Emily Howlett: Is the Little Mix case good or bad for D/deaf rights?

Posted on February 1, 2018


Is there anyone left out there who hasn’t seen the recent story about a mother suing a concert organiser for failing to provide an interpreter? I find it hard to believe – the coverage has been so widespread, I suspect even my great grandfather knows, and he’s dead.

It felt, for a few days, like it was impossible to get away from this modern day underdog tale; Deaf mother attends a BSL-interpreted girl group concert with her hearing daughter, and is disappointed to find only the main act is signed, with the supporting performances left open to, well, interpretation.

The mother then starts a campaign to sue the concert promoters, for breach of the Equality Act (I assume) as she believes they didn’t provide equal access.

This somehow caught the eye of the media, and the whole thing blew up deliciously – people who have nothing to do with the d/Deaf world were suddenly talking about this particular situation; on the bus, by the water cooler, in the pub and, somewhat sadly, on social media.

Some were on the side of the Deaf woman, while some took quite viciously against her. And it definitely wasn’t a case of the Deaf supporting the Deaf – there were a lot of mixed opinions even within our own community.

Some people think it’s a case that she is set to lose, and we should, as a community, ‘pick our battles’. Others think she is creating a fuss over nothing, as the main part of the concert was interpreted. Also, there are many people with the opinion that signing a sung performance is pointless, as the Deaf person will be watching the interpreter, not the show, and it’s impossible to truly translate English lyrics into BSL anyway.

On the flip side, others are supportive of the discrimination case, as it highlights the kind of barriers d/Deaf people face every day – which are often illegal, when held up against equality guidelines and laws. Some people feel that having paid to see the whole concert (advertised as BSL accessible), she should have been able to access it all, and that the promoters have wilfully discriminated against her, and the d/Deaf community.

Personally, I am confused. At first I was intrigued, then angry, then I was disappointed, and now I am just confused. And, you know what? That is EXACTLY HOW I FEEL EVERY TIME.

Because this isn’t a new story. It isn’t even a new angle. Every so often, a d/Deaf (or disabled) person has a story which is leapt upon by the media and our online social world, and it goes viral. We’ve all seen the cochlear implant switch ons, the Deaf child signing something super cute, the deaf person waging a war against some company or individual who has discriminated against them…

It lasts for a few days. Everyone is talking about it. I follow my usual emotions; intrigue and interest in this particular story, then anger at either the way d/Deaf people are being portrayed or stereotyped or all shoved into yet another ‘one size fits all’ bucket. Then disappointment that it’s ended up splitting our community AGAIN…

And, finally, confusion. Because, surely I should just be glad that people are noticing our struggles, and talking about them? Isn’t that, in the end, the only way we move forward towards true understanding and equality?

It’s hard not to lose hope, when every time these cases come around, it feels like the same old story. There’s the flicker of hope that maybe this time things will change, this time will be the one that makes people GET IT.

And then the chatter stops. The case continues, but it is now a tiny paragraph on the back page of the newspaper. Maybe a 60 second interview on local news. The people on the bus are talking about Strictly Come Dancing instead, and the water cooler is abuzz with news that Janice in Accounts bought a new cactus.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t fight for our rights. I’m not even saying we should pick our battles. I’m just, actually, wondering who decides which of these stories are newsworthy, and who decides to drop them before we ever reach some kind of resolution? Because I think it needs to change.

These battles and barriers are presented to hearing people as something so rare and horrifying that these chosen stories alone are newsworthy. That’s rubbish. If this wasn’t a moderated site, I’d tell you a few other words it is as well.

We deal with this stuff EVERY DAY. Every single one of us. There’s ALWAYS something, and, actually, you could run a 24hr rolling news channel about it.

We are a community, living in a world that doesn’t always look out for us. And we need to have public support, if we want to make a change. But we don’t need to be used for shock value, or inspiration porn.

And we don’t need our stories to be forgotten two days later because someone ate a kangaroo testicle in the jungle.

Emily Howlett is a regular writer for this site. She is a profoundly Deaf actress, writer and teacher. Emily is co-director of PAD Productions and makes an awful lot of tea. And mess. She now has not one, but four grey eyebrow hairs. C’est la vie. She tweets as @ehowlett

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