What ‘The Silent Child’s Oscar nomination means for the Deaf community | Liam O’Dell

It was a few days before the Oscar nominations were announced that I found out about The Silent Child. In a BBC News interview, six-year-old Maisie Sly talked about her hopes for a nomination for the movie, which also stars Hollyoaks actress Rachel Shenton.

Photo: Davidlohr Bueso/Flickr (changes have been made).

In a section of the film’s official website, the plot is described as centring around “a profoundly deaf four year old girl named Libby who is born into a middle class family and lives in a world of silence until a caring social worker teaches her the gift of communication.” Whilst I am yet to see The Silent Child itself, simply put, the film seems to be about the beauty of British Sign Language (BSL) – and that’s a wonderful thing.

With Shenton, who has worked closely with the National Deaf Children’s Society in the past, as the film’s writer, there’s no denying that the passion is present in the script and Chris Overton’s direction. As The Silent Child centres around family life as a deaf person in addition to BSL, it certainly shines a light onto Deaf culture, the Deaf community and our language.

As such, this is why an Oscar nomination is so important to not only the filmmakers, but every member of the subculture which The Silent Child represents. Even a nomination has the power to prompt film fans to seek out the movie, which means more people seeing a story centring around an important subject.

It has the potential to inspire more people to break down the language barrier and BSL, or at least encourage viewers to find out more about life as a deaf person. At the very least, a viewer’s misconceptions are challenged. At best, they see the power of connecting over a language, and seek to learn even basic sign language in order to communicate with any deaf people they know.

On top of all this is the representation aspect. Slowly but surely, more deaf people and deaf-related stories are gaining prominence in the media. From Nyle DiMarco’s success and Switched from Birth in the US, to the great work See Hear and the BSL Scotland Act have led to in the UK, deaf issues are getting the attention they rightfully deserve.

Also, let’s not forget that Maisie is profoundly deaf herself – a detail incredibly important in a film and TV industry which seems to cast non-disabled people, neurotypical people or those without the specific condition in the role. Members of the deaf community have called for deaf actors in deaf roles, and this Oscar nomination serves as recognition that such an initiative really improves the accuracy and quality of a film. The Silent Child‘s success is a small but massively positive step for representation – both in terms of the actual story and the issues it explores, and casting decisions.

Now comes the big ceremony in March, and I wish The Silent Child every success.


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. 

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.


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.

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.


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!