The Veronica James Science Challenge for Hearing Impaired Children

The Veronica James Science Challenge for Hearing Impaired Children is an annual event which aims to teach children with hearing impairment about science - especially interesting and useful science. These children are sometimes unjustifiably left out of normal education processes because of the assumed difficulties in communicating with them.

The Challenge is not only for gifted science students - rather it is an opportunity for hearing impaired students of all abilities to explore and get excited about the 'World of Science'.

The camp has been running since 1989 and until 2000 was organised by Dr Veronica James. Due to her need to pursue her important breast cancer research internationally, she no longer has the time to organise the camp. It has taken her name in honour of the huge amount of time and effort she has donated to it over the years - until 2000 Dr James was the Camp for the Hearing Impaired, organising everything from the activities and handbook to the material donations and awards on the last day.

The main aim of the camp is to show the children (and their parents!) that a hearing disability is not an insurmountable barrier to a full and interesting life, including an unrestricted career. This is especially obvious and practical to demonstrate in the world of science.

The camps have always depended on a large number of volunteers (almost as many as the number of students attending) to run all the activities, so if you'd like to help, please email

As well as providing general information about the camp, this web site is designed to be a starting point for its students to explore the internet. Becoming familiar with the internet is just as important for hearing impaired children as it is for perfectly hearing children, for a huge variety of reasons. Apart from the common truths of the increasing penetration and huge job market growing around the internet, perhaps the most important reason is that hearing impairments, like age, race and sex, are undetectable where text is the primary method of communication - so these children are guaranteed unbiased treatment, just like everybody else.

How and Why These Camps Began

In 1985, I was invited to the Gilgandra Quota Club for their Annual General Meeting. They had raised money for my research into breast cancer amongst other generous donations. One of these was their great long term project where they had raised enough money to supply note-takers for eleven hearing impaired students in universities across Australia. They were extremely disappointed when they found that there were only a total of seven such students enrolled in all the Universities in Australia. On hearing this, I felt this must be wrong. This fact, I thought, might give me a small way to say thank-you for their generosity towards my research.

There were at the time 20,000 students at the University of New South Wales. So I thought that there would surely be a number of hearing impaired students. I checked with Administration and found there was only one such student and he was a student from New Caledonia who only signed in French. I checked other universities and found that the Quota Club search had been correct. I found this hard to understand so called up St Gabriel’s in Sydney. This school was set up for hearing impaired students and asked whether they had any bright secondary school students. They told me proudly that they had a student who had just been given an IQ of 180 on the normal scale. He was 16 at the time. So I asked what university he intended to go to. Their reply astounded me. Our students, they said, do not attend universities. So I asked if it was possible to talk with the parents of this student. His parents agreed. It was then that I found out that the student’s reading age was 10. I suggested that maybe his Mathematics and Science could be taken ahead if he could attend the University during his holidays. This was the beginning. Three years later he completed the leaving in all subjects and commenced naval architecture at the TAFE on a grant. He topped his year each year and in the final year he graduated highest in his course in the State. He wondered why the principal of his TAFE did not mention his profound hearing loss in the speech given with his award. When questioned about this the reply of the Principal summed it up: “We have long forgotten that you were deaf”

More students followed: 3 in Year 11 and 12, 2 in year 10. None of these expected to go to university. I offered help to students at any school which did not allow hearing impaired students to do Science because they might be hazards in the laboratories. Such a course was not for “deaf kids”. All students did in fact change their decision after I spoke to them and, in some cases, also to their parents. So I decided to go to younger and younger children to the stage where these children had not registered the fact that they “were different”. This age was four to five. At this age these small children felt equal to their classmates - their choice of careers was unlimited. This was the age to start.

So we began the first “Phones for the Deaf “camp for hearing impaired aged between 5 and 16. The help of Helen Hammersley and Freda Banner in finding donors for all the equipment needed in those early years meant that this camp grew quickly from 50 students to 130. The generosity of many of the Quota clubs of New South Wales providing families in their districts with accommodation and travel costs for students to attend took the catchment area for students over the entire NSW state and even some students from Queensland and the ACT. The many University students who gave up their holidays to act as tutors, 19 Grammar students led by Daniel Greenfield were the first group, their generosity made it possible to cater for more and more hearing impaired students to attend. This group of tutors expanded as the size of camp grew.

When the Dean of Science at UNSW informed me that, as this Camp raised no money for the University, he would not give me leave to run it again, it was this original group of tutors who said that we should move to Sydney University. They spoke to friends who were students at Sydney University and the first Sydney University camp went ahead that year, 1996, in the School of Physics- no gaps at all.

The statement of importance that has guided me throughout my life says:
“My place will only be better filled when I have left it empty.”

This guiding rule has certainly been true in the case of these camps which have gone from strength to strength since my departure. Helen Hammersley, her committee and the great tutors have made them a permanent feature at the University of Sydney. I feel deeply honoured that they have chosen to name their camp, The Veronica James Science Challenge.

- Veronica James