Deafinitely Challenging: Learning British Sign Language

In my last three posts in this series, I have discussed problems a deaf person can face in a hearing world. In last week’s post, I talked about how difficult it can be for me to communicate with hearing people in loud environments. However, for this week’s post, I wanted to mention that communication is also a problem within deaf culture itself.

Two students communicating with each other in sign language.
British Sign Language (BSL) is a huge part of the nationwide deaf culture. Image source: Converse College on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/legalcode.

In 2014 and 2015, I was a member of the National Deaf Children’s Society’s (NDCS) Youth Advisory Board (YAB). This was a group of 18 deaf young people from across the UK who met over the two years to talk about deaf issues.

When I attended the interview, I remember saying that I’ve always wanted to learn British Sign Language (BSL). They told me there was an opportunity to learn the language because all 18 members communicate differently and so some may use BSL.

They were right. The first residential was in Birmingham and when I met everyone else on the board, I realised that there were a few members who used a form of BSL. I was thrilled, but the only problem was that it was my first encounter with the language. Throughout the weekend I felt a little awkward as I had to use interpreters or text messages to communicate.

It was this awkwardness – combined with sadness at not being able to communicate with my friends fully – which inspired me to learn more BSL. The next three residentials were opportunities for me to practice and the break between them gave me time to go on more BSL courses. At the final residential in London I was able to hold a full conversation in sign language. It felt great to be able to have a full conversation with my deaf friends just like I would with my hearing friends.

If this story has a moral, then it is to learn sign language. As well as being able to communicate with friends, I now feel part of a community which is very much exclusive to those who know BSL. Without access to deaf culture, hearing people form misconceptions about deafness. By learning sign language, you gain an insight into the community and develop an understanding – that’s the way to end poor deaf awareness.

Do you know British Sign Language? Comment below!

Liam

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