Donna Williams: How it feels to be ‘spitting the dummy’!

Posted on March 12, 2013



Well. What a fortnight.

I feel like I’m about to come out. I’m going to come out as… an admin of the ‘Spit the Dummy and campaign for BSL Act!’ group over on Facebook. Yes I am one of the six, soon hopefully to be more, because frankly, six is not enough. We know this.

Perhaps I should go back to the beginning.

It all started when John Smith, a well-known deaf comedian, put some videos on his Facebook page, calling for action on a new ‘BSL Act’ for legislation and protection of BSL.

As well as inspiring James Clarke, who made some videos re a BSL Act, this in turn inspired a marvellous video from Lee Robertson, where he demonstrated perfectly how to spit out a dummy; as well as making some very good points about how much has actually changed since BSL recognition – that is, not much.

This then inspired me to create a new poem, ‘Spit the Dummy’, which I published on my DeafFirefly blog a couple of weeks ago.

The day after I published my blog, I was inboxed by Lee, who asked if I would like to be an admin of a group he was helping to set up with James and John. Flattered, and thinking it would be a small thing while I got on with other things, I said yes.

Imagine standing on a beach. Someone offers you a surfboard. You take it, thinking it’ll be a fun ride. Then, as you paddle out into the shallows, you realise that a) the approaching wave is in fact a tsunami and b) you don’t know how to surf.

My fellow surfers are Lee Robertson, James Clarke, John Smith, Sylvia Simmonds and Des Masterson. Sylvia, Des and I were asked to come on board for our specific skills i.e. Deaf advocacy and campaign and parliamentary knowledge from Sylvia and Des, and English / writing skills from me.

It seems that many people support a BSL Act, for various reasons; the number of posts on the Facebook page has been just dizzying. The admins all watched in stunned admiration as our little page hit 10,000 within days. And then we ran to catch up, with, I’ll be honest, varying levels of success. If I had a tenner for every time I’ve thought I’ve bitten off more than I could chew, well let’s just say my tax return for next year would be a lot more impressive than the one just gone.

For the most part, it’s been amazing to see how many people support a BSL Act, at the last count we had 373 videos, and some of the experiences people have shared have been powerful and moving. It’s clear some form of legislation reinforcing and protecting British Sign Language is sorely needed.

What we really want is for BSL to have the same level of recognition and support as Welsh. It may take a while, but with the good examples of the BSL Act currently making its way through the Scottish parliament and of Iceland, where Icelandic Sign Language is fully legally supported, we can but hope! And campaign.

But patience, people! Check out John Smith’s video where he uses the parallel of the Berlin Wall to see what I mean…

In the meantime, the rules of the group are:
1) Please keep posts relevant to the BSL Act Campaign.
2) Please keep the atmosphere positive.
3) No swearing, no personal attacks, no bullying and no libel.
4) Images that are considered offensive shall be removed.
5) This group is for the BSL Act campaign, not for promotion of services or products. Advertisements and posts promoting services, events and products will be removed. For any BSL Act Campaign-related events, please refer to the admin team for approval.

And yes, I’m sad to say, each of these rules came about as a result of the first week. Fireworks indeed! Saner people would have quit… And I’m told that some of our new members did.

All I can say is that the admin team are very sorry if anyone was offended or upset by anything that happened over the last couple of weeks, but we had a big powwow in Birmingham on Sunday and we finally have what I suspect we’ve needed all along: A Plan.

A Plan! And step one is seeking out and approving new admins. We’re going for twelve in total, and we hope those we ask will say yes, but will totally understand if they don’t. There are other steps, and they shall be revealed, have no fear, James and Lee are now the Media team, so watch that space!

For the group we’re looking for posts relevant to the BSL Act; experiences, positive and negative, positive in ways in which some awareness of BSL has made your day a little brighter (like discovering a receptionist could sign, a miracle indeed!) or negative in how lack of access in or understanding of BSL has affected people.

For the record, we’re certainly not looking for videos of BSL users going up to poor random hearing people and signing at them while they look lost. It’s not helpful. We’re trying to encourage people to understand how and why BSL is important in our lives, not put them off for life. Besides, I don’t much like it when people come up and start talking randomly at me; much less if they’re holding a clipboard. Let’s not do it to others, eh? With or without a clipboard.

But there has been positive stuff as well! Debates about counselling that identified gaps in the services, valid complaints about the police (and if you have been mistreated by the police for example by them refusing to get you a sign language interpreter, you can complain to the IPCC – Independent Police Complaints Commission. I had a look at their website and there’s no time limit on complaints, though they do like to get them within a year of the incident. If it’s longer than that, point out how lack of access discouraged you from complaining before. Not that I’m encouraging anyone to give the police negative feedback…!) and if you have been mistreated by the NHS, there is PALS – the Patient Liaison Service – whose job is to mediate complaints. I’ve used them myself in the past. And it seems I’m not the only one that’s had bad experiences with banks!

In a way, I think that’s been one of the most positive effects of the group – it’s a message to other BSL users out there: we are not the only ones. We are not the only ones who feel ignored, who’ve been badly treated, who fear for the future. There are others out there. Please, let’s embrace them, and not get tied up in endless debates. As John Smith said, we need to point our energies not at each other but THAT WAY at the government if we’re going to have a chance.

I won’t lie. The last couple of weeks have been occasionally overwhelming. Please be kind to us admins; we’re absolutely thrilled with the progress of the group but we’re babies too, finding our feet and yes, sometimes falling flat on our face. The thing is to pick ourselves up and keep tottering, because eventually we’ll all be walking, hopefully up to the door of No. 10 Downing Street with a dummy in hand. Who’s with us?

For now, I’ve been brushing up that poem that seems to have got me in so much hot water and I’d like to give it to the BSL Act campaign. Here is ‘Spit the Dummy’ with a short intro…

Viva la revolution!

Donna Williams is a Contributing Editor to this site. She is a Deaf writer and blogger living in Bristol and studying part-time in Cardiff. As well as being a postgrad student, she’s a BSL poet, freelance writer, NDCS Deaf Role Model presenter, and occasional performer. She tweets as @DeafFirefly

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