Being profoundly deaf, James Dixon faced more challenges than most when he began working as an Event Officer for Panathlon. Organising events, communicating with teachers, pupils and leaders and making sure the competition runs smoothly on the day is tough enough, even without a disability.

However, James says he has “learned so much” since coming on board in 2016, firstly as an assistant to our North West Coordinator Steve Sullivan based at Greenbank Sports Academy in Liverpool. After Steve’s retirement in 2022, James has expanded his role to become Panathlon’s Merseyside SEND schools organiser and North West deaf events coordinator. 

James says: “In that first year, I learned a lot from Steve – the processes, contacting schools, setting fixtures, the endless emails, how to organise events and manage the volunteers; it was a steep learning curve. Everything was new and it was a big challenge. 

“I now have full responsibility and I am a lot more confident. One of the things I found difficult was making sure MLD and SLD students are separated so there aren’t huge differences in ability between the teams. That’s critical to making sure the events give the children confidence.

James hard at work at a Panathlon event

“As I’ve gone on, I’ve learned how to ask the right questions to get the right information to be able to do that. The competitions are, on the whole, very fair and there aren’t really weak or too strong teams. I’ve got to make sure that that children gain confidence and enjoy the events.”

James has learned ways to overcome his communications barriers, which have become less of an issue as he has grown into the role.

“I’ve noticed over the years that communication is easier as I have got to know the teachers, who are absolutely lovely. That has given me confidence and it’s great working together.

“Communication is always a barrier to a deaf person and obviously most people don’t understand British Sign Language. I’ve managed to build relationships with all the people I work, with including the school teachers and TAs who bring the young people along. Initially it was difficult but getting to know them has really helped reduce the barriers.”

James benefits from an Access to Work scheme which funds an interpreter, Sue March, who has worked with him for nearly 10 years. She translates for him using British Sign Language to assist him at Panathlon events, but also in meetings, phone calls, training and everyday business.

James takes a diving catch playing for the England deaf cricket team

Sue says: “Working with SEND children is ideal for James because he is much more aware of their needs. He understands the barriers, pre-empts them and organises around them. He’s a better person to be organising events for SEND children because he’s got better knowledge, whereas someone who’s only worked in mainstream and doesn’t have a disability would struggle a lot more. 

“His organisational skills have come on really well and the events he organises are absolutely brilliant. It’s not just organisation, its being prepared for last-minute changes like a team dropping out. He’s now flexible and can work around his communication barriers.”

James also played a big role for Panathlon during the pandemic. As a member of England’s Ashes-winning deaf cricket team, James is a sporting role model to deaf pupils. During the lockdowns, he held Q&A sessions via Zoom with deaf pupils who were isolating at home or were in school but unable to attend Panathlon competitions. They quizzed him about his cricket achievements.

James reflects: “It’s really important for young deaf people to have role models. I tell them, ‘Be assertive and you can do it.’ There’s nothing to prevent them progressing through education and going to uni or getting jobs if they learn the skill of asking questions.

“My mum and dad are hearing and didn’t know anything about deafness when I was born. It’s really important to educate parents so they can support their young people to achieve. My favourite sport was always cricket. I tell young people at Panathlon to pick their sport, try their best and they can achieve anything.”

Thank you to the Ovingdean Hall Foundation for their support for our deaf sporting programme