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.

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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

HearAngel: A Safer Way to Listen to Music

I remember being on public transport and opposite me would sit someone who clearly likes their music. Although I love music and am always interested in finding new music, what concerns me about people listening to me is when they don’t protect their hearing. As a rough guide, if I can hear the music from your headphones/earphones from opposite you, then that’s too loud. Whilst one song ‘won’t hurt’, listening to a whole album from your favourite band at that same volume probably isn’t best.

Apple themselves have since created a simple way of reminding users about high volume music/audio with their “high volume” warning bars, but now there’s an app which sets the audio and music to a level which is both appropriate and safe to listen to – HearAngel.

With HearAngel, the app controls the volume of the music and audio you listen to on your phone to prevent you from damaging your hearing. As well as that, the control is maintained over the course of the day to prevent users from going over their ‘Daily Sound Allowance’.

For those still questioning whether they should get the app, the website also has a useful section which demonstrates what hearing loss – as well as tinnitus – is like. As a deaf young person with tinnitus, I cannot begin to describe how annoying tinnitus is. Imagine a loud ringing or whistle (like that of a kettle) which will not go away when you are trying to sleep, or whenever there is a moment of silence. It sounds annoying, doesn’t it? Therefore, having this app on your phone is a great way to look after your hearing when listening to music you love and prevent you from suffering long-term damage to your hearing.

The app is due to be released soon, but those interested can find out more information about the app by visiting their website, following them on Twitter and liking their page on Facebook.

Liam

Deaf Awareness Week 2015: Communicating with Deaf People

This year, the 4th May to the 10th May is Deaf Awareness Week. For those who don’t know, I am mildly/moderately deaf and wear two hearing aids. So today, I thought I would talk about Deaf Awareness as well as share a few tips.

First off, I think the focus of Deaf Awareness Week has shifted over previous years. Of course, the main aim of promoting good deaf awareness is the same, but whilst previous years have addressed the negative reactions to someone saying “I am deaf“, I feel as though this year is about debunking myths and misconceptions, as well as talking about how best to communicate with deaf people.

I say this because, in theory, hearing people not knowing how to communicate with deaf people is what leads to the myths and misconceptions about deafness. The true meaning of lipreading becomes twisted and some hearing people exaggerate their lip movements because of this. Speaking of which, here is tip one:

Face us, and speak clearly and normally. One of my biggest bug bears is mumbling (although I am prone to doing this myself when I am in the mood for a moan). Don’t shout, exaggerate lip movements or mumble, speaking normally is the best way for us to lipread you. Also, for people like me who don’t lipread on a regular basis, turning to face us not only allows those who lipread to lipread you, but for those who don’t, we can it a voice to the name – which can be key in loud environments…

Use texting, sign or basic mime to communicate in noisy spaces. Admittedly, I’ve never used this in pubs, concerts or gigs before. However, after knowing how loud such environments can be, using a universal medium such as texting or mime is useful in all scenarios.

A light pat on the shoulder is the perfect way to get a deaf person’s attention. This is far less awkward and rude than shouting, yelling or anything similar.

Be patient if you are asked to repeat something. Be understanding if we didn’t hear you the first time, just be patient and say it again.

Lastly, learn basic sign language. As mentioned at the start of this post, poor deaf awareness now comes from hearing people not knowing how to speak to deaf people. But you shouldn’t feel awkward – we are all the same! By having a few basic signs such as hello and how are you under your belt, you will be able to communicate with deaf people.

So I hope you found this useful! If you’re deaf, leave your deaf awareness tips in the comments section below! If you’re hearing, then comment your experiences with deaf people and the deaf community! I look forward to reading them.

Liam