Olivia is on a mission to bring more deaf representation to the theatre

"The theatre is a fabulous place to be, people just take you for who you are, with or without cochlear implants."

“I don’t know if I was born with hearing loss because looking back, it was thought that I had some hearing as I would change the tone of my babble depending on the situation. I had a telephone babble, a cross/angry babble, a general chitchat and lots more, and I passed my hearing screening at 7 months old at 40 decibels. Further hearing tests were carried out at around 12 to 14 months, and it came as quite a shock to my parents when they were told that I was profoundly deaf. My family was devastated. 

It was a bit of a whirlwind; I received my hearing aids and was assigned a Teacher of the Deaf. But it was at that time that my parents started researching and asking questions about cochlear implants. It was uncharted territory for my parents but if cochlear implants could give me the chance to access sound like other children, it was a chance that they were willing to take. I was referred to The Yorkshire Cochlear Implant Service at Bradford Royal Infirmary to see if I fitted the criteria to be a cochlear implant recipient. The result was yes, so we then started the process that led to getting my first cochlear implant in 2007.

I had my switch on prior to me starting mainstream nursery school in 2008 where I already had a Statement of Educational Needs (SEN) in place, so I then had one to one support from my first day at school.  At the age of 5 I was given the opportunity to have a second cochlear implant, and after further discussions with my surgeon my parents decided to go ahead with the second implant.

Primary school was good, I had lots of friends and great support. But unfortunately, in Year 5 the school decided that my support should be reduced. They didn’t understand the help that I needed and said they could no longer fully meet my needs, so in 2015 I left all my friends behind and moved to a mainstream school with a resource provision for deaf children. It was sad but I never looked back. The support I received was fantastic and I made so much progress in the year that I was there. 

I moved on to a secondary school again with a resource provision for deaf children, where I spent most of my lessons with classroom support. The support I received was fantastic, I couldn’t have asked for anything more. I made new friends, but I found that where I had many friends in the past, a lot of the girls at high school didn’t want to know me because I was deaf and that didn’t change from the first day to the last day. A shame really because I would have been a great friend!

I enjoyed school in particular Drama, Art and Sport. I also did Levels 1, 2 and 3 in British Sign Language which was very useful as some of my deaf peers were non-verbal.  As I had cochlear implants sign language was something that I did not have experience of, but I picked it up very quickly. I made good progress at school and passed 8 GCSEs as well as my 3 Levels in British Sign Language.

Next, I secured a place at college studying Drama. I had a fabulous 2 years and made loads of friends, wearing cochlear implants suddenly didn’t seem to matter as much. It was hard work and long days, but I took part in some amazing productions. I also had the opportunity to teach sign language to my peers which we included in a singing and dance piece performed in London in 2023.  I left college in the summer of 2023 with 4 A Levels in Drama and Performing Arts, and in September last year I began my degree in Acting at Leeds Conservatoire. Could I have achieved all that without my cochlear implants? I would say not.

Drama and dancing is a big part of my life. I started dancing when I was 3 years old at a local dance school which I still attend when my time allows. I also have a good social life with my ‘dance family’.  I’ve been part of the ensemble in a couple of musicals at Wakefield Theatre Royal with Wakefield Youth Music Theatre where I made some amazing friends. The theatre is a fabulous place to be, people just take you for who you are, with or without cochlear implants.

I would love to work in the theatre and raise awareness there for the deaf. I would also love to bring a deaf theatre to the north of England. Over the next couple of years, I want to achieve my Level 6 in British Sign Language and Interpreters Level. So, if you don’t see me in the theatre, you might catch me in the corner of your television!

If anyone is wondering if they should have their child implanted or not, I’d say go for it. It certainly changed my life and I’m glad that my parents made the choice for me.  Mainstream school can be tricky as some (not all) teachers don’t always understand hearing loss. If you get the chance to choose a mainstream school with a resource provision for deaf children then take it, it made such a difference for me.

I count myself as very lucky as I can both speak and sign, which is not something that everyone can do. I work hard and sometimes find things difficult, but I always try my best. As for my cochlear implants; I wouldn’t be without them.”

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