*First Blog Competition Winner* What Signing Means to Me by Stephanie Barrows

“Hmm… Say again…?  Let me dance around you so you’ve got my good ear.  No, stay where you are – it’s my bad!”

I may hold eye contact a wee bit longer than is comfortable for you, or you may think I’m leaning in for a kiss (usually I’m not!) when trying to turn to hear someone talking straight into my right ear.  If I don’t, you may as well talk to a brick wall, especially if there is loud music, noisy traffic or lots of people talking loudly.  My left ear will hear what’s across the room, not the pearls of wisdom you are discreetly sharing with me.


Born with zero hearing in my right ear, this is my life.  I’m blessed to have nearly 100% hearing in my left ear.  I’ve thus never considered myself to be half deaf, rather that I am half hearing.  In reality I have a foot in both camps, or an ear for both.  I’ve always relied on the good ear and a large dollop of lip-reading and non-verbal clues to hear and hide my ‘deafness’.


Not that I’m ashamed of it. I just didn’t want to scupper my chances in the workplace.  Being half deaf for me is an invisible impairment or disability, and I chose not to draw attention to it unnecessarily.


I’m 62 now, and it took the amazing deaf actress, Rose Ayling-Ellis, dancing with my favourite Strictly Come Dancing professional (also my dance teacher), Giovanni Pernice, for me to be more open about my hearing.  I’ve not needed to use British Sign Language for my own hearing needs, but had long wanted to learn it to facilitate communication in my work with the physically and sensory-impaired folks I was training and coaching. Financial and family responsibilities meant the time was never quite right to turn this dream into reality. However, early in 2022, the stars aligned and, inspired by Rose and the BSL Act Now initiatives, I signed up for lessons.  I now have my BSL Level 1 award from Signature.

For several years, in addition to coaching, I’ve been script-writing for theatre and my vision is now to be more inclusive of the Deaf community in the Arts. My own theatre company, Invisible Women, was set up around seven years ago to provide opportunities for a wide variety of actresses to find and use their voices through drama, offering roles in spoken language.  My current aim is to incorporate British Sign Language within the scripts as well as including  BSL interpreters at performances in future productions.


Invisible Women’s first professional play was “Invisible Web” (written by me and Maggie Driver).  This told the story of four women unaware they were linked by an invisible web of people-trafficking.  Two of the actors were hearing-impaired – the characters were not deaf women. We adjusted the staging to accommodate our needs.


I have a love of language.  I studied Latin and French at school, and Italian, online during lockdown, and subsequently on an intensive course in Italy a few months ago. I also love the language of music, mime and movement. Half-hearing means I hear in mono. I’ve never experienced sound in stereo and I don’t miss what I’ve never had!  I love the expression and drama of signing to convey not only words, but also emotions and feelings.


I’m looking for opportunities to help drive forward initiatives to have BSL taught in schools.  Ideally, taught on an equal footing to the European languages currently offered as second language lessons and qualifications, so that we can be truly inclusive of the Deaf Community locally and globally and explore the beauty and impact of signing in performance.


A month or so after achieving Level 1 BSL, I went on my own to see Deafinitely Theatre’s production of “Everyday” at the New Diorama Theatre in London.  I thoroughly enjoyed this thought-provoking performance and signing with members of the audience before and after. It was both humbling and amazing for me to be able to take part in the BSL conversations.  I thank everyone for their patience as I slowly signed in basic BSL and those who occasionally signed ‘voice-on’ for my benefit.

I’m currently working on an exciting new script-writing project which I aim to stage early in 2023.  Fingers crossed!


Stephanie Barrows

(Please note: This blog has been written by an independent author not associated with Signature, any and all views expressed are that of the independent author who does speak on Signature’s behalf.)

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