaf, which gave her another confidence boost”.

Why do I say that the article is troubling as well as touching/inspiring? Because the local hospital (and it seems other advisers) had failed to give Olivia the support she needed: it wasn’t until she went to Great Ormond Street Hospital that she was given the right type of hearing aid.  To quote her parents:

“We felt angry it’d taken this long to get a hearing aid- all that missed time for hearing and learning. We’d thought everyone would do what was necessary to help Olivia, but the National Deaf Children’s Society made us realise we had to fight her corner.”

“We had to fight her corner”

I don’t know whether Olivia lives within reach of the Centre for Wessex Young Musicians (CWYM), but if she (or any other deaf child who wanted to play an instrument) does, I would really hope that she would be accepted and offered every opportunity to take part to the maximum extent possible in CWYM activities.

I hope she is able to find a similar local ensemble and youth orchestra that will help her continue to enjoy her music and grow in confidence, and I will be contacting the NCDS to pass on my suggestion to Olivia’s parents that they make enquiries for suitable organisations in their local area.

(I am measuring my words very carefully in what follows due to legal threats received).
Sadly, one of several concerns which I raised earlier this year (and which in my view was ignored by the “independent” investigation of what turned into a formal complaint to Bournemouth and Poole College after informal attempts had also in my opinion been ignored) relates to this issue. In my opinion (and I believe that of others too, but as SWYM Chairman I took the responsibility of speaking out about it), the Bournemouth and Poole College did not treat a child (like Olivia, but with different extra needs) as well as they should have done.  Olivia’s confidence was boosted by being able to play with an orchestra.  I’m afraid that the opposite seems to have happened in the case that I mention.  (I also saw this happening with a second child. I didn’t include this in my formal complaint because I believed the mistakes made in the first case were obvious enough to show the need for improvements in treatment for children with extra needs. Perhaps I was wrong not to mention it, in which case I apologise to the child and family concerned).

I still believe that CWYM is a centre of excellence with regard to the music it produces.  Even before any consideration of duties under the law (see http://childlawadvice.org.uk/information-pages/disability-discrimination-in-education/) and the College’s own equality/anti-discrimination policies, in the two cases above, I don’t believe the CWYM’s excellence would have been compromised to any significant extent by supporting the two children concerned.  I may be wrong of course. But it seems to me that that checks and balances and more accountability should apply properly and that a proper investigation could and should have been carried out. I hope the Bournemouth and College Board will act on my request for them to review what has happened and the operation of the College’s complaints policy generally.)

If you wish to support children like Olivia, please do consider donating to the National Deaf Children’s Society, and if you come across situations where you think children who need a bit of extra help should be able to take part in activities, please do support them and their parents by speaking out in their favour. It might make a major difference in their lives.

Screenshots of the NCDS article can be found below:




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