A couple of weeks ago, Bob Duncan wrote about an event taking place at the Edinburgh Fringe. The title – ‘Send the Deaf to Orkney!’ – aroused a lot of controversy. But as one of the 53 Deaf and hearing people who attended on 20th August said, it was “one of the maddest, liveliest events I’ve ever been to.”
Here, Graham Turner explains what he and his fellow debater, Jeff McWhinney of SignVideo, were trying to get at – and why they chose the format they did.
‘Send the Deaf to Orkney’ was designed to be entertaining while tackling serious issues.
Jeff McWhinney and I know each other well. We could both clearly see arguments on either side of this debate, so our main difficulty was to agree who would argue FOR going to Orkney and who AGAINST. We didn’t want anyone to think we personally had narrow, fixed positions: and anyway, the priority was to explore the issues, not to worry about the particular perspective of this or that person.
So we hit on the idea – which would add a bit of humour and Edinburgh Fringe theatricality– of taking it in turns to appear on the pro-Orkney and anti-Orkney sides of the debate.
Being Deaf is just like being a member of any other language community – but one distinct difference is the lack of a Deaf ‘homeland’. So the questions were ‘what would a homeland mean to Britain’s Deaf people; and what are the consequences of not having a place to call your own?’
Why Orkney? Because the population of Orkney matches the number of BSL users we expect to be given by the 2011 UK census. Taking Orkney as the suggested homeland gave us an opportunity to challenge that questionable census figure.
A Deaf Orkney would offer a place where the life of the community could be organised in BSL. The future of the language would be assured. But wait a minute: isn’t it true that BSL is now valued by hearing people too? Hearing people love learning BSL – that’s why the idea of a BSL GCSE qualification is now under very serious consideration.
On Orkney, though, no-one would be patronised because they were Deaf. Families could make their minds up about cochlear implants for their children without pressure. Deaf children could be brought up with Deaf values. All very well, says the ‘No to Orkney’ argument, but haven’t you realised – attitudes have changed. If you want to go back to the 19th century, Orkney sounds like the right place to go about it!
Surely money would be saved by sending the Deaf to Orkney, though? Interpreting costs would be zero! Meanwhile, Deaf businesses (e.g. tourism) would boom: every Deaf person the world over would visit. Mind you, integration isn’t expensive nowadays. Technology is improving fast and video interpreting services really work. Thousands of children will study BSL at school in future: the quality of interpreters will then improve markedly because their signing will be so much better, and the fees for bilingual professionals will fall rapidly once the skills shortage disappears.
On Orkney, Deaf people would be able to say ‘no’ to hearing control. Every decision at the local level would be in Deaf hands. Society could be organised to suit Deaf people. But perhaps it’s only by living and working with hearing people that we’ll finally prove what the Deaf Way has to offer. When hearing and Deaf minds bring their strengths together, the results are more powerful than either operating alone.
Professor Graham Turner is Chair of Translation & Interpreting Studies at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh. He leads the team now running the first ever degree course in BSL in Scotland.
The Limping Chicken is supported by a range of charities and organisations linked to deafness, all of whom offer services that enhance deaf lives. Click on the images on the right-hand side of this site or go to our Supporters page to find out all about them!
The Limping Chicken is the world's most popular Deaf blog, and is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne. Find out how to write for us by clicking here, how to follow us by clicking here, and read our disclaimer here.
The site exists thanks to our supporters. Check them out below:
- Signature: Leading awarding body for BSL qualifications
- Ai-Media: Remote captioning. Find out about 6 awesome accessibility apps!
- Bellman & Symfon: home alerting solutions
- Deaf Umbrella: sign language interpreting and communications support
- Eyewitness Media: TV and film from a Deaf perspective
- Appa: Communication services for Deaf, Deafblind and hard of hearing people
- SignLive: Online video interpreting for Deaf people
- SignVideo: Instant BSL video interpreting online
- 121 Captions: captioning and speech-to-text services
- The National Theatre: Captioned and BSL accessible theatre in London
- Doncaster School for the Deaf: education for Deaf children
- Signworld: Learn BSL online!
- Action Deafness Communications: sign language and Red Dot online video interpreting
- BSLcourses.co.uk: Provider of online BSL courses
- Association of Notetaking Professionals: The professional body representing Electronic and Manual Notetakers
- Sign Solutions: communication support, training and translation
- InterpretersLive: On demand BSL video interpretation
- Hamilton Lodge School in Brighton: education for Deaf children
- Lipspeaker UK: specialist lipspeaking support
- Ozen: Australian hearing aid specialists
- Elmfield School, Bristol: Inclusive education for Deaf pupils
- deafPLUS: BSL advice helpline
- Exeter Deaf Academy: education for Deaf children
- Royal Shakespeare Company: Captioned and BSL interpreted performances (see dates here)
- Royal School for the Deaf, Derby: Residential education for deaf children
- RAD Tax Advice: Tax and Tax Credit info for Deaf people
- Performance Interpreting: BSL interpreting at concerts
- National Deaf Children's Society: The leading charity for deaf children
- Signed Culture: Advocating for BSL access to arts and culture
- SignHealth: healthcare charity for Deaf people
- CJ Interpreting: communication support in BSL
- British Society for Mental Health and Deafness: Promoting positive mental health for deaf people