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.

Silence isn’t always golden | Tinnitus Awareness Week 2017

My life is never silent. You may believe that my mild deafness would provide me with some tranquillity in a loud world, but when those opportunities arise, thinking occurs. Moments when you can observe the environment around you always leads to your mind quickly searching for something else to focus on – be it someone in the distance, the wildlife, whatever. Unfortunately for me, my attention always shifts to the same place.

taw2017
Photo: British Tinnitus Association

Everything is silent. Where is the noise in the room? Things are too quiet. At that point, the ringing starts.

My tinnitus reaches boiling point as two whistling kettles scream into my ears – at least, that’s what it sounds like. It’s the common description I use, yet to every sufferer, the sound is different. A specific tone we can only hear in our heads is hard to convey, but for me, by far the most annoying thing is that a simple thought about tinnitus can lead to it being at the forefront of my mind.

Even as I type this article now, the whistling is going on in the corner of my head (or in my ears, wherever). I can pay attention to it, in the hope that that will make it go away (it doesn’t), or I try to ignore it. Both have the same problem, though: I’ll look over there and try to distract myself from tinnitus and I’ll pay attention to my tinnitus to make it go temporarily mention the word tinnitus, and that is all you need.

It’s this weird thought process that continues ad infinitum until an important activity or task distracts you. However, when in bed and trying to get to sleep, I don’t have anything to use to divert my attention. For me, silence isn’t always golden.

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This week was Tinnitus Awareness Week, and ran from February 6 to February 12. Unfortunately, a busy seven days full of university assignments, lectures and other commitments meant I couldn’t create a YouTube video sharing my thoughts. It would have been perfect (since my channel is somewhat orientated around sign language, deaf awareness and so forth) but I just couldn’t find the time. Then again, this blog post allowed me to flex my writing muscles and hopefully it gave you somewhat of an insight into what life with tinnitus is like.

I’ve never really known what caused my tinnitus or indeed my mild inner-ear deafness, but what I do know is that the former is a pain in the backside, and something you wouldn’t want others to suffer from.

The British Tinnitus Association has lots of useful information on their website, including this page on how to prevent tinnitus from developing.

Action on Hearing Loss also have some helpful resources available on the topic. These can be found here.

Working in Deaf Media: My Placement at BBC See Hear

In October last year, I was offered an opportunity which combined two of my biggest passions: media and deaf culture. I had found out that I was chosen to have two weeks’ work experience in Bristol with BBC See Hear – the broadcaster’s deaf magazine programme.

Photo: BBC.
Photo: BBC.
I have been working with the deaf news website, The Limping Chicken, for a while now, but deaf media from a broadcasting perspective is something I’d never experienced before, so I couldn’t wait to start my work experience at BBC Bristol earlier this month.

Straight away, my placement started with an incredible three days. On the first day, I had managed to arrange an interview for See Hear’s next programme, and I would be going down to London with one of the programme’s reporters later in the week to film it. Tuesday and Wednesday were spent watching interviews and reports being filmed – the ability to go behind-the-scenes and see professional reporters work on packages was really insightful and intriguing.

One of the many things I will be thankful for was some of the responsibilities I was given during my placement. From drafting the script for the show’s news segment, to being one of the voiceovers in the final episode, I had never expected to have been handed such amazing opportunities, and so I was immensely grateful for that.

Speaking of voiceovers (or ‘dubs’, to use the correct terminology), another thing which fascinated me was how so many things came together to form the final output.

As well as working with those producing the content, I was also fortunate to help out with research and a variety of other technical details which are all part of the production process. Ringing up contacts to obtain information was something I was used to doing before at university, but to call them on behalf of the BBC was incredible.

img_1680With that in mind, my placement at BBC See Hear was truly an experience which allowed me to explore all of the different workings of such a great group of people. Seeing a show gradually develop over the two weeks I was there was an incredible thing to witness. From raw footage being edited, to it being transcribed (something which I helped with during my time there), to it being dubbed by voiceovers on my last day, the fast progression of the programme was very impressive indeed.

As I handed in my visitor’s pass for the last time, I left the lively and friendly atmosphere of BBC Bristol feeling a little sad that the experience was over. However, that was nothing compared to the extreme sense of gratitude I had for the BBC for an insightful two weeks working on such an incredible programme.

Therefore, I would like to say thank you once again to the BBC See Hear team, the BSL interpreters and everyone at BBC Bristol for being so welcoming during my two weeks’ work experience. The episode I helped out with was aired on BBC Two today at 8am and is now available to watch on BBC iPlayer.

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

A possible change in my blog schedule

It’s something I’ve pondered for a while. With most artists releasing new music on a Friday, I’ve been tempted to move my Musical Discovery series from Mondays to the end of the week so I can release tracks on the day they are released. However, this would of course cause problems for my weekly opinion pieces known as The Friday Article, which would need a name change at least. By having my news-based posts on a Friday, I could review the week’s stories and write something that way, as opposed to having it in the middle of the week, when an opinion piece could quickly become out of date.

Photo: Dafne Cholet on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode.
Photo: Dafne Cholet on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode.

Meanwhile, Wednesday posts remain undefined. I recently touched upon this in my post, The Wednesday Problem, but whilst ideally, I would want to post weekly reviews on this day, with university and other things getting in the way, it would be impossible to finish and review a new book every week. Whilst I like Wednesday’s to post an additional Musical Discovery post or talk about blogging, I quite like the multiple series I have going on my blog at the moment.

This brings me on to something I’ve always wanted to return to on The Life of a Thinker. For those who don’t know, I’m mildly deaf/hard of hearing. Therefore, deafness and the deaf culture are both big interests of mine and essentially, part of ‘the life of a thinker’, so why aren’t I talking about them on the blog?

Well, a few months ago, I wrote about my experiences as a deaf person in a series called Deafinitely Challenging. These six posts – created for an assignment in my first year as a journalism student – summed up my main concerns, frustrations and tips as a deaf person. Now, as I think about returning to talk about deafness, I worry that all I’ve wanted to say has been summed up in this series already. Poetry is another thing I’ve considered, but that didn’t work out well last time.

Lastly, I’ve contemplated moving the time my posts are published from 12pm to something a bit later on.  Of course, it’s always hard to predict when everyone will see your post around the world, but in the UK, posts in the evening seem to do better than those in the middle of the day. However, I am also getting back into scheduling tweets, which is doing great things for getting all of my recent posts read. Should I just continue using Buffer, or should I move the time my posts go live?

What do you think? Would you want to read more posts about deafness on my blog? Should I move posts and times around? What shall I write about on Wednesdays? Comment below!

Liam