Teen hits out at cuts proposals for deaf and blind children in Wigan

Ruth Lowe with her dad David
Ruth Lowe with her dad David

A teenager has spoken out against potential cuts to funding for the borough’s deaf and blind children, should they get the green light.

Ruth Lowe, 17, has been deaf since birth but has led a happy, normal life thanks to crucial support from the NHS and Wigan Council, including the audiology department, nurses for the deaf, teaching assistants, and speech and language therapists.

But children just like her could face difficulty getting the same help in the near future, after a Freedom of Information request revealed that Wigan Council was proposing to save “a minimum of 10 per cent” from its education budget for visual and hearing impaired services for children.

As an article exclusively revealed in the Wigan Post last month, this would result of a deficit of around £90,000.

The authority provides vital support and visits from specialist staff for 493 children across the borough.

The National Deaf Children’s Society and the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) have said that any cut would be devastating for the children affected.

The council insisted that no changes had yet been approved, and that the idea to transform the services is, so far, merely a proposal.

But Ruth, who lives in Leigh, wants as many people as possible to realise just how vital the already-stretched services are.

She said: “It’s massively supported me. I had a teaching assistant from year seven to year 11 and I managed to get seven GCSEs.

“Without that help, that would have been immensely difficult.

“I’m able to live a normal life that everyone else lives thanks in part to the help that I receive.

“I’ve been learning how to drive.

“I didn’t go to a special school for my hearing: I went to a normal school.

“It was a little harder to adapt, but at the same time I had support there that really benefited me.

“The support I had gave me an ambition to become a paramedic, because I want to help people.

“That’s my passion.”

Ruth warned that visually and hearing impaired children were already facing inadequate funding, without the prospect of a budget reduction.

She said: “I think all the young people like me, who have visual or hearing impairments, without that support I think they would have low chances of getting good GCSE results, which impacts their future and their confidence, if they don’t get where they want to be in life.

“So I think it would be a massive struggle for them (without adequate funding).”

Ruth added: “I want everyone to be aware of what is happening, and I want everyone to get as involved as possible because this is something I want improving, not for it to be cut.

“It will help make the world a better place if everyone got involved.”

The council has come under fire from the Royal National Institute of Blind People which said its plans would affect almost 500 children.

Cath Pealing, interim assistant director for education at Wigan Council said: “Like many local authorities, we are reviewing our support services to ensure they can be as effective as possible.

“Whilst we have proposed a reduction in spending to our sensory support services, we will only do this if we can still deliver the right provision for our children and young people.

“In order to explore this, we have engaged with experts to ensure any new approach is implemented in the right way.

“The opinions and expertise of parents is also highly valued, so we have been holding workshops with families, children and young people and education professionals to gather their views.

“These conversations have generated some really great ideas and we will consider all of these when we produce a plan of how our future sensory support could look.”