Q+A with a support worker with the deaf
Sarah Kean-Price talks to Alex Hamlin about working with deaf and deaf-blind clients as an educational communication support worker. Alex explains how he got in to the job, and why it's great to learn British Sign Language.
26th November 2012
1. Tell us about educational communication support worker work - what do you do?
Essentially, you are the main point of support between Deaf students and the educational institution as a whole, from when the person is choosing a course, through to graduation. In addition to providing BSL (British Sign Language) interpreting for lessons and meetings, a CSW is responsible for liaising with all staff to ensure relevant support needs are met e.g. a Deaf-friendly teaching style, resources, and for deaf awareness across the institution to be kept at a high level.
2. What is a typical shift like? Who do you work with?
CSW's are usually allocated between 1 and 5 students and would generally support them across their whole timetable. Aside from the students, the CSW will liaise closely with lecturers and all other staff, depending on the support need.
3. Why did you apply for a communication support worker job in the first place?
I was already working as Student Support Worker within City of Bath College, and had BSL knowledge from my work with deaf/deaf-blind clients with additional needs at Action on Hearing Loss (previously RNID). Bringing those skills and experiences together worked perfectly.
4. Where did you learn BSL?
I studied BSL Level 1 at RNID in Bath. During my work there, learning BSL was essential to fully communicate with, and support the clients using the service. I can honestly say it was the most enjoyable course I've been on - a credit to the tutor John Mancini, who made something potentially difficult and overwhelming, easy and exciting. I studied Level 2 at Bath College with the equally talented (but tougher) Mark Shepherd.
5. Did you need special training for the job?
There are specific CSW courses available which are very beneficial but I feel having experience working with students/clients with a range of support needs is paramount. It would be an oversight to see the role as purely a step towards being a fully qualified BSL interpreter, as there are many other aspects to the role and personal qualities required to provide ahigh level of support to the student.
6. What's the best thing about being a communication support worker?
There are lots! In general, to be able to see students thrive in all aspects of college life, despite the boundaries faced by Deaf people in a largely hearing world. Personally I enjoy the range of people I meet during the students time at college, and also learning about a wide range of subjects by proxy!
7. Do you think that having extra qualifications in this area would be worth-while?
To work as a CSW you are required to hold at least a Level 2 in BSL, but the more BSL qualifications/experience you have, the better. As I mentioned before, I feel the specific CSW qualifications would give a thorough understanding of the role.
8. What makes a great communication support worker?
An understanding educational support worker who has confident BSL knowledge and a passion for Deaf issues/awareness. Being flexible and being able to think on your feet helps too!
9. If you'd wanted to work towards a promotion, what were your options? How else could you have chosen to develop your career in this area?
There are no promotion options as such but there are other avenues to explore, depending on what you most enjoyed about the role. Someone interested in BSL could train further and become a qualified interpreter, whereas a person who enjoyed the educational aspect could teach BSL or become a teacher of the Deaf. There are many related careers.
10. What do you wish you'd known when you started out? Is there anything you'd tell your younger self?
Not really. But to anyone thinking of applying for a similar role, I would advise to not assume the educational institution you are working for has a well established support system in place for Deaf or hard of hearing students. Be prepared to develop resources, deaf awareness training sessions/meetings yourself to ensure the standard of support is high.
11. What do you hope the future holds for communication support workers, i.e. Technology, different management, methods of interaction....?
The only downside to the role would be the effect government education cuts can have. Sometimes a lack of CSW hours and budgets can have a detrimental effect on the support. If this can be addressed I think there's definitely a positive future for Deaf and hard of hearing people in education. With a bit of effort and creativity, current technology can be used in a very Deaf-friendly way. Also, the general public are becoming more Deaf aware which makes the whole experience more enjoyable and productive. Learn BSL, you'll love it.