In 2019, popular ITV soap Coronation Street introduced a story centred on raising a deaf child. The storyline concentrated on young couple, Chesney (Sam Aston) and Gemma (Dolly-Rose Campbell) and aimed to focus on the experiences of raising a deaf child to hearing parents. The storyline will not only benefit hearing parents, but it also paves the way for more deaf role models for deaf and hearing children.
Signature recently reached out to Dolly-Rose Campbell who plays Gemma in the popular soap to learn more about her experiences of learning BSL. Here is what she had to say:
- In Coronation Street, your son, Aled is profoundly deaf. How did you feel when you received this important storyline?
In Coronation Street I play Gemma Winter-Brown, wife of Chesney and mother to 5 children, one of whom (Aled) was born profoundly deaf. When I first found out about the storyline in late 2019, my immediate reaction was excitement that we would get to learn BSL. At the time I knew nothing about sign language or Deaf culture- it was all completely new to me. The storyline follows the ways in which Chesney and Gemma adapt to this challenge as a family, taking guidance from family friend Frieda (an established Deaf character played by Ali Briggs). Their journey would include learning some BSL and making the decision about whether their son should have a Cochlear Implant.
2. How did you find the process of learning levels 1 and 2 of BSL, and did you face any challenges?
I was eager to learn sign language and began lessons using Zoom during the Covid-19 lockdown. However, I found learning in this way quite challenging. When we began filming the first scenes using BSL I worked with a translator who taught me signs line by line. Although working in this way meant we were able to introduce signing into the family for the episodes focused around Aled’s Deafness, it was not a sustainable way of showing how the family would adapt long term.
3. How did you progress with learning BSL?
After filming the initial scenes using BSL without really understanding the language, I came across an article in the local news about Ayesha Gavin. The article was about her being unable to get a Covid PCR test at the local drive-in centre, due to the staff not having Deaf Awareness training. The article also mentioned that she had her own business, Ayesha Communications where she was teaching sign language. I got in touch with her immediately and met her the following week in the Asda café. I explained to her who I was and why I wated to learn and asked if she could help me- Thankfully she could, and I began my BSL level 1 course in September 2021.
4. How have ITV facilitated for the time you need to learn BSL?
After beginning learning with Ayesha Communications, I gained a better understanding of BSL and because I was learning in real life, I was able to begin adding signing into my character scenes in a much more natural way. I love my classes and I am grateful that ITV have supported me through the whole process and given me time out of my schedule so that I can go to my classes. I can’t speak for how BSL is treated on other TV programmes, but Coronation Street understood that investing the time and effort into learning in real life would enrich the story in the long run.
5. What have you learned during your time learning BSL?
At the beginning of my BSL journey I was very naïve. I assumed that hearing parents of Deaf children all learned BSL. I assumed access to the language would be funded by the government and was shocked to learn that several Deaf people have grown up with families who don’t sign due to a lack of resources. When I first met Ayesha, she told me 90% of Deaf babies are born into hearing families and of those families it is typical for only one person to learn sign. Hearing these stories has been the hardest part of my learning journey so far and is the reason I am so determined to show our family using BSL on screen in Coronation Street. Anybody can learn to sign IF they have access to lessons.
6. What sort of response have you got since signing on television?
Since I began learning and using BSL on screen, lots of people have told me they would love to learn. I always recommended the app BSLbright and following Deafchefofficial on Instagram to get started. These are great ways to pick up a few signs and begin learning.
7. Finally, do you have any more to comments you would like to add?
I consider it a huge privilege that I was given this storyline, and I am so grateful. Learning BSL has opened up a whole new world to me, I have made friends and had new experiences that I never would have had without it. One of my favourite things that has happened since learning BSL was meeting some Deaf people at Manchester Pride and being able to help my family and friends talk to them. I also went to see a play by Rinkoo Barpaga in BSL at Home Theatre- it was brilliant!
Dolly-Rose Campbell just passed her Level 2 and started to learn her Level 3 in September. We look forward to seeing more BSL on our screens.