University of Edinburgh

Profile on Thelma Petty

Thelma at the Deaf Awareness Day 2001

Thelma graduated from Moray House in 1995 as the first deaf person to qualify as a teacher in Scotland. In October 2001, Thelma presented two extremely interesting workshops at the Scottish Sensory Centre Deaf Awareness Day.

Thelma in action

The Herald newspaper turned up to cover the Deaf Awareness Day and asked Thelma to say the word "peace" in BSL. This was even more relevant at this time than most others, as we were all aware. The final photograph showed only Thelma's hands but in order to get enough natural light on them, she ended up on her knees!

posing for photographers

I have a dream

I am a goldfish in a bowl, but wait! Seen through the glass are hundreds, no thousands of people whose mouths are contorting noiselessly and without meaning - surely they are the goldfish? I often experience an overwhelming feeling of isolation and yet there are equal times when I am thankful to retreat to the safety of my 'home' when coping daily with an increasingly cacophonous world.

I must refrain from telling newly-met people that "I can lip-read" as most usually form an incorrect assumption that little or no effort is required of them. Are they just ignorant, apprehensive or egocentric?

You see, what degree of hearing I have, not what amount, can be likened to tuning into a foreign radio programme - sounds are heard but for these to be made sense of would be impossible without knowledge of its language. So my 'listening" needs absolute and continuous concentration for an awareness of who the speaker is, powers of observation and a .'feel' for rhythm and movement of speech as well as an anticipation of what is likely by reading the situation, hopefully knowing the subject and thinking ahead - all these come from just watching the lips?

There is a place called Martha's Vineyard where the first deaf settlers arrived in the 1690's. Through a mutation, a recessive gene brought out by inbreeding, a form of hereditary deafness existed for the next 250 years. With one in four inhabitants deaf, sign language was a natural substitute for spoken language so every person here conversed freely without, difficulty, inhibition or suppression. If ease of communication is the fundamental desire of every human being when will the world look to this place as the example of how essential sign language is for the deaf to acquire language and to be used for communication, by deaf and hearing people with deaf?

I dream of hearing children learning it in schools instead of, or as well as, French, German or other language. They are after all more likely to meet a deaf child or adult than a foreigner. I dream also of deaf babies being allowed to use it as they will naturally. I dream of fingers moving in a blur of patterns, of hands drawing elaborate, eloquent pictures in the air, of faces full of ever-changing expressions.

If these dreams were realised now I would have no more need of trying to lip-read. What a relief that would be! no more trying to decipher "fere fis fe fost foffice?" or "Where is the baby?" and the reply while pointing, "In the bucket" (!) which was meant as "Where is the 'paper?". . .

My dreams will come true one day though not in my lifetime, and my satisfaction will come from the chasing.

1993 photograph

Article from 1993

In her second year of BEd (Primary), Thelma was awarded the Watt Club Prize. The award is made annually to an undergraduate or postgraduate student at Heriot-Watt University (to which Moray House was then affiliated), regardless of year of study, who has demonstrated wider measures of initiative and enterprise than academic achievement alone.

Here is an extract of an article published in 1993, with some of Thelma's thoughts from this time in respect to the problems she encountered as a deaf student:

"The current integration policy in education means that hearing student teachers are likely to encounter a child with a degree of deafness in their class and have little or no knowledge of how to deal with this. Training for this should be incorporated into the college curriculum for all would-be teachers, both primary or secondary so that the deaf child's education does not suffer.

I compensate for my lack of hearing with the use of a hearing aid and by lip-reading. However, when a person:

  • turns away, walks about or stands behind an overhead projector;
  • waves a pen or hands about in front of their face;
  • stands against a bright light or window;
  • gathers up speed with their speech;
  • hardly opens their mouth or exaggerates mouth movements;
  • or when more than one talks at the same time;

then 'hearing' becomes a difficult and exhausting task - wouldn't you agree? It would be so nice if people could remember what not to do but alas! some memories are short-term.

I am saddened by the attitudes of those lecturers who intend showing a video telling me how visual it is. If the sound were turned down I'm sure they'd interpret the scenes with the same mistakes as I do. Consideration therefore should be given to funding an audio typist to type scripts for all the college videos, those compiled by lecturers themselves as well as those in the Environmental Studies Resource Centre, the AV Resource Centre and recorded television programmes. The written word is essential to 'hear' any of these (it would also help the overseas students to learn written English - they too have 'special needs'!)

I would also like to see deafness awareness sessions conducted periodically and preferably by a deaf student or a deaf person, the first to be soon after the start of the college year. These should be compulsory for all college staff whether teaching or non-teaching and students.

I can 'hear' better 'listening' to your hands - I love talking with mine (being part of my identity) and they are a definite aid to ease of communication. I am pleased the Scottish Sensory Centre at Moray House took up my suggestion for myself and another deaf tutor to conduct sign language classes within the college. Publicity and organisation needs to be improved to encourage more students and lecturers to attend and for all to reach Stage 3 competency. Fluency in sign language will be imperative if a profoundly deaf non-speaking student attends college at a later date.

I am guilty of causing grooves not only along the corridors but up and down the stairs of most buildings in my bid to find the right person to address my queries. Although I am sure everyone tried to do their best it was time-consuming and stressful. This could be avoided if every deaf person was given a contact prior to attendance to ascertain his/her needs. The named person could then help with any further queries throughout the course.

The provision of textphones and training for persons associated with their use and of visual fire alarms in the college and halls of residence are appropriate needs too. However, I leave these and others for the next deaf student to campaign for!

The perfect college to attend would be one where all students and most staff were deaf (as in America) but I look forward to seeing the suggestions made carried out in Moray House where I am thoroughly enjoying my course. Some require a little thought only, others more effort but none is impossible and as this college is implementing an Equal Opportunities Policy I have every confidence they will be achieved. "

What has happened since graduating?

I graduated on 6 July 1995 with a BEd (Hons) in Primary Teaching (a first in Scotland with this degree) - a momentous climax to 5 years of hard slog! - and promptly took a year out to recover.

I taught Primaries 4, 5, 6 in Hamilton School for the Deaf, Hamilton from August 1996 to June 2000.

I taught Primary 1 in Donaldson's College, Edinburgh from August 2000 to June 2001.

I now have my own business - Deaf Solutions - as a Consultant in Deaf Issues, with a main focus on delivering deaf awareness but, to put all qualifications, skills and experiences to use with a wider range of children and adults.

I am a supply teacher for East Renfrewshire Network Support Team, supporting a deaf child in mainstream primary and high schools with a one-to-one tutorial in curriculum subjects but also creating an awareness of deaf identity by being a role model; deaf adult and deaf teacher.

I delivered a deaf awareness session during an in-service day at a primary school and am now teaching sign language to the whole class with the one deaf child, and also to the whole school staff after school hours.
I teach basic sign language to adults at an Outreach centre run by Coatbridge College.

I am Chairperson of 'Stories in the Air' which seeks to a) promote the study, practice and knowledge of signed storytelling in the Deaf Community and the signing of stories in schools and other venues; and b) promote signing communication skills between parents and carers and their deaf baby, also how to sign storybooks to them so as to develop their language and literacy skills.

I teach on one Parents' course and am being filmed to make videos of lists of vocabulary, picture books, story books, reading schemes.

Leisure time! Teach signed songs!

Thelma Petty
Deaf Solutions
61 Townhill Road
Telephone: 01698 822684 (voice/text/fax)