Kerry and Ishtiaq Hussain, from Stourbridge, said they often felt lonely and isolated in their youth.
“I felt like I was the only deaf person in the whole world,” Kerry said.
They now run Deafscope – a site shaped by their early personal experience that shares inclusive activities and opportunities.
Hoping to combat feelings of exclusion that can remain in adult years, they say their website acts as a search engine for deaf people; connecting them with deaf-friendly businesses, places, services and events – assistance they have found lacking, despite social media’s ability to be a connecting force.
Kerry was born deaf after her mother contracted German measles during pregnancy and was sent to mainstream school “to help me with my speech”.
As the only deaf pupil, she said there was “not much information or guidance” in the classroom.
“My world felt very lonely and isolated. I didn’t like big crowds and always stayed away from them just in case they started to speak to me and I wouldn’t know what they were saying.”
The British Deaf Association (BDA) says feelings of social isolation mean deaf people are almost twice as likely than hearing people to experience mental health issues.
Difficulties at school are also common, with BDA estimating deaf pupils are 42% less likely to achieve five or more GCSEs at grade C or above compared to hearing classmates.
It was not until Kerry went to Derby College for the Deaf that she finally felt she fitted in. “I was then proud to be deaf,” she said.vvShe met Ishtiaq – with whom she has been in a partnership for 21 years – and bonded over shared experiences.vvHer husband – deaf since the age of three – was also the only deaf pupil in his school.
“I was never involved, I didn’t understand any conversation and was taught nothing,” he said.
ike Kerry, Ishtiaq only felt he found himself when he went to college where he could communicate with staff and friends using British Sign Language (BSL).
Problems emerged when he bucked a trend, according to the BDA, and went into higher education where as a young adult he was frustrated by a lack of access to interpreters and note-takers.
He said he was “left with no choice other than to quit” when his request to have his essays translated from BSL – his first language – was refused.
It was one of many situations from his past that would prompt Ishtiaq to challenge barriers faced by deaf people today.
Helping the deaf community became the “core” of the couple’s ambition, he said, and the inspiration for the website.
He said networking among deaf people had once been reliant on face-to-face interaction, but despite social media’s ability to connect people over distance, extracting support within the sheer volume of “mainstream” chatter remained a “struggle”.
He said while individuals could thrive with networking, it was weak in the deaf community.
“There was no equal access,” he said. “Where was that platform? There was a massive gap and I wanted to change that.”