Deaf dad who nearly died in fire fights for children with hearing loss

Richard Platt, chairman of the Ipswich Deaf Children's Society

Richard Platt, chairman of the Ipswich Deaf Children's Society - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

When a fire broke out at his office many years ago, no one thought to tell Richard Platt that the alarm was going off and they were evacuating.

He was in the bathroom at the time and came back to an empty office, but being deaf he could not hear the alarm so sat down and carried on working.

“The next thing I knew, the door burst open, and two firefighters came rushing towards me. They picked me up, and went sprinting out of the room and didn’t stop until we were out of the building," said the father-of-five.

“It was really scary, I could have died that day.”

Richard has been chairman of the Ipswich Deaf Children’s Society (IDCS) for the past four and a half years, and is passionate about ensuring young people do not experience the isolation he felt as a deaf child in a hearing world. 

“I had hearing parents and siblings. I used to think, how will I manage in this world full of hearing people? I felt very isolated as a child.” 

Indeed, Richard has grappled with hurdles that would never occur to many hearing people - including early morning lessons to help develop his speech.

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“My parents used to wake me up at 6 o’clock every morning, and I would have a lesson before school. I learned one word every day. They would take my hand and hold it to their mouths, so I could feel the movement of their lips. 

"That was how I learned to speak, one word at a time. I learned thousands of words that way. I hated it! But now, I am so grateful they did that for me, because thanks to them, I can use my voice.” 

Three of his children have hearing loss to some degree and Richard now champions them and others like them, so people are not as oblivious to the hurdles they face.

“I go into schools and speak about being deaf, and help them to make their school more accessible. 

“I also teach basic signs to lifeguards at swimming pools. So many deaf children never learn to swim, because they’d have to take their hearing aids out. It’s a big problem that we’re working to resolve.” 

His experiences have also reinforced the importance of a supportive family. 

“At the IDCS, we support the whole family, and that is what makes us different to other charities,” he explains. “We make sure everyone is supported, and that everyone can give support.” 

He continues: “A baby will be given a hearing test a few days after they are born, and it is then that many parents will learn that they have a deaf child. That can be really scary. They think, 'how can I support my deaf child? I don’t know anybody who is deaf'.” 

This is also why it is so important to have public figures embracing their deafness and showing you can be successful in whatever field they choose, such as this year’s Strictly Come Dancing winner, Rose Ayling Ellis.

The 27-year-old deaf actress is best known for her role on EastEnders had the Platt family's support throughout.

“I’ve loved everything about seeing Rose on Strictly – that we could see her interpreter onscreen, that Rose signed while she talked, and the way you could clearly see her lip-reading.  

“All of it is so important, even the way Rose’s eyes flickered away from Claudia when she was speaking. When I was watching the show with my children, my daughter turned to me and said 'Dad, look at her eyes moving, she’s looking at the interpreter'." 

Having someone who is also deaf chairing the charity has given youngsters hope that they too can make a difference in life, says Richard.

“Parents will come up to me, and say thank you. I can be a role model for their children. I am showing them that disability doesn’t have to be a barrier. 

“Deaf people can do anything they want – and I am so proud of being deaf.”