STUDENTS at the University of Worcester have been learning to sign so they can communicate better with people who are deaf or have hearing impairments, thanks to an initiative developed by one of the lecturers.

Rebecca Foster, course leader for physical education and senior lecturer for adapted PE, has been involved with deaf issues for some time and currently volunteers as the team manager for UK Deaf Athletics.

She wanted to raise awareness of deaf issues with students – both those on sports related courses and those studying other subjects.

“Because we are an inclusive university, this is an areas we can build on. Not many of the students are deaf aware,” she said.

Rebecca was able to get a small grant from the university’s sustainability fund and recruited three part-time students to follow a 24-week signing course with Deaf Direct.

Once the three students started learning to sign, they ran their own three or five week signing courses with other students to teach them what they had learned. One of their courses was sports signing specific and tailored to teachers and coaches, while the other was more general for students who did not have sport as their main subject.

Rebecca helped to write the signing lesson plans and also delivered some of the sessions herself.

The courses, which have been repeated since they started, are free to any students wishing to attend and have proved extremely popular. So far 72 university students have gone along to learn the fundamentals of sign language.

Rebecca said: “I have been doing some research alongside this initiative and I am so delighted with the response from the students saying they have gained much more confidence in their communication skills.

“Some have even said they wished to go into deaf sport in the community and others say they have used examples of exercises we did for assessment presentations thereby raising awareness to other students and staff.”

She added that many of the students doing the courses thought they had a better chance of gaining employment and some are considering taking a formal qualification in Effective Communication with Deaf Sportspeople.

“There are a number who are considering going into deaf sports rather than main stream sports. People love doing signing because it is so visual.”

She pointed out that being deaf is a linguistic barrier and not a physical barrier and, because deaf people are often not able to communicate, they are reluctant to get involved in things. “We do not live in a very deaf-friendly environment. What we can do is be more inclusive.”

Since Rebecca started the courses, staff have also become interested and 12 staff so far have gone along to signing courses for them. “I think there are a lot of people who say it is something they have always wanted to do and they are aware some of the students have hearing impairments.”

Rebecca pointed out the courses are just an introduction to signing and if people want to get official qualifications they would need to go to Deaf Direct.

“I am hoping we can continue because it has grown. It started as a pilot project last year and so many students have responded I want to keep it going. It is nice to get such a positive response from students. I am very pleased with the way it has gone.”