John Walker & Rebecca Anne Withey meet with BBC Radio Berkshire


The Andrew Peach show. [Intro music playing] BBC Radio Berkshire.

I don’t know what it is about this year’s Strictly Come Dancing, but I think it’s a really, really good year. I mean, it’s going to be John and Johannes or Rose and Giovanni in the end, and I don’t even mind the results going, going to be so predictable because the standard of dancing is so high. I’m loving the production of the show. It’s nice to have it a bit back to normal after last year. Rose is now topping the betting to win the show. Craig’s got COVID, by the way, so he won’t be on this weekend thats on many of the front pages this morning.

Rose and Giovanni are now expected to win the show. She’s the first ever deaf contestant. She’s doing her best to inspire deaf communities around the country. I think it’s fair to say she’s succeeding, whether you saw her dance on Saturday, the couples choice where there was a silent section in the middle.

This is what she said about Giovanni just afterwards.

*Cuts to Rose and Giovanni’s dance*

[Music playing]

[Music stops]

(Rose) “I feel very, very thankful for your determination to make this dance the most positive happy dance it can be, because you know that being deaf, theres nothing wrong it’s such a joy to be deaf. And I think that says a lot about you as a person.”

[Music playing]

Here’s what the judges made of the silent section and Rose’s performance over all.

(Motsi) “This was so special, sometimes it’s more than scores and marks and dancing. Sometimes it’s just a moment and we just had that and thank you so much. “

(Shirley) “I feel, first of all, that I should stand up out of respect for you sharing, particularly the silent moment, which was totally, I was not expecting it, and it takes you into a much deeper place. I’m sure the community, the deaf community will be absolutely so proud of you and for sharing your heart and for being honest and for being true, and for people seeing that a beautiful young lady like you can be so successful. This is a number that will be etched in my heart for a long, long time.”

(Anton) “You know, you get moments like this, and I’ve been doing the show since the beginning. Same as Craig and same as you Tess. And we’ve had the great pleasure and the honour of being on Strictly Come Dancing for a long time, I’m getting a bit emotional. And…that’s the greatest thing I’ve ever seen on the show. Congratulations. “

So that was Anton on the other judges giving their reaction. Now we’ve been talking to Rebecca Anne Withey, Rebecca is a dancer herself. She’s deaf, she uses British Sign Language. She’s been on the show with her sign language interpreter, Jennifer. I started the conversation by asking Rebecca, who then communicated with Jennifer through sign language to get the answers back a little bit about her response to Rose’s appearances on Strictly.

(Rebecca) “Well, it’s actually been amazing to see Rose on strictly, actually it’s the first time that deafness has been in the spotlight really being center stage. It’s been in the mainstream, had been exposed to deafness. And to see deafness in a positive way. And to have people ask people about more deaf awareness And it’s very important for us and I’m very, very proud of her.”

And what sort of responses do you get as you’re going about life as a young deaf woman? What kind of things do we need to start overcoming?

“I think really people have a lot of nervousness about how to communicate with a deaf person.

They’re really not sure how. And there’s a lot of assumptions. Because deaf people do actually appreciate if you do ask questions. And I think that is important, especially on Strictly to see Giovanni, he’s just so open minded and he appreciates deaf culture and sign language, and hopefully that is going to influence other hearing people, hearing communicating that you can work with deaf people and it’s fine. So generally, I think is try to overcome barriers and not to stereotype deaf people as a whole.”

And I’m interested to know what sorts of stereotypes there are and whether people automatically assume that if you’re deaf, it’s a huge problem and there couldn’t possibly be any fun in life because you’re too busy overcoming the deafness.

“I think stereotypes, yes, it’s quite dangerous to do that because it’s almost like we can’t achieve our dreams. My careers adviser told me what you know, when we discussed what I’d like when I’m older, to do when I’m older I said performing arts, music, acting, and she actually said no. So she stopped me from moving forward, but luckily, I was happy to ignore that. And it’s the same with young deaf people being told no I can’t, and they think themselves that they can’t do it. But they need to move forward with that, and the same with Rose. It’s perfect proof that you can enjoy music and deaf people have many variations in deafness. It doesn’t mean complete silence either. There are different ways to experience music as a deaf person, so it’s very negative to have these stereotypes that put us all in a box. So, you know, to ask questions and to be more exposed just to raise awareness.”

