Our Story

The organisation was initially the brainchild of retired teacher Dorothy Hegarty who, in her own words, ‘was at something of a loose end at the time, having given up teaching some six months previously’. On visits to the local supermarket etc. she frequently bumped into a past pupil of her former school, St. Brecan’s High, Derry. Local girl, Siobhan McKeever had attended the ‘partially hearing unit’ at the same school but sadly communication between them was impossible ‘apart from a smile or hand wave in recognition’.

This was the seminal event in the establishment of Hands That Talk. Dorothy decided that people like Siobhan need not be excluded from day-to-day communication. The language of the deaf – Sign Language – was available to all, so why not run classes locally? To this end advertisements were placed in shops, church bulletins and local press to determine the level of interest.

All expectations were surpassed when fifty seven people applied to join the first Sign Language class, so much so that two classes had to be set up to meet the demand. Those first classes were held in Dungiven Community Resource centre (now Glenshane House) on Main Street Dungiven. The fledgling and as yet unnamed Hands That Talk had taken its first tentative step. With such an encouraging start it was hopefully, onwards and upwards.

At this stage Dorothy approached Martina Bradley whose husband Paddy was profoundly deaf, to solicit her help in setting up a steering committee. With Martina’s enthusiasm and first-hand knowledge of deaf issues and culture she would prove an immediate and invaluable asset in formally constituting Hands That Talk.

Founding members Dorothy and Martina were nominated Chairperson and treasurer respectively and Louise Farren secretary. Others invited onto the steering committee included Mary McCloskey and Ann Logan.

After consultation with members of the Deaf Community it was agreed to call a public meeting of all interested parties, deaf and hearing on Wed 10th May 2000. At this meeting the first committee of Hands That Talk was elected and the principal aims of the organisation outlined.
Briefly, the committee set out its two primary aims:

  •     To facilitate communication between the hearing and deaf communities through the provision of sign Language classes
  •     The promotion of equality of opportunity for the Deaf Community through raising the level of ‘deaf awareness’.

In 2008 Hands That Talk was rewarded for its sterling service to the Deaf Community when its founding member, Dorothy, was awarded on behalf of the organisation, the MBE. It should be stressed that this was in recognition of the high effort made by staff, many volunteers and members of the Deaf Community.

Hands That Talk has gone from strength the strength - this is highlighted by the fact that in 2011 they won the UK National Lottery Awards for the Best Voluntary/Charity Project.

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