Action Deaf Youth was formerly called the Northern Ireland Deaf Youth Association – known to friends and to those in the Deaf Community as NIDYA, was set up in 1988 after a reunion of young deaf people revealed shared feelings of isolation and a need for support. The Association felt it was time for Deaf people to speak for themselves, rather than reply on hearing people to do it for them.
A committee was formed, premises found and funding was sought. The first barrier had been broken and NIDYA was born. In the same year, a report written by Dr. Susan Phoenix indicated that the needs of Deaf people went largely unrecognised by the hearing community. It also highlighted the fact that many members of the Northern Ireland Deaf Community had a poor quality of life and a poverty of expectations.
Malachy McBurney, one of the founders, led the Association during this decade, enabling NIDYA to embark on new exciting initiatives from its office base, the Wilton House in Belfast. In 1991, NIDYA reassessed its aims and objectives to focus on work with young deaf people in clubs, as this had been identified as the area of greatest unmet need. Deaf Youth Leaders broke new ground, establishing a club in Belfast for young deaf people. Club members were encouraged to participate in club administration and in decision-making. Another club, modelled on the Belfast Club was later set up in Derry in 1994 and overseen by Caroline Doherty, Youth Worker. The club catered for young people from the North West of the Province.
Throughout the years in the 1990s, NIDYA organised and ran a wide range of training courses for its members. A strong emphasis was placed on Youth Leadership training, enabling NIDYA to staff Deaf Youth Clubs and Deaf Leaders.
This reflected the vision of the Association’s founders – an organisation for young deaf people, run by young deaf people. Using deaf leaders enabled a greater understanding of the issues faced by young members as they grew up in a hearing world – it also provided these young people with positive role models.
NIDYA got involved in a number of foreign exchange trips, with visits to Germany, France, Spain, the Czech Republic and the USA, among others. The exchange trips enabled members to explore another culture, and tell people more about their culture – they also learn about the provisions for Deaf communities in other countries.
A function attended by past and current members took place in 1998 to celebrate 10 years of NIDYA’s work. In the same year, Malachy McBurney handed over the reins of leading the organisation to Barry Campbell, the new Development Manager.
In 2001, Malachy McBurney, NIDYA worked in conjunction with the University of Ulster’s Youth Community Team to publish a research report called ‘Big D, wee d: The Lives of Deaf Young People in Northern Ireland’. The report produced a list of key findings and recommendations for NIDYA to take forward, to improve the lives of deaf young people in Northern Ireland. The report was launched at a conference, attended by the then Education Minister, Martin McGuinness.
A Senior Management Team; Barry Campbell (Development Manager), Caroline Doherty (Youth Coordinator), Michael Johnston (Training Coordinator) and Jean Doyle (Fundraising Officer) from 2001 to 2007 enabled the Association to provide a range of services and projects for young deaf people all over Northern Ireland. The following services were developed:
A youth service; running local children’s and youth clubs in Belfast and Derry and residential events in different regions of Northern Ireland;
A training service; provision of personal development, youth leadership and youth work training programmes, informal education workshops, deaf awareness and sign language training;
A mentor service; training adults to become mentors, to provide guidance and support to deaf children and young people;
A volunteer service; offering opportunities for individuals to carry out volunteer work in our services and projects.
In 2003, NIDYA celebrated its 15th Anniversary by hosting two events; an event at the Odyssey Arena in Belfast. Drama and signed song performances from deaf children and young people were in display for those in attendance. A dinner dance event took place at the Hilton Hotel in Belfast, attended by past and present members.
During this decade, at one point there were 18 staff members, employed by the Association to deliver excellent services for deaf children and young people. Staff members were supported by a team of volunteers; many of them had an OCN Youth Work qualification. Caroline Doherty became the first deaf person in Northern Ireland to achieve a Degree in Youth Community Work.
NIDYA became a member of the British Deaf Association’s Deaf Youth Workers Forum in 2003 and participated in a range of projects, for example the Irish UK Youth Camp, a partnership established by the British Deaf Association and the Irish Deaf Youth Association. NIDYA hosted a Deaf Youth Workers Forum Conference in 2005, attended by Deaf Youth Workers from the UK and Ireland. Michael Johnston, an employee at NIDYA from 1999 to 2007, was the Deaf Youth Workers Forum’s Chairman from 2004 to 2007. NIDYA coordinated an Irish UK Youth Camp in 2006, attended by deaf young people from five different countries in the UK and Ireland.
In 2006/2007, the Association went through a transitional period which saw the departure of several staff members including the Development Manager, Barry Campbell and the Senior Management Team. The Derry Office closed down in 2007 but services in the North West continued to be delivered by staff members based in the Belfast Office.
Sue Barry and Stephen McWhinney took over the day to day management of the Association from 2007 to 2008 until a new Development Manager, Simon Rea was appointed in 2009. The highlights of the final years in the 2000s were:The continual of the Belfast Children’s Club and Belfast Youth Club, running on a weekly basis;
The Mentoring Service continued to succeed and support many deaf children and young people all over Northern Ireland;
A training project funded by Proteus, enabled young deaf people to gain new qualifications in Youth Work, Computer Information Technology and Sign Language;
A Transitions/Floating Support Project funded by the Housing Executive, supporting young deaf people in North West Belfast who required assistance in independent living.
In 2011, the closure of Wilton House impacted on the local deaf community and it meant NIDYA had to seek new offices elsewhere. New office premises were sought and in May 2012, NIDYA moved to Townsend Enterprise Park in Belfast.
The Association faced a period of uncertainty during the beginning of 2010s due to limited funding opportunities and limited staff capacity. One of the founders, Malachy McBurney and a past staff member, Stephen McWhinney joined the Management Committee in March 2012 to assist in re-building the Association.
Michael Johnston was appointed as the new Manager in August 2012 to lead the Association into a new era and as a result, new strategic and operational priorities were implemented in 2013 including re-branding the name of the organisation; Action Deaf Youth, forming a Company Limited by Guarantee and setting up a new Board of Trustees. This enabled the organisation to embark on a pathway of progression with a strategic vision to meet the needs of deaf children, young people and their families.