Deaf Awareness Week 2017: A celebration of collective action | The Friday Article

‘A celebration’ is the theme for this year’s Deaf Awareness Week – something which, to me, suggests that we should celebrate the power of collective action within the deaf community. It’s now that we should celebrate the charities and campaigners, as well as their achievements. At a time when politics has divided Britain, it’s important for us to show society the power of collective action and what we, as a community, can accomplish.

Photo: Deaf Council.

One example is the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) – a charity with which I have very strong connections. In 2014, I was part of their Youth Advisory Board (YAB), a group of 18 deaf young people from across the UK who came together over the two years to discuss issues affecting deaf people. Whilst on the board, I campaigned for better audiology services and contacted key figures in the NHS about the matter, amongst other things. Now, the new YAB have launched their new campaign, calling for sign language to be taught in schools. They found out that 97% of young people want British Sign Language (BSL) in schools, and through the NDCS, they have taken to the local and national press to get their message out there during Deaf Awareness Week.

Elsewhere, Action on Hearing Loss’ Subtitle It! campaign called on on-demand TV services to provide subtitles for deaf and hard of hearing people. Through an amendment to the Digital Economies Bill, the broadcasting regulator Ofcom has the power to ensure on-demand programmes have a ‘minimum level’ of subtitling.

Then there’s the landmark achievement in Scotland back in 2015, where the BSL (Scotland) Bill became an act, calling for its Parliament to ‘promote the use of British Sign Language’. Now, the fight continues to make British Sign Language a legally recognised language in the UK.

Yet, it’s not just deaf people coming together which we should celebrate, it’s the creative talent of the deaf community, too. Entertainers such as John Smith and Danny’s Skits offer funny videos which promote deaf culture at the same time, and, of course, the deaf website The Limping Chicken offers individuals a platform to air their views on deaf issues.

Every year, the theme for Deaf Awareness Week is different (last year’s was ‘a common purpose’, for example). However, whilst these topics are subjective, it can always come down to highlighting the power of the deaf community. As a strong subculture, we can make positive changes in society and ensure our voices are never ignored.

Sign Language Week 2017: The right kind of fascination

This week, I saw a video of a young deaf refugee named Hamza in Aleppo learning sign language. As well as it bringing me joy, seeing the excitement on his face as he learned the sign for ball and shoe reminded me how and why hearing people should learn sign language in the first place.

Photo: Darelle on Pixabay (Public Domain).

 

The primary factor regarding the why is, of course, to break down the language barrier. As for the how, that’s something I think needs to change in the future.

I learned sign language to communicate with new friends I had just met through a charity, after realising that using pen and paper wasn’t entirely practical and fair if these people were to become my friends for life (which they are). A passion for learning new languages, breaking down this barrier and – quite simply – communicating in a way they would prefer all combined to drive me to become somewhat decent at British Sign Language two years later.

However, in this post I want to talk about fascination, as the need to learn BSL to call your best friend a piece of s*** or tell them to f*** off is still of fundamental important to some hearing people (I should stress, that is some hearing people). It’s not the fascination that’s the problem, it’s more the desire to learn.

To go back to the example of Hamza in Aleppo, we need more people who light up when they are taught such a beautiful, visual language. The fact that there is a language which is so expressive and unifying should be which fascinates us about British Sign Language – BSL should not be seen as a gimmick or something shrouded in mystery.

It’s something which has me on the fence regarding Ed Sheeran’s music video for You Need Me, I Don’t Need You. Whilst I will always value deaf awareness, there is a part of me which agrees with some people’s concerns regarding it being seen as a party trick. It shouldn’t be ‘I can sign this song in sign language’ – the individual should appreciate the language and visualisation behind the lyrics.

In other words, it’s time for a shift in intrigue. The language’s visual beauty should fascinate us, not the fact that it could be used as a simple party trick or way to insult our friends. The fascination should return to the wonder and excitement possessed by six-year-old Hamza from Aleppo.

This post was inspired by the fact that this week is Sign Language Week. For more information, you can visit the British Deaf Association’s website. 

The ‘cure’ for deafness is something which could damage the deaf community at its core | The Friday Article

What would you do if you were offered the opportunity to redefine your identity? It’s an existential question akin to that of the blue and red pills from The Matrix, but is something which those in the deaf community may have to consider in the future.

Earlier this week, it was reported that a jab or injection into the inner ear could encourage the growth of hair cells, essentially restoring some of an individual’s hearing. As the debate around cochlear implant users and whether they are a part of the community continues to bubble and boil in the background, a far more serious discussion is set to rock Deaf culture to its core: what does it mean to be deaf?

Photo: Darelle on Pixabay (Public Domain).

