For Deaf Awareness Week 2022, Signing Tutor and Seashell equality and diversity champion, June Battye shared her thoughts and experiences as a Deaf person. This is an important time for Deaf people and Deaf culture, as last month The BSL Bill received Royal Assent, meaning it has become an Act of Parliament. The BSL Act is now part of UK law and British Sign Language is finally a recognised language.
To be ‘deaf’ (small d) is to fit into the medical definition of deafness as something to be cured and eradicated. Being deaf means you have a hearing loss, but you choose or don’t feel able to function within the Deaf Community. You are predominately oral; probably thinking British Sign Language is the devil’s spawn. OK, that’s a slight exaggeration, but generally deaf people use oral communication. They may have a slight knowledge of SSE (sign-supported English) but this does not make them culturally Deaf.
Back in the old days, the powers that be recommended that deaf children be brought up orally; the thinking was that sign language would corrupt our education and prevent us getting a job in later years. This is a view that, unfortunately, still remains even nowadays. If you approach any deaf person and ask them about their hearing loss, they will tell you that they would love to hear “that bit more” – how they feel they miss out on music, radio or other aspects of life. They chose the spoken language and lip-reading rather than learning to sign. They may ignore aspects of the Deaf community and Deaf pride and feel they need to pretending to be hearing.
Deaf – with a capital “D” (and occasionally with capital E, A and F too) – is used to refer to people who are culturally Deaf. These people actively use British Sign Language; they see themselves as being culturally Deaf and part of the Deaf community. I take pride in my visual language and do not see my deafness as a disability. I see Deaf-ness as a ground-breaking cultural achievement that will go down in history. We have campaigned for the recognition of BSL as an official language and for better standards of education for D/deaf children and happy to say on April 28th 2022 this happened.
I consider myself to be culturally Deaf; this is my Deaf Identity. I wear my deafness on my sleeve and consider it to be a major part of my life. I don’t see it as a disability – there is nothing I feel I cannot do – rather, I see it as an important aspect of my character that makes and shapes me. If I were not deaf (I’m referring to both hearing loss and cultural Deafness here) I would not have had the opportunities, I have now. For me, being Deaf means, I aspire to more, I strive to change things – to make things more accessible. That is why I work in the training department at Seashell – I hope to help staff and public to be at a level where they can have a basic conversation with anyone who uses signing. I like to think that this is something I can actively encourage.
I both speak and sign because of my upbringing. I became deaf when I was 7, through meningitis, and attended mainstream school & Deaf school. I am now more or less fluent in BSL (although 70% of my time is speaking as others around be either forget to sign, are not sure how to sign and feel embarrassed they will get it wrong). Which group do I fit into? I can sign, so am I Deaf? I can speak, so am I Hearing? I like to think I’m the bridge between the two worlds.
I have been asked on many occasions whether I would take the opportunity to regain my hearing. My automatic answer is always, “No, of course not!” I love being Deaf, it makes me the wacky, opinionated individual I am today, and I wouldn’t change that (bar wanting to lose a few pounds, but that’s beside the point!)
Hearing people often think of deafness as simply “an inability to hear.” Being Deaf, though, is about more than just whether or not a person can hear—it’s about being part of a community with its own history, values, and culture.
Let’s take a look at some of the more surprising facts about Deaf culture…
Sign Language Isn’t Universal – each country has its own sign language (20% of BSL is known by other countries).
Deaf People Can Be Very Direct – yes we can, but we don’t mean to be direct. What’s the point of saying something if all you think about is will it upset people. Say what you mean then no misunderstanding can happen.
Deaf People can be Better Drivers Than some Hearing People – yes this is true as d/deaf people will watch the road more to know what is happening around them as hearing people will just wait to hear the sound.
Looking At The Face, Not Hands, When Communicating – Hearing people thing we always watch the hand no we don’t we look at your nose and then can see everything your face your lips your body language etc.
Getting Someone’s Attention – Deaf people might tap someone on the shoulder. Or, they might bang or tap on a table so that the vibrations cause everyone at the table to look toward the source of the vibrations.
Deafness can affect a person in three main ways: fewer educational and job opportunities due to impaired communication. Social withdrawal due to reduced access to services and difficulties communicating with others. Emotional problems caused by a drop in self-esteem and confidence.
What life is like for the deaf and hard of hearing has changed significantly in the past half-century. Policy changes and new technologies have provided solutions for many, and yet some hurdles have stayed the same.