The Shepherd Centre has unveiled a first-of-its-kind virtual reality (VR) experience to allow others to find out what life is like with hearing loss.
The unique experience is designed to prevent bullying of children with hearing loss at school by giving their peers a chance to live in their shoes and encourage empathy.
The Shepherd Centre has been enabling children with hearing loss to develop their listening and spoken language, literacy, and social skills for over 50 years, ensuring they can go on to achieve their full potential in life.
The not-for-profit meets the needs of children of all ages, and the VR experience was developed as part of its mentoring program, Hear For You, which supports school-aged children and teenagers.
“Our VR experience allows users to live with hearing loss for a few minutes and see what that support may look like. It is an opportunity to connect with a part of life that isn’t your day-to-day,” Mr Jim Hungerford, CEO of The Shepherd Centre, said.
The short VR video focuses on life with hearing loss in a busy school, featuring the day-to-day difficulties, bullying and more that children with hearing loss are faced with each day.
Using the VR headset, the experience will for the first time take a person into the world of a deaf teenager interacting in a social situation, be it their school, youth club, or an out of school social setting.
The device’s audio is designed to mirror what a hearing device sounds like, and its challenges, and brings to the user a sense of frustration experienced every day by teenagers with hearing loss.
“Children and teenagers with hearing loss need the support of those closest to them, and often this means extending their support system to school, be it a teacher or friends,” Mr Hungerford continued.
“With students finally returning to school post-COVID restrictions, the time for understanding is needed more than ever.
“Students have now been at home for almost 2 years, and they may need help remembering that their friends with hearing loss need some extra support,” Mr Hungerford said.
Studies in Australia and overseas found that teenagers with hearing loss are four times more likely to develop mental health challenges, be exposed to bullying, and are likely to experience social isolation from their peers during their formative years.
Teenagers and their families often reach out to Hear For You to seek solutions and ways to address these issues.
The Hear For You program currently supports 154 teenagers with hearing loss from over 47 different schools across NSW, ACT, and Queensland.
It recently launched the new “Hearing For Life” program, designed by deaf teenagers to share the message to their school peers about hearing health issues, protecting one’s hearing, and developing an understanding of what it is like to have hearing loss.
The Shepherd Centre is campaigning to extend it to all schools across the country, calling for $60,000 in funding to seed the rollout to as many NSW schools as possible.