Last October, a mutual friend of Sara (my girlfriend) and I asked us whether we would like to appear on a documentary which would showcase the lives of deaf teenagers making their way in the hearing world.
Sara and I were selected, as we were deaf teenagers in a long term relationship (btw, letting your girlfriend win minor arguments and saving your victories for the big ones is the secret to making your relationship last, boys).
We had a discussion and soon we swiftly agreed that it was a fantastic opportunity to raise the profile of the deaf community and give viewers an idea of deaf awareness – as the documentary would be screened on BBC3, a mainstream TV channel.
Sara had to answer a few questions on the email so the director, Claire Braden could determine whether we were the right candidates for her documentary. Eventually, we received an email saying that Claire would like to film us, so we opened our home to the TV cameras.
On the first day, we were interviewed about our lives and our relationship such as how did we meet, how did our families interact with us, and the differences in our upbringings: as I came from a hearing family, while Sara came from a largely deaf family. We had a BSL interpreter to translate the questions and answers for us which we thought was considerate of the director.
We weren’t the only subjects. The documentary also followed a girl on her journey to getting a cochlear implant, and twins brothers, of whom one was deaf and the other was hearing. The last subject’s deaf identity was also explored.
After the first day, the TV crew came to film us in various situations, such as Sara starting her first day at her university which spawned that infamous ‘my chicken is ill’ excuse.
My driving lesson was also filmed, which was awkward as it was my first driving lesson for three months as I had taken a break from driving in order to travel the world. I provided the TV crew with a treasure chest of TV blooper clips by stalling on several occasions, including once on a big roundabout which was shown in the final edit and broadcast on TV. I got stick for it from some of my so-called mates!
Our daily lives were also filmed, such as a family dinner, which was an amusing experience. A normally relaxed occasion was suddenly turned to an equivalent of a family dinner for the Ewing brothers and their families from the Dallas TV show. Sara, me, her brother and her mother felt rather stiff and we were under immense pressure to not spill the food down our clothes or to put our elbows on the table on live TV!
The conversations were forced and I found myself offering to make teas even that I am not a much of a tea drinker. My tea making ability was then placed under microscope of the live TV.
Luckily, we gotused to the cameras and the awkwardness wore off quickly. Our nightclubbing exploits and dates were also filmed for TV and we were on our best behaviour that night for the camera, so heavy alcohol consumption was off the menu!
On a date, everything was filmed – from being escorted to our table to ordering the food. Nandos came out a clear winner with some free publicity though I criticised their pitta while the chickens were the losers with them being the butt of all limping chicken related jokes.
Through the programme, we realised filming was a surprisingly tiring experience as we were usually filmed after our lectures and sometimes we had to do multiple takes. But we were pleased to be given such an unique opportunity to silence some myths about several deaf issues such as cochlear implants and deaf identity so we ploughed on.
Everything was wrapped up, and few weeks later, Sara and her mother Julie went to London for a preview screening and gave it thumbs up. All we could do was wait for a transmission date which took a while and was delayed on few occasions. Sara and I also did our bit to promote the TV documentary as it was a low budget shoot and needed all the resources it could get to be promoted and we also had an extra agenda to boost viewing figures so BBC can recognise how many of their audience has a hearing loss of some kind.
Finally on the day of screening, Sara and I got lots of well wishes. As the day wore on, I couldn’t stop checking my Facebook and Twitter as social media exploded with feedback and opinions (The TV show was screened early morning, but Sara and I watched it in the evening due to our other commitments)
Overall, Sara and I were pleased with the documentary and how it shows the deaf world from the viewpoint of deaf teenagers from all walks of life. One of the myths I have faced is that some hearing people tend to think all deaf people have the same level of deafness. We were bit disappointed that some issues didn’t get explored further but it was understandable due to the time constraints.
The feedback we received was largely positive, though some deaf people were outraged by the fact some of the deaf subjects on the show opted to speak rather than to sign, but I thought it was justified, as the point of the programme was to show several deaf viewpoints, and besides it is a free country after all.
Sara and I received loads of messages from both deaf and hearing people speaking about their experiences and how inspired they were by the TV show. Some young deaf people said it helped them to feel comfortable in their deaf identity and with themselves which, for me personally is the best part of the experience as I know all too well how hard it can be to be a teenager growing up trying to understand their identity and their place in the world.
I went to bed very late that night with the drama of the Chickengate controversy which spawned a Facebook group and a talk of producing the merchandise such as t-shirts based on it! It wasn’t an ideal preparation for an important presentation I had to make next day for a university module, but luckily I scarped through it with good marks.
Now it has been almost a year since we filmed the TV show, our fifteen minutes of fame has firmly wore off though we still get recognised at deaf events and Sara’s dad was sometimes greeted as ‘the father of the limping chicken’ which I am sure scientifically is not possible! I believe the show also improved deaf awareness for the hearing people as one incident in a Clintons card shop demonstrated.
I got to the till and, as I glanced in my wallet for the correct change, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted the till clerk speaking so I quickly glanced up to inform her that I am deaf. She had already stopped speaking, and after being informed of my deafness, she spoke very clearly ‘Yes, I know, I saw you on that TV show’ and went on to say how much it taught her about deaf people. That was a nice change from the standard reaction from hearing people who want to flee to the North Pole at the first sign of deaf people!
It even played a small part in the hatching of this website (pardon the pun). Oh and finally, I want to put couple of rumours to the bed- The note-taker’s chicken DIDN’T ended up as our dinner in Nandos and Sara DIDN’T quit university because of the note-taker, she quit because the course didn’t live up to her expectations.
Asher is a 2nd year ICT student at Nottingham Trent University. He likes to think he is a forward-thinking young man exploring and seeking out his place in this strange world. In reality, he spends far too much time on his Playstation 3. Follow him on Twitter: @AsherWW