Matt Dixon: Campaigners need to think again about how they communicate with the deaf community (BSL)

Posted on October 9, 2014

I write this article as more of a plea rather than a news item.

Like many other people, as well as growing up in the deaf community, I now work within the community and I have deaf friends and colleagues.

In recent times, I have started discussions with a Deaf person about general politics and current campaigns active within our community and it surprised me how many times I was met with a blank expression and then the standard reply in BSL ‘FOOOOW’ (the sign for I don’t know).

I decided to write this article as I have major concerns that information is not being shared as effectively as it could be – especially between deaf organisations or campaign groups and the people they are meant to be representing.

I am avid user of Twitter and Facebook. I make it my duty to observe what’s going on and follow campaigns with a keen interest. This interest, more than likely, stems from my time on the admin team at Spit The Dummy and Campaign (STDC).

I know from my own experience on STDC that people work extremely hard trying their best to solve issues and I am fully aware that getting the information out to the community is one of the hardest objectives when campaigning.

You may or may not be aware that at this moment in time there are numerous campaigns, one such campaign is called ‘stopChanges2ATW’ which is a group led by members of the deaf community and BSL interpreters who are trying to put a stop to the ridiculous changes that are affecting Access to work claims. One of their objectives is to raise funds to mount a legal challenge against the government (brilliant idea!)

Did you know there is a parliamentary review regarding Access to work happening on the 15th and 29th October?

Do you know that some people/organisations have been invited to give evidence at this parliamentary review?

If you do not then this highlights my main concern, which is that members from the deaf community do not know about these campaigns, which makes them feel they are not being given the chance to share their experiences.

There are various Facebook pages and web sites publicising campaigns and objectives but the majority of information is in English text and hardly any of the updates are provided by means of BSL clips.

In all fairness, if you are an organisation representing deaf people or working within the deaf community, then you should really be making your campaign objectives known by means of accessible information.

Organisations need to be using platforms such as Limping Chicken to publish campaigns, approaching Facebook groups such as STDC and Deaf Opinions and sharing your information on platforms that deaf people use. This sounds like common sense but it does not appear to be common practice.

If organisations receive information, I feel you should be approaching other organisations and ask them to share your information with their members. If you are invited to an event or approached to give evidence to parliament, for example, then let other organisations and the community know about it.

They may have crucial evidence, which will assist the common cause. Unite and work together, there seems to be far too much retaining of information which in turn makes people suspicious.

I know there is a lot of history between organisations but I think it is time to wipe the slate clean and work together, properly and effectively.

I’ve witnessed employees of deaf organisations wasting valuable time by trying to find out what is happening by means of third hand information on social media.

On occasion campaigns seem to be secretive. Some choose to hide behind anonymity. Scared to reveal their identity? I feel anonymous Twitter profiles do not help the situation, they appear to be constantly challenging people who are trying their best to make a change.

I am not saying ‘keep quiet’ but at least give constructive feedback or consider approaching people privately. I know why people or organisations choose to be anonymous, I will admit I considered not putting my name to this article, mainly because of the fear of negative feedback, but then again, why should we be fearful?

I suppose my main point is that we need to get rid of the fears, we need to stop hiding and rid ourselves of the fear of being criticised or challenged. Most people are campaigning for positive reasons; they are trying to make a change; but they can’t do it alone.

Teamwork is the best way to achieve success. Share your information with each other and most importantly, with the community, by means of accessible information.

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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