Rob Wilks: Can social media beat Deaf apathy?

Posted on April 23, 2012

For those of us who are associated with the Deaf community, it’s a well known belief that apathy is one of the biggest barriers we face.

What this means is basically this: if there are negative reforms targeted at Deaf people, whether directly or not, such as the impact of changes to Disability Living Allowance, cuts to legal aid funding, cuts to local authority-funded services etc, they usually pass by without so much of a whimper from Deaf people.


The general consensus is apathy. People either feeling they can’t make a difference, or not being willing to try. Some say it has got worse since the recognition of BSL as an official language in March 2003 by the Department of Work and Pensions.

What changed after 18 March 2003?

Here are a few factors I believe may have made a difference.

1. The demise of the Federation of Deaf People – this voluntary organisation spearheaded many of the BSL marches that occurred before the recognition of BSL.

2. The lack of a strong campaigning organisation to equal FDP since it’s demise. Now the British Deaf Association have a clear vision for the future many are hoping they will pick up the mantle.

3. A lack of deaf identity in young people. More and more Deaf children are being mainstreamed, taking them away from the Deaf community and most importantly, Deaf politics.

That’s not to say that there hasn’t been periods of protest or campaigning activity among the Deaf community since: the Stop Eugenics and Save Deaf Studies campaigns and the emergence of the group Deaf Parents Deaf Children (who released this YouTube hit video of a mother and daughter signing) spring to mind.

However, these are few or far between, and rely on Deaf individuals who are willing to expend their time and resources to lead a campaign.

Apathy was the subject of a brief exchange of tweets on Twitter recently, and it was suggested that social media and virals need to be embraced more.

The power of social media was plainly obvious following the broadcast of the Deaf Teens: Hearing World BBC programme which launched the “limping chicken” phenomenon.

Within hours of broadcast, the Deaf community was afire with jokes, amateur video clips, and social groups courtesy of Twitter and Facebook.

It was THE talk of the Deaf community for a few weeks and for that brief time, there was a genuine feeling of unity among all D/deaf people.

It even inspired the name of this very website and has arguably become part of UK Deaf community culture. For example, Deaf people who regularly use interpreters will now as a matter of routine ask interpreters who are late for an assignment whether their chicken was ill!

So, the future is bright. We know it is certainly possible for the Deaf community to unite for a brief period of time. The trick now is to harness the opportunity that has presented itself through the use of social media and virals to bring some real change for Deaf people.

We now need someone or a group to lead these changes. Perhaps a resurrection of the Federation for Deaf people is on the cards? Or can a Deaf organisation lead the way?

Let’s see.

Rob is a qualified solicitor and Head of RAD Deaf Law Centre at the Royal Association for Deaf people. He specialises in employment and discrimination law and is passionate about achieving equality for Deaf people. He is happily married with two gorgeous kids and lives in South Wales. You can follow him on Twitter as @RWilks

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