By Erin Bradnock
Mailis Calvert is just like any nine-year-old – she loves dancing, music and swimming – though she also happens to be deaf.
When Mailis and her family moved from Dunedin to Nelson at the end of 2019, her mother Katya Blair Calvert was having trouble finding any social or support groups for deaf or hard-of-hearing children in the region.
“In Dunedin, there’s quite a well-established community there for kids like Mailis. It’s so important for kids to connect with each other and it helps them build a strong sense of identity,” she says.
So, Katya took matters into her own hands and set up a Facebook group at the start of March called ‘Deaf Kids Nelson’.
With just one Facebook post, interest to join the group came flooding in.
“Overnight I heard from three different families interested in meeting up. I wanted to create the group so that kids can start to feel good about who they are and own their deafness,” Katya says.
Mailis was born deaf and received a cochlear implant when she was three years old, meaning she’s able to hear when she has her external device switched on, or, as she says, has her ‘ears on’.
For Mailis, being deaf is not a ‘disability’ as it doesn’t hold her back.
Her mother says she is a confident child who loves horse-riding and jazz dancing.
“Kids at school always ask, ‘how can you dance if you don’t like music?’ I love music.” Mailis says.
Mailis says the most frustrating part about being deaf is some kids’ misunderstandings about it.
“Sometimes I won’t hear what a kid says at school and when I ask ‘excuse me, what did you say?’ they just sigh and say ‘never mind…’ instead of repeating it,” she says.
When Mailis first arrived at Henley School, she was surprised that no one knew sign language, as that is what she was used to in Dunedin.
She’s able to hear her teachers clearly through a hearing assistive device that her teachers wear round their neck.
“My teacher Ms Cahill has starting learning sign language. She’s been really enthusiastic about it and calls my deafness my ‘superpower’,”
Katya knows that for some children who are hearing impaired, it can be quite isolating.
“It’s so important for kids to connect with other kids who are like them and have that understanding.”
Mailis is eager to meet more deaf people in the region, as she had in Dunedin, and Katya is just as excited.
“I think it’s great for deaf or hard-of-hearing kids to see Mailis being so confident, I think it makes them feel better about their own deafness,” says Katya.
For more information on the group you can visit their Facebook page.