Deaf-initely Women asked me to write a blog, about my life experience and my journey with Asian Deaf Women Association.

I was born in India. At six months old I came to the UK in 1966. I have a big family – five brothers and one sister. My two eldest brothers are Deaf, and we all went to the same Deaf School at Arkmar Road, Tooting, Broadway, from the age of 2 to 6. My father came to school one day and I had no idea why he was at my school. The Headteacher told my father that the school was not suitable for me. It was recommended that I be moved to a PHU partially Hearing School at Selicourt School in Tooting.

l had to attend many Speech & Language Therapy Sessions and had many hearing tests, despite all this input,  I was very behind in my education. Both of my eldest brothers went to Oak Lodge Secondary School. From the age of 11 to 18, I went to Secondary School in Southfield’s; this was a Mainstream school.

As I progressed, I attended the Distribution Trade College and studied Business Diploma. This was only for one year and I had to leave. I had a terrible time navigating this course. During the lessons I had to follow what the hearing teacher was saying, I could not hear her and this had a negative impact on my course work. I was behind in my lessons. Back then I did not have any BSL Interpreter, this meant there were many communication barriers.

Growing up I was confused, I felt I had no identity. Where did I belong? To the Deaf or to the Hearing community, White or Asian Community. At the early age of 18, I got married. I had no chance of focusing on myself. During this time, I had 3 children. These were the biggest barriers for me. I felt all this took away my identity.

I went to the Asian Women Community and saw lots of Asian women there who needed a lot of support. This inspired me and I decided to set up the Asian Deaf Women’s Group from 1991 to 2000. In February 1992, I established Deaf Women’s Group. I was offered a free venue at Forest Gate Youth Centre, every Tuesday once a week 10am to 2pm. The group was successful, many Asian Deaf Women attended weekly. I was responsible for organising different activities, cooking, art, sewing, various workshops including welfare benefits, discussions and rights around arrange marriages, Asian Sign Language, Culture etc as there was so much going on in our community which was putting pressure on our community. I was also in the local newspaper, magazines and Deaf TV programmes called See Hear and Sign On.

I was on my own, I was lacking in knowledge. I had to start learning from scratch. One of my achievements was learning the Management Committees role. This included fundraising, counselling, BSL and much more. Applying for funding was successful we were given Lottery funding of £197,000 we were able to achieve more funding.

Early in 2000, I made a decision to leave the organisation Asian Deaf Women’s Group as I was exhausted, I had taken the whole project on single handily which had left me burnt out. Also around this time, my mother had passed away which had a major impact on me. I also felt I needed a change and I wanted to develop further in my career.

I decided to take up the challenge of working within a hearing organisation. I feel this was one of the best decision I made. I learned and developed much knowledge and skills, and this helped me to build and expand my understanding.

I have many accomplishments. Becoming a BSL teacher, Deaf Instructor, Careers Adviser, Employment Adviser, Youth Lead, Setting up different projects, Relay Interpreter, Deaf Coaches and many more.

Looking back in my life, I have been able to accomplish many things which I am very proud of. It is very rare to have Deaf role models, but I met two deaf ladies Kavita Chana and Agnes Dyab. They have both encouraged me, they helped me get involved in meeting a variety of Deaf Professionals when I participated in Deaf conferences. Looking back, I realised this is how I gained my experience and built up my self-confidence.

I feel so much stronger now and have a clear identity of who I am.

By Sarla