Zachary Allen, from Chalfont St Peter (11), was diagnosed as deaf aged three and at eight was given cochlear implants in a bid to aid his speech perception, hearing and overall quality of life, but like all children of his age he wanted to take part in sports.
Zach attends mainstream school, but in sport there are all sorts of barriers to inclusion that one might not realise a deaf child might face. Zach’s mum Kirsty Allen explains: “Sports clubs that Zach eagerly wanted to be a part of often claimed safety grounds to prevent him from taking part, and those who did allow him to take part would not make any modifications because he is deaf. For example, Zach was turned away by local swimming pools because they were worried about him not being able to hear the emergency whistle. So, in the end we had to travel 25 minutes to a pool that were prepared to teach him, but it wasn’t what he was passionate about.
“We decided to try something else and went along to a deaf tennis day run by local audiologists Aston Hearing but were unsure whether Zach would be interested. We ended up staying the whole four hours as he loved it! The tennis coach was experienced in instructing deaf adults and children and so we didn’t have to explain anything to him. It was so lovely to be able to hand him over to a coach and just sit and watch him be an ordinary kid enjoying tennis! He loved it so much that he wanted to learn how to play. We tried to find a way for Zach to carry on with tennis but it was proving tricky so Aston Hearing stepped in to sponsor Zach to receive club membership at Chesham Bois Lawn Tennis and Squash Club as well as paid for his weekly tennis lessons and additionally offered some ideas around how to enable Zach to play tennis.”
Zach now plays tennis in a class with three or four children and the coach wears a mini-mic meaning Zach can always hear exactly what he needs to.
Zach says: “Learning to play tennis has been incredible. When you are deaf it’s hard because you just want to be like everyone else, but tennis makes me feel much more confident and I have made some good friends. I like to play doubles because when I miss the ball there’s someone else to hit it!”
Zach’s tennis coach, Peter Lavery says: “Zach enjoys playing tennis with other children and his ability to play tennis has improved a lot. He’s recently mastered overarm serving and is getting more accurate with placing his shots. He is a great kid.”
Duncan Collet-Fenson MD of Aston Hearing says: “We are delighted that we could help Zach access tennis by breaking down a few barriers. Tennis has meant inclusion for Zach, meeting new friends, healthy sport participation, and has also enabled Zach to keep challenging his eyes to improve which has had a far-reaching impact on his whole life, including with his school work he tells us!”
Zach says: “Lots of my friends like tennis as well so it’s nice to have something else in common. My current aim is to play doubles at Wimbledon. I might also take up squash.”