Signing in Together

Anne Sheppard and Veronica McLoughlin did not meet until the beginning of this year, but they have quickly formed a close friendship, professionally and personally. Both grew up in loving family environments and followed the usual pattern: school, work, study, marriage and children.  But what makes them different is that Anne is profoundly deaf.  


Anne was almost two when she contracted meningitis. Total deafness resulted. She is accepting of her life-changing circumstances, “That’s life, I’m not dead! The hearing was the only thing I lost; I could have been blind or disabled.” Through the wisdom of her parents she immediately began school at the former Rosary Convent School for Deaf Girls at Waratah.  

She later attended St Mary’s High School at Gateshead.  “High school was challenging.  It was very difficult as I received little support. My family were my biggest supporters, especially my mother.”  Thank goodness times have changed for today’s deaf students!  Now Anne’s main methods of communication are by lip reading and hand signing.   

Anne returned to her old school at Waratah after the birth of her son where she took him to playgroup.  Most of the mothers had hearing impaired children; she was the only deaf mum with a hearing child.  In 1993, when the school moved to a purpose-built new facility at Mayfield, Anne moved too. Now, over 17 years later, she works three days a week as a Teacher’s Aide, assisting the classroom teachers of the deaf children. 

Veronica attended secondary school at St Mary’s Dominican High School at Maitland.  She gained a teaching degree, then added three master’s degrees, including one in Special Education, along with raising four children.   

For 143 years St Dominic’s has been the centre for deaf and hard-of-hearing children but great changes are afoot!  A few years ago the name was changed from St Dominic’s Centre for Hearing Impaired Children to St Dominic’s Centre and students with developmental delays and/or complex learning needs were welcomed.  Veronica has nothing but praise for the way the staff at St Dominic’s work together towards a shared dream. 

“Anne has been an incredible support, a personal support to me but also a role model for the kids and for the staff,” she says.  “Of all people, Anne, with such a deep emotional investment in the culture of the deaf and hard of hearing community, had the right to resist these changes. Anne’s being so positive and supportive of the changes has set a tone in the place as she is so well respected within the community.

“If something is happening that I don’t understand, I’ll go and speak to Anne, she is such a wise person.  I seek Anne out for her advice and opinion, I really value it.  Throughout the year Anne was teaching me signing and I got to know her quite well; I feel that’s where I came to love her so much.  We are continuing that again next term, I have missed it.” 

Anne is a little more hesitant about the looming changes.  “At first I was a little scared and sad but now I think I’m looking forward to it.  I like the change because I think it’s time.”   

Veronica says, “The best thing about having Anne here is as a role model.  She’s pragmatic, sensible, down-to-earth and not only does her deafness not hold her back, it almost is the reason she has excelled so well. She’s very strong. The kids come in and see this amazing woman here who is married with a child and a job and incredible history.  That’s what we love, the kids being exposed to that.” 

Anne says, “Some of the children say to me, ‘I can’t get married and have children ‘cause I’m deaf’ and I say why, look at me, I’m married and had a baby, you can get married and have babies.” Anne is an impressive example of their future. 

Anne chuckles about the old days, “We all had to use the old hearing aids, the little box with wires which connected to your ears; I’ve thrown mine away because it never helped.  I had to go to school and wear it, but actually I didn’t hear a thing anyway. The teacher would do things like put paper over her mouth and I would have to know what they were saying.  But then the other children would tell me what the teacher was saying and I would tell the teacher!  But we were cheating.”  Veronica interjects with her own comment, “You were so naughty!”  The two women bounce off each other so easily, their closeness is obvious.

 Anne’s role in the classroom has changed throughout the years.  “Now they have Cochlear Implants, but they still need support.”  Anne was fitted for an implant which never worked.  She has some fears, “Wherever the deaf children go into this mainstream world we’re moving into I really hope they have lots of support, I worry about them out there on their own.”  Anne would like to follow them and give the support they need.  Veronica grimaces, “You’re not going anywhere; we need you here. 

“I would love a purpose-built centre that caters for a range of disabilities and offers a really good Catholic education − with Anne next to me.”  Anne is a realist when it comes to the future. “I suppose my fear is not being able to communicate with the new students but I think working together is the way forward.”  Ever the wit, Anne adds, “We’re playing it by ear.”  

Anne has been working with deaf children for over 27 years while Veronica has just begun. They share a passion; together they will make life happier for their students. With the dawn of 2017 bringing enormous transition and challenge, their respect and encouragement for each other, and deep friendship, will see them − and St Dominic’s Centre − succeed and flourish. 


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