After all, the view of deafness within the community has always been about having deafness at some point in your life. Hearing aids (HAs) and cochlear implants (CIs) can only aid hearing, and is not a ‘cure’ (something of which some hearing people need to be reminded). However, this is the first time a cure has been developed, which could see people leave the community as hearing people. Yet, what happens to their identity? Can the exception given to HA and CI users – that they were born deaf and the technology only helps them hear – be applied to those who could be ‘cured’ by this possible treatment? Their original identity was as a deaf person, so would that be completely erased or would that still remain as a small, old aspect of their new personality?

Identity is a very personal thing – we subscribe ourselves to a culture and say we are a member of a community ourselves, as most subcultures welcome anyone who shares that same ‘label’ or characteristic in society. Yet, the deaf community feels more exclusive. A restricted code in the form of sign language prevents some individuals from accessing the culture and, as previously stated, the community is constantly arguing over whether to accept certain people on the deaf/hearing spectrum. It’s certainly one of the negative discussions amongst what is otherwise a very passionate and loving culture, which could be made worse when the deaf community has to decide whether a ‘cured’ deaf person can still join the community.

There’s a slight hostility in the deaf community over certain issues, and this will no doubt be a future topic up for discussion as more news emerges. If the Deaf culture wishes to be more inclusive, it must respect everyone’s individual decision should this new treatment be offered to them and lower its guard when it comes to British Sign Language. The community has somewhat created poor deaf awareness, division and separation by failing to recognise hearing and deafness as being on a spectrum – instead seeing it as more black and white. A big challenge to Deaf culture is coming, and we must be prepared to have a civilised and respectful debate about its repercussions.

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On a more personal note, I would consider the treatment, should it get to that stage. As an aspiring journalist looking to work in an industry which is very audio-based (eg. transcribing interviews, ringing contacts on the phone, taking down shorthand notes and so forth), there’s certain barriers caused by deafness which is quite a nuisance. That being said, a human life is more than just what happens in the workplace, and so it’s a question of how being ‘cured’ of my hearing loss would impact relationships – would my connections with deaf people and organisations working with them feel genuine? As I mention above, it’s a question loaded with existentialism, forcing deaf people to consider whether to reinvent themselves.

There are also two other things to consider: we must not let this possible future treatment become the presumed option. A current issue in the community at the moment is when parents decide to give their child HAs or CIs before they are old enough to make that decision themselves. We must remember that we should allow the individual themselves the opportunity to choose whether they want to be deaf or not. Assuming that everyone wouldn’t want to be deaf is harmful, dangerous, and poses an existential threat to the global deaf community.

Lastly, I’ll be curious to see if this ‘cure’ could also pave the way for treatment for tinnitus. Whilst I would have to consider the decision to have the jab and ‘cure’ my deafness, I wouldn’t hesitate in taking a drug which can get rid of the annoying ringing in my air.

I shall keep an eye on the study with interest.

Teaching children BSL can end the poor deaf awareness in our society | The Friday Article

British Sign Language (BSL) holds the key to breaking down the misconceptions, mystery and mockery which surrounds the deaf community in the UK today. It is the gatekeeper for Deaf culture. Once a hearing person is able to learn BSL, they can access new resources and meet new people who can share stories with them, telling the individual the truths about being a deaf person. Anyone should learn the language, but it’s particularly important that children learn BSL at school.

 

Photo: Jen Collins on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/#.
Photo: Jen Collins on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/#.

Yesterday, the government responded to a petition with 10,665 signatures, entitled ‘Make British Sign Language part of the curriculum’. Jade Armstrong, who created the petition, said: “It’s compulsory for students in England to take a language to 14 but signing isn’t listed along with French, Germany or Mandarin. With one in 60 brits [sic] profoundly deaf and 11m others with hearing problems, this is a glaring omission is it not?”

The Department for Education replied: “BSL was recognised as a language in its own right by the UK government in 2003. Whilst it is not a mandatory part of the curriculum, schools are free to teach it if they choose to do so.

“The teaching of a foreign language is statutory at key stages 2 and 3 for pupils in maintained schools.

“The government accepts that British Sign Language (BSL) can be a beneficial subject that schools might choose to teach in addition to foreign languages. However, the national curriculum programmes of study for languages contain a number of requirements that could not be met through BSL; for example at key stage 2 the requirement to describe people, places, things and actions in writing. A maintained school would therefore be unable to meet the curriculum requirement solely by teaching BSL.”

This is understandable. Of course, a foreign language is important in an increasingly global world. Yet, it’s also worth learning a language which belongs to a huge UK community and subculture, that 24, 326 people aged three or over use – according to an estimate by the charity Action on Hearing Loss.

At the moment, the main provider of British Sign Language courses is Signature. However, with courses costing hundreds of pounds, it’s a price young people simply cannot afford. For children and young people, the only option is through school. Thankfully, at the moment, the organisation is trialling a GCSE in British Sign Language across six secondary schools and this could be an option for children in the future.

Support needs to be given to this programme, and to schools who want to teach British Sign Language alongside Modern Foreign Languages. Whilst the debate about whether children can learn languages easier than adults continues, teaching children about deafness and British Sign Language will lead to a future generation free of prejudices and misconceptions regarding the disability. Communication between the deaf and hearing worlds will improve and will lead to a more integrated world.

