I never imagined I would be in a situation where I would find myself fighting back tears at a PowerPoint presentation, but a week ago that is exactly what happened in a BSL level 4 class. The presentation was simply entitled ‘Deaf History’, but its content was staggering. No, it was not a feat of creative genius or full of animated visual aids, sorry to my teacher there, it was basic and factual. So, why did I have to work hard not to cry? That’s easy to answer…it was the truth. It was the truth about the history of the Deaf. The truth about the thriving and cultured community they were hundreds of years ago, only to be pulled into the darkest of existences in 1880 after a group of hearing people in Milan decided they knew what was best. Did those people take any note of what the Deaf community wanted or needed – no. Did they consider their mental health, job prospects, education – no. What they did is rip the identity and soul straight out of the heart of the Deaf community and to this day, they are struggling to get it back.
For me, watching this presentation was made even more difficult due to the fact that I am hearing. I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt and responsibility for the people in my hearing world that did this all those years ago and, in many ways, continue to do this now. It took until 2003 for the UK Government to recognise BSL as an official language and nearly another 20 years for the BSL Act 2022 to come into law and at least start to bridge the gap between the basic human rights afforded to the hearing community that the Deaf community often go without. Shouldn’t we all have access a doctor and be able to communicate with them in order to get timely and effective diagnosis and treatment of illness?…. But, is all this starting to change, are we finally seeing some real representation of the Deaf community and where do I see BSL/the Deaf community in 40 years?
I feel like the question of where BSL/the Deaf community should be in 40 years is a question best left to the Deaf community themselves; I do not want to be another hearing person dictating the lives of others, but speaking for myself, I can say what I would like to see.
Firstly, I would like to see an increase in the amount of people learning BSL. I would like to see it recognised as a subject on the National Curriculum and something children learn in the same way they learn French or Spanish. My 11-year-old hearing niece is learning BSL and at her age she is a sponge soaking it all up. In addition to this I would like to see Deaf history and culture taught alongside the language. This is not so the Deaf community lose their cultural identity and have it appropriated by the hearing, but so the hearing can understand our historical role in the lives of the Deaf and hopefully understand each other and our differences a little more in the future. I take that same 11-year-old niece to Deaf Club once a month where she meets the real Deaf community, learns how she and them are the same/different, and how she can understand through them to respect their lives and treat them as equals.
Secondly, I would like to see a substantial investment by the UK Government in providing resources and support to the Deaf community. I would like to see the pay increased for workers in the Deaf community, an investment in interpreters, an investment in the technology the Deaf community need in order to be able to thrive in education and employment, but at the pinnacle of that I would like this investment to be made in things the Deaf community themselves say they want – not what the hearing think they do. Put someone deaf in charge of this and let the Deaf lead the way.
Lastly, I would like to see mandatory Deaf Awareness sessions delivered in all workplaces. From simple things, like how to get a deaf person’s attention to how to best include them in all information sharing and meetings. It is not hard to do this and ignorance can no longer be an excuse.
One of the final reasons I found the presentation mentioned earlier so hard to watch was it was delivered by a passionate member of Deaf community who had clearly been very affected by the treatment they had received in the past. Being misunderstood, forgotten about, made to bend to fit in with a hearing world that belonged to others, has clearly shaped this person and left lasting scars I suspect will never heal. So, overall, what do I predict for the future…well, predicting I can’t do…but, what I want for the future is a Deaf world led by the Deaf, for the Deaf, and for us, the hearing people, to do what we are able to – sit down, shut up and listen!
(Please note that this article was written by an external author and any views expressed do not represent Signature)