Deaf-initely Women works to bring together deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing women and improve their lives through health education and raising awareness.
The charity, which is based in Belper, was set up by a group of 10 deaf friends who, in acknowledging how fortunate they were to have the emotional support of each other which gave them so much strength in their daily lives, decided to extend their network to help others in a similar position.
Since launching in 2015, the team has worked to challenge discrimination and boost the confidence of deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing women – and are constantly expanding as the need for their services grow.
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Managing director Teresa Waldron said: “We are proud to be deaf and we’re also proud to be women, the name Deaf-initely is just asserting ourselves as deaf women – celebrating our culture, our differences, and our deafness as well.
"The aim of Deaf-initely Women is to bring together all deaf women, so deafblind, deaf women whose first language is British Sign Language (BSL), also hard of hearing women including women who have become deafened later on in life who acquired hearing loss and other deaf women.
"It’s about bringing them together. We’ve got a wide range of different needs; a wide range of deafness but also a wide range communication needs as well."
With funding by the National Lottery’s Awards for All programme, the charity is able to run workshops throughout Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.
These are held both virtually and in-person and cover a wide variety of topics from DIY and art, to more practical ones such as learning how to budget and knowing where to go for advice.
“Every workshop we have we book in two sign language interpreters and two captioners,” said Teresa, who is deafblind herself. “So we have four communication workers per workshop to make it a truly accessible experience. It’s about making sure everybody is included in the workshop.
"We also share tips and advice, such as how to make sure we’re included in work, how we can assert ourselves, and also about daily living, how we manage or families, how we can get jobs.
"Quite often a lot of the workshops in the mainstream sector are not inclusive so a lot of deaf women tend to feel excluded. So things like pensions, we make sure that we work with Citizen’s Advice.
"We put on a Pension Wise workshop and that’s well attended because we arrange it, we make sure it’s fully accessible – there’s a lot of partnership work with other outside agencies.”
Deaf-initely Women was highly commended at the East Midlands Charity Awards in 2020 and is the only of its kind in the UK – a charity for deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing women, run by an all-female group of just that.
As well as workshops, it also provides deaf, deafblind, and hard of hearing women with the opportunity to boost their skills and try sharing their skills with others, giving them experience to go into the wider world.
Office manager Rachel Shaw, who has a cochlear implant to aid hearing loss, said: “We include the medical information, things like menopause of postnatal depression.
"We manage to find qualified deaf women who have got the skills to teach the workshops, for example Carmen Jones – the Psychiatric Nurse running the postnatal depression workshop – she’s also a BSL signer. We do try our very best to find those women who have those skills so we can deliver the right information.”
The charity works alongside various mainstream organisations to help them learn and improve the way they serve and employ deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing women
This includes Derbyshire Intregrated Sexual Health Services which provides funding to Deaf-initely Women to ensure its services are accessible, with the charity providing advice on how to book BSL interpreters and how workers can improve their communication with deaf women.
Through National Lottery Funding, it is also able to offer an accessible employability programme to allow deaf women to gain everything from basic IT skills to a food hygiene qualification.
Teresa added: “We try and give deaf women to chance to skill-up, to have a go at teaching to share their skills with other deaf women because it’s all about empowerment.”
The Big Give recently chose Deaf-initely Women to be part of its Women & Girls Match Fund, running between March 8 and 15.
The charity aims to raise £50,000 towards the employment and training of a deaf woman as an Independent Domestic Violence Advocate – and will see all donations doubled through the duration of the week-long campaign.
Employing an advocate would allow the charity to expand their deaf abuse service and work with staff in mainstream refuges and domestic abuse services to advice them on how best to understand and support their deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing survivors, and keep them safe from abuse.
“We are funded by Derbyshire Police and Crime Commissioner which we’re very thankful for and we employ a supporter worker for deaf women experiencing abuse in Derby and Derbyshire,” Teresa explained.
"But we’re seeing quite a lot of women come in who have moved to the area fleeing domestic violence.
"As a result of the fantastic communications work that Rachel does, it’s had a knock-on effect across the UK and we’re getting referrals from women’s refuges across the UK but also deaf women themselves contacting us for services and we’re unable to support them because we don’t have the resources.
"The Big Give will give us those resources.”
To donate search ‘Keeping deaf & deafblind women safe from abuse’ on the Big Give website or for more visit www.deafinitelywomen.org.uk.