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‘Make Portlaoise a deaf friendly town’ – Irish Sign Language is expanding in Laois

What Karen Chadwick began as a voluntary group for learning sign language in her own home with five people, has grown into a community organization with over 60 members active in classes.

Karen began the group as having been hard of hearing for most of her life, she struggled to find somewhere where she could learn sign language.

Karen, originally hailing from Leixlip, is a very active member of the community and is also a founder and coordinator of the very popular Portlaoise Community Noticeboard Facebook page.

Karen explained how it’s difficult to find courses outside of Cork, Limerick or Dublin that won’t cost a fortune.

There is no qualification given from the classes – but the main goal is to teach people how to sign conversationally, which Karen hopes will help members of the deaf community feel more included.
“I don’t care about a qualification,” she says, as she explains how she would love Portlaoise to become a deaf friendly town, and already has had business owners join her classes.
Tourism groups, hairdressers and coffee shops are among those who have taken classes.
“I would love more businesses to join our classes. It would be great for us and for them as we could avail and they could provide a service of deaf customers.
“Sign language is a lovely language, it is a whole language”, explains Karen.
“It has its own grammar rules like any language. It’s great because it’s a whole body language. You can see all the animation in a person’s face and body. “
It is understandably isolating, and Karen believes there is a separation between the deaf and hearing communities. Approaching organizations in the past hasn’t been very advantageous for her.

“When I approached an organization and said I wanted to learn sign language, they told me there was no point.

“I wanted to learn sign language as while I still have some hearing, it will go and I want to be prepared.

“The HSE also told me I was managing fine.”

They are committed to keeping their costs down as The Midland’s ISL Learner’s are a non-profit organization. They aspire to achieve charity status so they could get some funding.

Karen says “I would love to approach primary schools and try teach some classes in there, and these would hopefully be free ” , and also hopes to keep the price of kid’s classes at a maximum of €2.

The group have courses starting the autumn, starting at €50 for a ten-week term while they are hosting a fundraising event on September 30 in the Midlands Park Hotel.

They’ve teamed up with Brick World who showcase Lego structures and miniature towns, buildings, cars, trains, for a family fun day.

You can find the group on Facebook at Midlands ISL Learners .

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Sarah Cullen is a Journalism and New Media graduate from the University of Limerick. A Portlaoise native, she is happiest when tweeting and talking about dogs.