It’s going to be a quiet week in my office. This week is the British Deaf Association’s ‘Sign Language Week’ (http://www.bda.org.uk/). My contribution? I’m going to shut up.
So if, when you see me this week, you cheerily wish me good morning and hear not a sound in reply, it’s not (just) because I’m a Grumpy Old Man. It’s because I’ve taken a Vow of Silence for the week. What’s the point?
The point is to express solidarity with the Deaf British Sign Language community across the UK. The point is to say we have had it up to HERE with your disrespect for our language, your neglect of our children’s rights, and your unwillingness to listen when we tell you your policies are not working.
So I’m going to sign this week. And, yes, for the first time ever, despite being a hearing person, I’m going to use the words ‘WE’ and ‘OUR’. Not because I’ve vowed to spend one week signing. Because I’ve spent over 25 years working with BSL users, and I have learned to feel utterly ashamed of the never-ending ignorance and arrogance of the hearing majority.
Generation after generation of Deaf people have asked for change. Generation after generation of hearing people in authority – in government, in education, in the health system – have claimed to know better than Deaf people do what is good for them.
And it’s time they showed some humility and LISTENED UP.
Today, hundreds of Deaf people will be attending a mass lobby (http://www.bda.org.uk/Events/125) of MPs in Westminster. They will highlight three things: 1) the right for interpreters in healthcare settings; 2) the failure of government programmes to improve Deaf people’s access to work; 3) the need for language and communication support in everyday life as guaranteed by the Equality Act 2010.
So I’m counting myself as a member of the BSL community because, over a quarter-century, I’ve begun to see stuff from the community’s perspective.
I’ve learned about what it means to deaf children to be denied access to the only language that has evolved over centuries to suit a visual person’s outlook.
I’ve learned about the frustrations of the hearing parents who dearly wish to communicate with their deaf children, but are misguidedly advised that this would be harmful.
I’ve learned about how it feels to be stuck in an A&E ward, a school classroom, a police station, a job interview – without an interpreter who can enable you to understand me.
I can’t tell you how my blood boils to think about all of these outrages.
But I’ll sign it to you. Are you listening?
Author: Graham Turner