Meet: Deaf journalist and documentary maker, Cathy Heffernan, who has just worked with C4 News

Posted on May 17, 2016

Deaf journalist and documentary maker Cathy Heffernan was the producer behind an item on Channel 4 news about communication with Deaf children.

The item was split into two videos by a member of her team, and they went viral on social media. One was about the difficulty that parents of Deaf children face being able to learn BSL, and the other about a school in Manchester where all children are learning BSL in order to include deaf pupils.

We asked her about making the original item and what is next for her.

What is your role on the items you’ve been making for C4 news?

I was a producer on the original item (which was later split into two videos for social media) working with the C4 News Film Fund team who commission items for the No Go Britain series.

How long have you been working on them?

I started developing ideas for the series back in March and among them was something looking at how there’s a postcode lottery when it comes to funding to help parents of deaf children to learn sign language. While I started researching in March I didn’t started on the story properly until April.

How many items have you made?

Just the one. The No Go Britain series is running all year though and looks at a range of issues around disability. Hopefully I’ll do something else for them later this year!

What has your experience of making them been like?

It’s been a exciting and refreshing experience – I was working with people who had very little or no idea about deafness, sign language, how polemic the whole issue of CIs and oralism vs sign language is and so on – but they really got to grips with the issues.

So we were able to work together to simplify the story so that a mainstream audience would be able to understand the issues without going so far that we missed the point.

There was a respect among those I worked with – from the freelance shooting director and editor to the Film Fund team and Jackie Long, C4 News social affairs editor who did the voice over – for the issues, an understanding that it couldn’t be boiled down to “all deaf children must sign”, that it is more complex than that. And that was really good to see.

I also made contact with many parents of deaf children during my research for this story and hearing their stories has been fascinating. it was both inspiring and depressing to see how much work they are doing to ensure that their children get the best start in life – it’s great that they are doing this but it goes to show how lacking the services that are supposed to be supporting them are.

The item has been widely shared in two videos on social media, what kind of response have you noticed?

I’m not really on Facebook these days after going cold turkey in January (only have a dummy account for work purposes!) so I haven’t really seen the response there but it’s got good feedback on Twitter – one thing that seems to come up is how people say BSL should be a school subject available to everyone. With some schools piloting a GCSE in BSL at the moment, could that become a reality soon?

What’s up next for you?

I received some funding from the Mary Raftery Fund in Ireland to do an investigation for an article – which I’m now working on… then it’s back to looking for the next freelance gig!

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