Prof’s Vow of Silence

It’s going to be a quiet week in my office. This week is the British Deaf Association’s ‘Sign Language Week’ ( 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.

They don’t.

And it’s time they showed some humility and LISTENED UP.

Today, hundreds of Deaf people will be attending a mass lobby ( 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

13 thoughts on “Prof’s Vow of Silence

  1. “I will speak out… for those who have no voices” ?
    It’s revealing that the only way to speak out, for those of us who are hearing, might be to choose instead not to speak.
    How have Deaf people responded to what you’re doing?

    • Hi Mike – judging by the Facebook shares and the fact that this was evidently reported at today’s mass lobby of the House of Commons, I’d say that Deaf people appreciate the spirit in which this is being done. Come on in – the water’s lovely!

  2. I think that it is a great way to show solidarity! If enough people share you article as well, people outside the Deaf community will take notice too. People from around the world like what you are doing! Get someone to film moments everyday this week when the silence creates a “situation”.

    • I’ve heard from colleagues worried about how disruptive I might be at the University’s Public Engagement committee meeting on Thursday morning… 🙂 Maybe they should try engaging with the Deaf public along with me, eh?!

          • Lol… it just makes me think of the situation at CDS where hearing lecturers facing a mixed class of hearing and Deaf couldn’t sign as there was no funding to provide a voice-over interpreter for the hearing students… they weren’t ‘disabled’, and nor was the lecturer.

            The only solution was for the lecturer to speak, and so to voluntarily ‘disable’ the Deaf students, who could then qualify for a sign interpreter.

            It’s a perfect picture of the inequality of recognition.

  3. Love your overall article, but I don’t like how you equate sign language with silence. That, I don’t like and don’t agree with.

    I’m Deaf and when I speak my language (American sign language), I am talking. I am speaking. I am expressing words, thoughts, and ideas. When I speak my language, I am not silent.

    Sign language does not equal silence. Sign language equals LANGUAGE. Sign language equals COMMUNICATION. Sign language equals THOUGHTS.

    You just took a vow to speak sign language.

    • I get what you’re saying, but actually my ‘silence’ is a literal, acoustic one. Of course when we sign, we’re metaphorically not silent – we’re as eloquent as can be. (And lots of Deaf people are waaaay more eloquent in BSL than me, for sure.) Primarily, though, I admit the term ‘vow of silence’ is used here to try and grab the attention of non-singers and get them thinking.

  4. Pingback: Professor Graham Turner: Why I took a vow of silence, and only used BSL, for one week | The Limping Chicken

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