Matt Dixon: Who really started the ice bucket challenge? (BSL)

Posted on September 4, 2014



I like to know about the origins of causes, especially one as massive as the ALS Ice Bucket challenge.

I write this article because I have read many articles which claim to explain the origins of the ice bucket challenge but do not make any reference to the British Deaf community or any other communities where the challenge has previously been ‘viral’, dare I say before any Brit had even heard of ALS.

To watch this article in BSL, click ‘play’ below.

If you have deaf Facebook friends you will recall that this craze swept through your wall in early July this year.

Charlie Swinbourne wrote about it here on the 11th July. Most people taking part in the challenge decided to donate to Macmillan, WaterAid and some even asked their friends to donate them a pint of lager!

It was good fun and every video brought a smile to my face.

Then the craze went in global and yet again my Facebook wall is still full of hearing friends dumping cold water over their heads! (the deaf community are ahead of the times!)

Most people are referring to the challenge as the ALS Ice bucket challenge but what is ALS? ALS is an American Charity supporting people with Amyotrophic Lateral sclerosis (ALS) which is known as Motor Neurone disease (MND) here in the UK.

ALS has had fantastic success raising over $100 million in a matter of a few short weeks. Much more money than they had been used to raising.

So why did it become so popular in the name of ALS? On the 31th July this year a man called Pete Frates posted a video of himself pouring cold water over his head.

Pete is a former baseball player who was diagnosed with ALS in 2011. He decided to donate some money to the ALS charity and challenged his friends, including NFL (American footballers) Tom Brady and Matt Ryan to do the same, which they did, and the rest is history.

The ice bucket challenge has become so popular that ALS decided to apply trademark the phrase. I didn’t understand their logic. I thought that the ice bucket challenge could be done in the name of any charity.

Within 24 hours, following pressure on social media, ALS decided to withdraw their application. The withdrawn application, though, still agitates me.

ALS admit that the first used the term on the 6th August this year so just how can an organisation claim to be a founder of something that was in existence before they had even heard or seen an ice bucket challenge.

People who have been following this craze will know that Macmillan have also come under fire for allegedly stealing the challenge. They promote this challenge as the ‘Macmillan Ice Bucket Challenge’. Macmillan say that they received their first donation on 10th July and noticed an increase in donations and decided that they would name it.

When the craze hit deaf people’s Facebook feeds, James Clarke, a deaf man well known for his campaigning, videos and running exploits, started to do some research about the deaf origins of this challenge. He said that the first deaf person responsible for starting this craze was deaf poet, Richard Carter.

On the 5th July Carter posted a video showing him dumping a bucket of cold water over his head and then nominating his friends. It went viral within the deaf community.

Clarke also found out that in May this year, this craze went viral in New Zealand and the earliest mention of the differently titled cold water challenge is on a Facebook page called Austin’s Army.

Austin is a five-year-old boy with blood cancer. His family promoted the cold water challenge to try and raise money for a respite holiday. Quickly it went viral and hit the fundraising jackpot.

Dated from around the same time, I found an article by Fox News about a family in America who had also started doing the cold water challenge but this time by jumping into an icy river to raise money for their six-month-old baby, also suffering from cancer.

Some believe that the initial idea behind the Ice water challenge is to mimic how it feels when a cancer patient receives chemotherapy.

The truth is that there have been many variations of the ice water challenge with many different charities benefiting as a result and nobody can categorically say when this craze started, but what is clear to me is that many journalists claim that the ice bucket challenge started in the name of ALS.

That falsehood has led to social media attacks on other charities promoting their own version of the ice bucket challenge with accusations of idea theft.

Members of the deaf community lept to the defence of those charities, pointing to their own videos, by now, way down their Facebook walls.

Some people have decided to support a charity that has supported them or a family member and should not feel pressured to support any cause.

My belief is that it’s up to the nominee to choose a charity and not for others to claim this challenge.

Matt Dixon is a campaigner for the rights of sign language users, a sign language interpreter and a member of the Spit the Dummy and Campaign for BSL Act Campaign Team. You can follow Matt on Twitter @foreverbsl

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