By Zoe Dunn

I was an enthusiastic six year old when I started kindergarten. I began school a year later than most of my peers to ensure that my speech and language were well developed. While I enjoyed school and it was where I started my lifelong love of learning, there were challenges pertaining to my disabilities that made school life difficult. I am profoundly deaf and have cerebral palsy. My physical disability affects my fine and gross motor skills, so I have trouble walking and performing tasks such as writing. When I began school I used a wheelchair and a walking frame, I also had a cochlear implant, hearing aid and an FM.

Over the course of primary school I had four teachers of the deaf and they supported my learning throughout. My itinerant teachers provided assistance relevant to my needs at the time, they were dynamic and their encouragement really helped me. I find it hard to remember exactly what I needed in the early years so I asked my mum. She said that my itinerant teachers provided the school with information about my deafness and strategies to help access the curriculum. She also said that the regular contact from the teachers about my progress was reassuring and she appreciated their support.

I remember struggling with learning how to read, which I find ironic since I love to read now. In year 1, I recall I was only at Level 3 and felt ashamed because I knew I was not progressing at the same rate as my peers. My itinerant teacher really helped me by working one on one with me in a supportive environment. Due to my cerebral palsy I found tracking words along a page difficult, in conjunction with traditional obstacles. It took dedication, patience and at times a reminder of where I was on a page but I did learn how to read. This was an accomplishment and it opened a whole new world for me to explore and provided me the opportunity to learn more through books.

I also worked on my comprehension with my teacher of the deaf in Year 4 and would look forward to our weekly sessions. I enjoyed reading the passages and was encouraged to think more deeply about texts. Comprehension is now a strength of mine and I consider the work I did with my teacher pivotal to my understanding. It has really helped me with my schooling, through to university. I am not intimidated when I read research papers even though it seems a foreign language with all that jargon!

When I was 10 years old I received my second cochlear implant. I found this time very challenging as I was uncertain and doubted the need for the second implant as I felt that I heard well enough with my first. My itinerant teacher worked alongside my speech pathologist, who was doing the auditory verbal therapy. It was extremely difficult to learn how to hear through the new device, everything sounded strange, so naturally, I did not want to wear it to school. My itinerant teacher encouraged me to wear it and helped me accept my new auditory environment. She worked to alleviate my anxieties and motivated me to think positively about the experience.

My teacher of the deaf was important with my transition to high school. I had the same itinerant teacher from year 6 to year 7 and this gave me some continuity when everything else was changing. He helped me with the shifting expectations and logistics that are unique in high school. Also, he met with all my teachers and helped them understand my needs in the classroom as a deaf student.

I feel privileged to have worked with so many amazing teachers, who inspired me and encouraged me to recognise that my disabilities are not a barrier to success. I really valued the relationships I developed with my teachers in those early years and remember them fondly.