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Experience life after hearing loss through virtual reality

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The Shepherd Centre has unveiled a first-of-its-kind virtual reality (VR) to allow others to experience life with hearing loss. The experience was designed to prevent bullying when children with hearing loss are at school, by giving their peers a chance to live in their shoes, and encourage empathy.

The Shepherd Centre is a world-leading, child-safe NDIS service provider and specialist in helping children with hearing loss learn to listen and speak. The not-for-profit meets the needs of children of all ages, and the VR experience was developed as part of its mentoring program, Hear For You, which supports school-aged children and teenagers.

The short VR video focuses on life with hearing loss in a busy school, featuring the day to day difficulties, bullying and more that children with hearing loss are faced with each day.
Using the VR headset, the experience will for the first time take a person into the world of a deaf teenager interacting in a social situation, be it their school, youth club, or an out of school social setting. The device’s audio is designed to mirror that of what a hearing device sounds like, its challenges, and bring to the user a sense of frustration experienced every day by teenagers with hearing loss.

“Children and teenagers with hearing loss need the support of those closest to them, and often this means extending their support system to school, be it a teacher or friends. With students finally returning to school post COVID restrictions, the time for understanding is needed more than ever,” says Jim Hungerford, CEO of The Shepherd Centre.

“Students have now been at home for almost 2 years, and they may need help remembering that their friends with hearing loss need some extra support. Our VR experience allows users to live with hearing loss for a few minutes and see what that support may look like. It is an opportunity to connect with a part of life that isn’t your day to day.”

Studies in Australia and overseas found that teenagers with hearing loss are four times more likely to develop mental health challenges, be exposed to bullying, and are likely to experience social isolation from their peers during their formative years. Teenagers and their families often reach out to Hear For You to seek solutions and ways to address these issues.

The Hear For You program currently supports 154 teenagers from over 47 different schools across NSW, ACT, and Queensland. It recently launched the new “Hearing For Life” program, designed by deaf teenagers to share the message to their school peers of hearing health issues, protecting one’s hearing, and developing an understanding of what it is like to have hearing loss. The Shepherd Centre is campaigning to extend it to all schools across the country, calling for $60,000 in funding to seed the roll out to as many NSW schools as possible.

The Shepherd Centre has been enabling children with hearing loss to develop their listening and spoken language, literacy, and social skills for over 50 years, ensuring they can go on to achieve their full potential in life. Most recently, the organisation opened its latest site at Oran Park in Sydney, with support from the NSW Government through the South West Health District.

The Shepherd Centre currently supports over 750 families across Australia with Online Telehealth for rural and regional areas and nine in-person locations in Tasmania, Canberra, Shellharbour, Wollongong, Oran Park, Liverpool, Macquarie, Newtown.

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