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Fiona’s mission to widen opportunities for deaf people

Section:  Annan and Eskdale, Dumfries and West, Lockerbie and Lochmaben, Moffat

FIONA Stewart is on a mission to widen the horizons of deaf community members.

The 29-year-old has been profoundly deaf since birth, but overcomes her hearing challenges with a strong sense of purpose and a cochlear implant she received 26 years ago.

An electronic device, it provides a sense of sound to people who have profound hearing loss in both ears.

She is also an enthusiastic user of British Sign Language when communicating with other deaf people and was a strong supporter of the recent National Deaf Awareness Week to highlight the barriers that the deaf community faces on a daily basis.

She is currently on an internship at the Lockerbie office of Dumfriesshire MSP Oliver Mundell, arranged through the charity Inclusion Scotland.

Fiona, who is from Moffat, first became interested in politics after following the progress of the BSL Act Scotland (2015), which was passed through the Scottish Parliament three years ago.

She explained: “It was a momentous event and now deaf people have the right to access information in their preferred language in Scotland. Most importantly, BSL is a language which enjoys the same legal rights as Scottish Gaelic among other languages.

“This made me more aware of what is possible in politics and when the opportunity for this internship with Oliver Mundell came up I jumped at it.

“I wanted to learn more about how politics works and what goes on behind the scenes at the Scottish Parliament.”

Among Fiona’s varied other interests is caring for and spending time with her French Bulldog, Harley, who became her pet after she searched for a dog which was also deaf.

They have built up a remarkable bond through their shared experience.

An avid reader, especially Harry Potter books, she also enjoys going to the cinema although would like to see greater access to subtitles for deaf people.

Fiona takes every opportunity to improve the lot of people with hearing challenges.

She said: “It is a subject close to my heart as I always say that deaf people can do anything that hearing people can do, except hear.

“It is simple as that because deaf people can have jobs, drive, get married and have a family, just like everyone else. We are all humans at the end of the day.”

While technology and wider understanding have improved the lot of many deaf people, Fiona believes there is a lot still to be done.

She said: “There are still barriers which stop us and future generations of deaf children from achieving our potential.

“It is important deaf people are supported and given the right tools to realise their potential.

“Who knows, one of today’s deaf children could be the future First Minister or even find a cure for cancer.”

Fiona is currently looking for full-time work for after she finishes her internship.

She added: “My dream is to work with deaf children and young people to show them that anything is possible, as well as empower them and their families to stand up for their rights to access the services and support they need.”

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