Whilst British Sign Language may not be made a compulsory part of the curriculum just yet, the government should encourage and support all schools to teach BSL as a secondary language.

It’s time to create new avenues which can get rid of the poor deaf awareness which is rooted in our society.

Liam

It’s time to end the cycle of poor deaf awareness | The Friday Article

Deaf culture has been shrouded in mystery in a way which has stripped the community of its natural beauty. The hearing world’s fascination with British Sign Language has reduced a heavily visual and emotive language into a form of entertainment – which can be used in music videos by successful singer-songwriters, or as a secret code to insult friends. The deaf community hasn’t fully opened its doors, and now hearing people long for the truth.

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Photo: Darelle on Pixabay (Public Domain).

Poor deaf awareness is a self-fulfilling prophecy. In a society which is constantly shifting towards more textual forms of communication, our ability to hold a simple conversation is dwindling as we are forced to venture away from the comfort zone of Facebook, Twitter or iMessage. The opportunity to learn another language in today’s society is always something most people are reluctant to commit to, and for the deaf community, that is the problem.

At the heart of deaf culture is British Sign Language. It’s the community’s gatekeeper, determining who is worthy of accessing such an exclusive and mysterious subculture which – to hearing people – would open their eyes to some of the many struggles deaf individuals face as part of their everyday lives. However, this sense of enlightenment is only available to hearing people who know or learn sign language, or can afford the hefty price tag of a British Sign Language qualification. The deaf community needs to lower its guard, and the hearing community needs to value communication in its most truest form: face-to-face conversation.

The hearing world must stop looking at deaf culture through documentaries which only separate themselves from engaging with deaf culture directly. The self-fulfilling prophecy of poor deaf awareness has forced hearing people to watch and learn – to observe – through media portrayals of the deaf community. Only now are these representations taking a more positive or neutral stance, but there’s still a way to go. Much like how watching travel programmes can provide us with a misunderstanding of another country’s culture, our refusal to explore a culture first-hand has given birth to poor deaf awareness, misconceptions and stereotypes. It has led hearing people to wonder how they can actually communicate with a deaf person, and rather than pursue the answer to this question, they shy away, and watch from afar.

The need for hearing people to actually approach members of the Deaf culture and get to know them has always been stressed by the deaf community. Numerous videos and articles have highlighted how welcoming deaf people can be, and how keen they are to have a conversation with pretty much anyone. The intrigue hearing people have for learning more about the deaf community is there, but the fear of an awkward introduction has mostly likely scared the majority of them.

Text messaging is continuing to grow in our society and is something which unites both the hearing and deaf worlds thanks to it being a universal way of communicating. It’s a language both communities can speak and it needs to be harnessed because of that.

After all, it’s through talking to people and experiencing new cultures first-hand that stereotypes are challenged, misconceptions are debunked and relationships are built. It’s time for the deaf community to lower the drawbridge, and for hearing people to make the first move by saying hello. It starts now.

Liam

Deaf Awareness Week 2016: Patience is a virtue

So this week saw the return of Deaf Awareness Week, which ran from the 2nd May and ends today. Last year, I stressed the importance of communicating with deaf people, as this is something hearing people need to work on, in my opinion. Now, whilst learning British Sign Language (BSL) is important, deaf awareness in that respect has improved in today’s society. This year, however, I want to talk about patience when communicating with deaf people – an issue which still exists in the hearing world.

Photo courtesy of UK Council on Deafness

It’s happened many times before: either the speaker is mumbling, explaining a complex joke or talking in an environment filled with background noise. I can’t hear what the person said, but asking for them to repeat themselves leads to them saying one of the following:

  • “Never mind.”
  • “It doesn’t matter.”
  • “I’ll tell you later.”

None of these are OK! Let’s be honest, we love talking about ourselves and we love it even more when people show an interest in us. With that in mind, why is it really a problem for an individual to repeat information about themselves to a deaf person, when they didn’t hear it the first time? What’s worse is that they would probably repeat it to a hearing person without sighing, rolling their eyes or putting on a patronising voice. Granted, repeating information is an inconvenience, but is it really a big problem?

Then there’s the three responses above. The first two both refer to the conversation not being of importance, but even when a deaf person couldn’t hear what the speaker said the first time round, they could see that the conversation was important – so why doesn’t it matter now? As for the last comment… Well, we can tell that you’ll forget about it later.

So for this year’s Deaf Awareness Week, I think it’s important to stress patience when it comes to communicating with deaf people. By being patient, you may find that a deaf person may have some interesting ideas and opinions to contribute to the discussion, which would otherwise go unsaid if you say it ‘doesn’t matter’.

What do you think? If you’re deaf like me, what did you do for Deaf Awareness Week? If you’re hearing, what do you think about deaf awareness? Comment below!

Liam

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