Deaf-blind music teacher honoured

Mon, Oct 22, 2012, 01:00

A deaf-blind music teacher who developed a unique method of teaching others has been recognised for her inspirational work.

For the last 20 years Orla O’Sullivan, from Frankfield in Cork, has taught scores of students, from beginners up to diploma level.

Ms O’Sullivan, who started teaching deaf children at a local primary school in the mid-1990s, now uses a purpose-built classroom in her home for hearing and non-hearing pupils.

She believes all schoolchildren should be given the option to learn music, regardless of disability.

“I teach music in a standard, normal way. The difference is in how I prepare,” she said.

“I memorise everything, even the questions that are normally asked by students at the various levels. With my hearing aids on and with close lip-reading I can usually make out what is being said.

“As regards the music, again, with my hearing aids on, I can hear/feel some of the notes. The notes I cannot hear, I hear in my imagination. As regards sight, what I see is normal for me. I can only imagine what a person with perfect vision can see.”

Ms O’Sullivan was among nine people with hearing loss commended at the Hidden Hearing Heroes Awards in the Alexandra Hotel in Dublin.

The workplace award winner was left profoundly deaf and vision-impaired when given a drug after she contracted double pneumonia at six weeks old.

She said her mother noticed that, as a young baby, she reacted to certain kinds of music, including vibrations from piano keys. After her first music lesson at six, she spent most of her childhood playtime practising on her piano.

Ms O’Sullivan said teaching music to deaf pupils is much more difficult and demanding for both the teacher and the pupil, but as a deaf-blind teacher she feels she is the best qualified to do it.

“I can sign [ISL] and relate to them [pupils] in ways that a fully hearing and sighted teacher cannot,” said the mother to six-month-old John Amadeus.

“And with the aid of enlarging technology, for reading, and better hearing devices, and amplifiers, it will get easier and more effective. Many deaf and deaf-blind people believe that music is impossible for them to understand and appreciate. That is not true.

“I, and others like musician and therapist Russ Palmer, the Finnish rapper SignMark, pianist Mark Pampel, Paul Whittaker, and Evelyn Glennie are examples of what can be achieved.”