And it must be particularly hard being deaf as a performer like you, Rebecca, and also like Rose.

“You do have to develop a thick skin to overcome the barriers, yes you do. For me, I’m a dancer. I’ve achieved my degree and my dance capability is absolutely fine. But to overcome the barriers and the attitude of other people and some of the students were nervous to talk to me because I was deaf and she was a bit suspicious. You know, how can you know she access it fully because I’m deaf the obstacles are actually their attitude and not my ability, does that make sense?”

Sure, and one thing that having British Sign Language used on the biggest show on television is leading to is a lot of interest in British Sign Language the way we’re communicating right now. Do you think there’ll be a lot of people who want to start learning?

“Yes, we’ve seen a lot of people just signing thank you in the basics, but advice, if you want to learn BSL, please make sure you learn from a deaf person that has experience and the knowledge to teach well.”

OK. Could you just show me the sign for thank you, I’ve learned I’ve learned the applause thing from strictly, but how do you do thank you?

[Presenter signing ‘thank you’ to Rebecca]

So that’s the applause, and that’s thank you, Rebecca, I’m so grateful that you’re willing to to get up early with Jennifer, your interpreter, and to come on the show and talk about the impact Rose is having.

Thanks so much for being with me.

“Thank you very much. My pleasure, thank you very much.”

That’s Rebecca. Let’s talk to John Walker from Signature, one of the UK’s awarding bodies for deaf communication qualifications. John is also going to talk to us using British Sign Language with his interpreter, Marco. What’s it like watching Rose and Giovanni on Strictly John?

“It’s utterly, absolutely inspiring just to see them coming together and achieving what they do every week on and and so and so on. So I think it’s brilliant to see them together. Really amazing.”

One of the things that I’ve been really impressed by there have been so many is that they’ve not tried to hide the sign language at all on the program that they’re using as an opportunity to demonstrate sign language and make it really clear how the communication is happening.

“Absolutely sign language, has never been hidden, it’s always been visible, it’s always been there. So obviously, even if we communicate in the streets, you might see deaf people sign in the streets, so we always being visible in that sense. However, it is true that giving space to sign language and they, obviously the program not hiding it is something that allows us to be sharing this pride in the language.”

How long does it take to learn because a lot of people are interested now in sign language, but how do you go about learning and how difficult is it?

“It’s similar to any other language, to be honest, like if you were learning French or German and so it might take five years depends on what level of fluency you want to achieve. So if you enter BSL at the beginning, a course in BSL at the beginning, I think it’s much easier compared to spoken languages. OK, so that because it provides visual element, there is fun. There is time where you can be excited about the world that surrounds us and you start looking at it from a different perspective compared to spoken languages. It requires more time, obviously at that point to develop a certain level of understanding.”

And where would you go if you were interested in learning the basics to start off? Where would you go?

“There are different higher education and colleges and centers as well. So if you want to search, the listener can go to we have a centre search finder where you can find your nearest centre. But if you just want to have a go at it and see if it’s suitable for you as a language, you can use BSLforBeginners, still on the Signature website which cost only £9.99, and that you can then decide after that if you want to carry on and take level one, two, three, etc.”

And back to Rose on Strictly finally, She’s obviously trying to blast a lot of stereotypes, as well as just taking part in the competition. If there was one stereotype about deaf people that she might be able to do away with in the coming weeks, what would it be?

“We are watching her skill as a dancer, and it seems that she’s achieving so she doesn’t need to get away. [laughing] She’s proving that she can dance and sorry and jokes aside, she’s obviously with someone that is highly skilled to teach her to train her. I don’t think she needs to get away with anything. [laughing] I think she’s well, demonstrating her ability and skills that she can do things.”

Great. John, thank you so much for being with us on the program.

I really appreciate your time.


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