Major challenges remain. To put the project on the equal opportunity / valuing diversity cline would be impossible due to the number of organisations involved. When considering equal opportunities in the context of education it is safe to suggest that at the moment we are providing equal opportunities for deaf people in nurse education, however, there is a degree of imposed assimilation for the students and this will remain until deaf people are in more empowering positions in nursing and nurse education.
In the classroom, the students are valued as all students are for their contribution to the course and for their insights from a linguistic minority group, how this impacts on them as individuals and how lessons learned from this minority group are transferable to other potentially excluded groups and individuals. Already we are finding that hard of hearing students and students with dyslexia are coming for support because of the transferability of some of the support mechanisms provided.
We continue to learn about true access and true inclusion - for example, the group refuses to participate in any lecture or session unless they all have full access, they would never accept the idea of splitting the deaf students from the hearing students for logistical reasons. The consideration the students have for each other is refreshing even though there are times when the deaf students do feel isolated from the main group, especially when on placement. We are looking at improving students IT skills to address this issue; again all students will benefit from this support not only deaf students.
When working on a project such as this, with the cultural tensions that the system challenges, it is easy to forget what is actually happening. The first group of signing student nurses are now in their 3rd year, we are breaking new ground in nursing and in education. Next year these students will be qualified nurses and they will have to continue to break new ground in clinical environments. They will continue to access the University for post qualifying courses and the School of Nursing will continue to find more innovative ways to support the students in their desire to continue their life long learning as mental health practitioners.
The Deaf community in Britain will have moved a step further towards empowerment, another door is open.