Deaf and visually impaired Leeds mum's baby son is learning sign language

Guide Dogs volunteer and fundraiser Katie Rowley's four month old baby son Noah is a fast learner who  is already having a go at sign language.

By Mark Lavery
Tuesday, 13th July 2021, 4:45 am
Updated Tuesday, 13th July 2021, 10:10 am
Katie Rowley with son Noah

Photo: Steve Riding
Katie Rowley with son Noah Photo: Steve Riding

Katie, of Kirkstall, is taking time out from campaigning for equal rights for the sight and hearing impaired to care for Noah.

Katie helped to take the government to judicial review of the lack of British Sign Language (BSL) during the coronavirus pandemic television briefings.

"He loves watching sign language and trying his best to sign the simplest words," said Katie.

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Katie Rowley with son Noah Photo: Steve Riding

"His favourite signs are ‘love you’ and ‘friends’.

"He brings me complete joy and happiness - I absolutely love him with all my heart.

Katie, 37, was born with minor hearing loss and lost her hearing completely aged two.

She also has Usher syndrome, myopia and astigmatism.

Katie Rowley with son Noah Photo: Steve Riding

When she was 23, Katie lost vision in her left eye and over time has progressively lost vision in her right eye.

She did have a guide dog called Domino, but he retired through ill health in 2020

“Without the support of Guide Dogs, I don’t know where I would be," she said. "I will forever be in their debt.

"Domino was one of a kind - he understood sign language and he gave me confidence, independence and freedom. We travelled the country and even abroad.

"Another guide dog would help me massively.

"Guide Dogs throughout lockdown have been a rock, keeping me up to date with how Domino was doing after he was rehomed, and keeping in touch with me to make sure I was OK and managing, providing information on different things such as online meets, and so much more."

Katie said has written two books: one on confidence and guide dog refusals - where a visually impaired person is refused entry due to having a guide dog - and another on communication barriers and mental health.

She wants to shed light on the issues faced by people with visual and hearing impairment, and some misconceptions.

“Don’t presume that we can’t do things for ourselves," she said. " I’ve had many comments on how can I write a book if I’m deaf and blind?

"Just because I have sensory impairment, doesn’t mean I can’t do things.

"My laptop is adapted so I have a built-in magnifier, yellow stickers on the keyboard, and I’m able to zoom in on things like word documents. Also, not every deaf blind person uses sign language.

“Not all deaf blind people have complete losses. Many of us have some useful vision or useful hearing – for example I have a cochlear implant so while it’s not a lot and it’s more like a robot or computerized voice, it does give me some hearing.”

“Many people aren’t aware that a deaf blind person has a red and white cane or their guide dog will have a red and white checked reflective on their harness.

“Finally, don’t be frightened to ask people questions – assist them if they ask, or ask them if they need help."

Katie said she was concerned about how she would cope with being a mum

"It was an adjustment to begin with due to my sight loss," she said. "I was anxious about if I would do things right and things like would I be able to change his nappy properly?

"Would I be able to bath him safely? Would I be able to make his formula properly? Would I be able to wash his bottles properly? Would I be able to take him out safely?

"Well, I can say that I have adapted very well.

"My mum has also been a godsend to me, as well as my little sister.

"I’d be lost without them. When I first came home with Noah, I was so overwhelmed with a new baby and a house to upkeep, but my mum came round, helped with the cleaning and washing and anything else I needed help with.

"She is still a godsend now, especially with the ironing as it’s something I can’t do safely since my vision loss.

"There are so many adjustments to make with dual sensory loss, and over the last few months I’ve had to learn new coping mechanical styles.

"For example, I have a vibrating baby monitor but I also have purchased a video baby monitor as being deaf I can’t hear but do have limited vision. It’s about adapting to my individual needs."

Guide Dogs said there are an estimated 22,000 people living with a visual impairment in Leeds and it’s predicted that number will increase by 16 per cent by 2023.

It costs around £55,000 to train and support a guide dog partnership throughout the life of the dog.

As well as breeding and training costs, Guide Dogs covers the cost of food, vets’ bills and ongoing training after the dog is partnered with someone with sight loss.

Guide Dogs relies on donations to keep its life-changing services running.

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