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Specsavers has announced a three-year sponsorship agreement with the Wales Deaf Rugby Union.
The £10,000 deal will see Specsavers become the official provider of audiology testing to the WDRU, as well as its kit sponsor, while it will also support its players with the provision of new state-of-the-art Bluetooth hearing aids.
Specsavers will also support the WDRU’s Community Strategy Programme, which offers children from schools and deaf units across the country the opportunity to participate in rugby skills sessions organised by WRU regional coaches and WDRU volunteers.
Although better known for its optical services, Specsavers is the largest retail dispenser of digital hearing aids in the UK, and recently expanded its hearing care business with accreditation under the NHS Any Qualified Provider Scheme, which gives NHS patients the ability to choose from a range of approved providers. Specsavers now provides hearing services in 320 centres across the country.
Peter Render, chairman of Specsavers in Wales, said: ‘As we continue to grow our hearcare offering, we hope that by partnering with Wales Deaf Rugby Union we can raise awareness of hearing loss and the importance of regular hearing tests.
‘Hearing loss can have a social stigma attached to it, but we see people who are achieving great things despite hearing difficulties – not least those who are representing Wales Deaf Rugby. As well as thorough checks to spot the onset of problems, with the type of sophisticated hearing aids that we have available nowadays, we hope to encourage people with hearing loss that they can still enjoy and achieve many of the same things that people with perfect hearing can.’
WDRU President, Dennis Gethin, said: ‘We are hugely grateful to Specsavers for their financial support. To be supported by such a well-known and respected global brand will help us develop as a team and also offer new and exciting opportunities for deaf people across Wales to participate in the game of rugby.
‘We are developing a pathway by visiting all 28 deaf schools and units in Wales that will allow us to identify young talent and secure players for the future, and this sponsorship certainly means we are better placed to do that.’
You don't need to be profoundly or totally deaf to qualify for deaf rugby; you only need a combined average hearing loss of 25db or more in both ears. This is approximately a minimum hearing loss in both ears, or a moderate hearing loss in one ear but normal hearing in the other.
Wales Deaf Rugby was formed in 1998, and the team won the inaugural and only World Deaf Rugby Championship held to date, in 2002, by defeating hosts New Zealand 28-14 in the final.
Wales Deaf Captain, Gareth John, is one of the players using the new state-of-the-art hearing aids, which have Bluetooth connection to mobile phones and televisions.
He said: ‘The new Bluetooth hearing aids have totally changed my life. The first three days my brain couldn't handle the new sounds that I could not previously hear with standard aids, and even my wife said I'm not asking to repeat what was said half as much as I used to.
‘My favourite feature with these new hearing aids is the wireless connection to TVs. When watching films, the background noise makes it difficult to hear what people are saying with the old aids. Now I can actually increase the speech and reduce the background noise, whilst still keeping the special effects, giving me a whole new experience.
‘On a couple of occasions a baby has cried in background during a programme and I thought it was my baby, or someone knocking on the door on TV made me think it was my door. I would certainly not have noticed any of these things before.
‘I truly believe that if kids in comprehensive schools had these Bluetooth aids, it would dramatically improve their learning.’
Specsavers already has strong links with sport, and rugby in particular, as the sponsor for officials in the RaboDirect PRO12, as well as its Fairplay League, where the team with the least disciplinary points against them in a season is awarded £10,000 to spend on their youth development programme.
Pictured at the sponsorship launch at Specsavers' Merthyr store are Mr Peter of Specsavers, Mr Dennis Gethin, President of the Welsh Rugby Union and Wales Deaf players Gareth John and Alun Radcliffe