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I would say that the Deaf community is remarkably welcoming and accepting (maybe even unusually) to hearing people and partially deaf who might be a bit rubbish at signing. However, I once had a different experience, and this is what I want to share with you…
In 1965, when I was five, an audiologist came to our school and tested everyone’s hearing. A week later I remember my father furiously ripping up a letter in the kitchen and shouting, ‘Our daughter is not bloody deaf!’ The next day my father took me to the doctor who sat me on his knee (those were the days!!) and got me to listen to his fob watch. Could I hear it? Of course I could!
‘Your daughter is not deaf,’ the doctor announced to my satisfied father. No more was ever said about my hearing loss and I went through my primary and secondary school days assuming that my hearing was normal and that everyone else had super human hearing, rather likeAlexandra Bastedo in the 1960s cult TV series The Champions.
But for some reason, I was always fascinated by sign language and by languages in general. Later I studied French and Italian at university as a mature student. Upon graduating in 1988, I embarked upon a teacher training course with the aim of entering the theatrical profession via Theatre in Education.
Towards the end of the course, however, I was involved in serious accident when I was run over by a bus whilst on my bike and, subsequently, lost my arm.
And suddenly I was Alice on the other side of the looking glass. I felt the same, but everyone saw me differently. This was before the DDA, of course. I abandoned thoughts of working in theatre and later became an Equality Officer (Disability/Access) at the local council.
In my new role, I wanted to interact with Deaf as well as Disabled people. So I asked a social worker who worked with Deaf people if she could introduce me to the Deaf Community at the Deaf Club.
It either must have been a meeting in the day or in the evening in midsummer as I remember the room filled with daylight and people standing around, still, like statues with their arms crossed in a very defensive attitude. But I internalised this and thought – Oh! It’s me. I should have at least learnt some basic sign language before I came along.
So, I made enquiries about joining the Level 1 BSL course, which was run by a well respected member of the local Deaf community. The reply came came back very quickly – ‘Under no circumstances would a one-armed person be allowed to join the course. Sign language requires two hands.’
I never went back to the Deaf Club.
Roll forward a few years. My second son, eleven months old, had just been diagnosed as being profoundly deaf. Was I upset? No – he was gorgeous and a very happy and inquisitive child. But was I worried about communicating with him? You bet.
Fortunately, I now lived in a different area.
The day following his diagnosis I rang the local college asking if the tutor of the BSL level 1 course would accept a one-armed student into the class. There was a course beginning in two weeks’ time. I explained what had happened. The reply came back almost immediately via a college secretary: ‘Of course you can come on the course. We would love to have you on the course! Didn’t they realise that Deaf people can be disabled too?!’
I was also told that Deaf people sign all the time with one hand when they are holding a baby, a pint or a pen – and so on.
Ever since, I’ve only ever been met with by kindness. And the rest is history.
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