Heather Jackson Award – 2023 Helen Simpson




The Heather Jackson Award is made annually to a deafened person who has made a significant contribution to improving the welfare and opportunity of deafened people.  Heather was NADP’s Chairman until we lost her to cancer in 2007 after a short illness at the age of 58. A charismatic leader, she was not only a guiding force for NADP but was also a trainer on the residential courses at the LINK Centre (now Hearing Link Services) and President of Hi Kent. All three charities are involved in the award.


We are very happy to announce that Helen Simpson has been voted to receive the Heather Jackson Award for this year. Helen has been losing her hearing progressively since childhood but only took action when she suffered from tinnitus in 2005. She was then fitted with two hearing aids, though her hearing continued to decline. She has always been passionate about languages and had a successful career as a language teacher at both secondary and now primary schools.  Her progressive hearing loss makes her work difficult but she made the school aware of her issues, which has led to Access to Work funding and a culture change.  Helen has even introduced deaf awareness sessions to her language classes, which the children have embraced.


Helen ran the Hi Kent Canterbury Social Group in 2022. Aware of how much she relied on lip-reading, she decided to qualify as a lip-reading teacher to help others and has run several taster sessions and now a first set of regular classes.  She has also developed short courses of useful tips to help improve people’s lives.  During lockdown, she set up an online book group for people with hearing loss using Facebook Messenger and Zoom with captions.  She shares information about deafness and hearing loss on her Facebook page and published a ” hearingaware ” blog. Her Instagram page, called @positivelydeafened, shares insights into the benefits and challenges of living with hearing loss.


In fact, Positively Deafened is a very apt description of Helen. An active campaigner for captions in theatre and cinema, recently meeting with the Arts Director of her local cinema, Helen has taken her disability and turned it around to be a positive experience, opening up her world to new experiences and challenges. This has led her to healthy habits such as yoga, walking, swimming, being explicit about communication, and empathy for others. She says she believes in keeping on but not pretending it is easy, as this denies your struggles and makes it harder for others to share theirs. She is a worthy recipient of the Heather Jackson Award.


Each year, we announce the overall winner of the Heather Jackson Award and other people from among the runners-up nominees. We wanted to do this to show how many dedicated people are worthy of the Award. The three runners-up for 2022 are Emmanuelle Blondiaux-Ding, Margaret Cheetham and Julia Cox.


Emmanuelle Blondiaux-Ding was about to leave her native France twenty years ago when she started to lose her hearing, but she somehow managed to learn English through lip-reading and has since become an eloquent speaker and advocate for deaf awareness. As her hearing continued to deteriorate, she had a cochlear implant in 2020. She has volunteered with Hearing Link and Advanced Bionics and worked with NADP, providing one-to-one support and raising awareness through talks and blogs. She works in IT training at Leeds Dental Institute and was one of the first Equity Fellows of West Yorkshire Health and Care Partnership following the publication of a paper on equal access to healthcare. This year, she was a key speaker at the first-ever Deaf and hard-of-hearing gathering for health and care colleagues.  Emmanuelle epitomises what it means to advocate for deaf people, raising awareness with her unique eloquence, compelling passion and honesty.


Margaret Cheetham has profound hearing loss and relies mainly on lip-reading for communication. She had a high-profile job in the City of London but was made redundant as her hearing deteriorated. She has since had a cochlear implant. She has volunteered with Hi Kent since 2008 at the Thanet hearing aid aftercare clinics and, in 2021, became the group leader of the new Thanet Social Group, having been Secretary of the Thanet Hard of Hearing Club for many years. That Club met monthly and had an active calendar of guest speakers, days out and even pantomime performances. She tries to look at deafness as an inconvenience rather than a disability.  Her positive attitude, sunny personality and dry sense of humour make her a true advocate of what can be achieved with a challenging disability.


Julia Cox was born deaf but not diagnosed until she was four. Her teachers first put her difficulties down to a learning disorder as she struggled to communicate.  She now wears two hearing aids but still greatly relies on lip-reading. She works as procurement director for Edify Training, run by her husband and his business partner. She finds living with deafness hard and struggles with meetings. In 2021, she came to a Hi Kent social group meeting and soon asked if she could set up a group in the Ashford area, which has proved very successful.  She organises activities and supports members.  She was the PTA chairperson for her local primary school for six years and did not let her deafness stop her from taking this role, which she used to increase awareness of hearing problems in the school. She is an active volunteer for Hi Kent, running stalls and fundraising. Julia is a vibrant character and a brilliant role model for young deaf people.