Charlie Swinbourne: The Deaf community needs more programmes like BBC4’s Life and Deaf

Posted on July 5, 2016

I’m writing this having just watched BBC4’s documentary Life and Deaf (you can now see it on iPlayer here), and I was really impressed.

The documentary, which is an hour long, followed Marios, Tina, Memnos and Abigail, a group of Londoners who are all linked to St John’s Deaf Club.

Abigail is deciding whether to have a cochlear implant, which her mother has concerns about. Memnos, who is football mad, is hoping the football team he manages can win the Deaf Cup. Marios and Tina are having a baby, and wondering whether it will be deaf or hearing.

Watching the programme felt like being with Deaf friends, because it all felt so natural.

The slightly precarious signing car journeys and football team trips across the country in a mini bus. The conversations with midwives and audiologists. The awkward discussions with parents. Best of all, the Deaf family chat at dinnertime.

What was really refreshing was how the scenes looked absolutely natural, and real, the conversations often allowed to flow, uncut, for minutes at a time – something you rarely get in documentaries.

Because of this we got to know the contributors really well. We got to see the in-jokes Deaf people make (especially Abigail’s – I laughed out loud at several of her quips), the rising tension during several conversations, and best of all I think, we got to see some everyday swearing. Just like in real life.

Deaf culture and our community is often so hidden away from wider view that programmes like this are vitally important in humanising Deaf people, showing how similar we are to everyone else, but also the ways that we’re different, too.

It was great that this programme was shown on a mainstream channel, at a peak viewing time, and will now be available on iPlayer. Let’s hope it reaches a wide audience.

Another note: I also really liked the fact the programme wasn’t voiced over, it asked the mainstream audience to look, to read the subtitles and look at what was going on. It was also nice to hear natural Deaf voices.

Well done to everyone involved – and if you haven’t yet – make sure you watch it!

Watch Life and Deaf on BBC iPlayer (UK only) by clicking here.

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