Video Transcript: Respect sign language and the community.
LIAM O'DELL: British Sign Language – it’s a language that I was very lucky enough to start learning back in 2014.
It all started when I was asked if I wanted to join a charity’s youth board. And, at that point, there was 18 of us from all over the UK, from the deaf community – some of them used sign language as a means to communicate.
However, up until that point I wasn’t really that immersed in the deaf community. Sure, there were a few people in my local area that were deaf or hard of hearing that I could speak to, but this was the first time – and the first opportunity that I could properly start learning sign language.
So, over the course of four residentials, I went from being quite an awkward person that knew no sign language whatsoever to the fourth and final residential, where I was able to have a full-on conversation with people in British Sign Language.
And I ended up learning sign language in a variety of ways: from people teaching me on the board, to learning from dictionaries to having lessons in classes.
For me, I approach sign language with a sense of curiosity, fascination and intrigue. I thought the deaf community was such a wonderful and amazing thing that I wanted to be a part of. And I think when it comes to hearing people wanting to learn sign language, it’s that curiosity and fascination that they should also possess as well.
And I say this because although I am not fluent in British Sign Language myself, I do like to teach people a couple of signs here and there.
And what I find is that for some people, they’re immediately interested in learning how to swear, or learning how to say inappropriate terms that kind of diminish the beauty of the language somewhat.
And let’s be honest here: as with any language, it’s important that we learn the essentials rather than learning how to call someone a rude word.
And that’s the problem. If hearing people approach sign language the wrong way, then it turns into this gimmick or ‘party trick’ or something that they can show off to their friends, and that kind of diminishes the beauty of such a visual language and just turns it into some sort of thing that you can possess and show off to people - it just diminishes it entirely.
And it’s not just the use of sign language to swear that’s a problem. It’s also when BSL is put into popular culture in this kind of inspirational or exaggerated thing as well – that can be just as harmful.
And with this comes an important question to consider: when is learning sign language seen as this kind of ‘party trick’ and when is it actually properly spreading awareness?
And I say this because if done right, learning British Sign Language can open so much more opportunities, it can challenge stereotypes, it can lead us to meet new and exciting people.
But as much as we rely on hearing people to approach learning sign language with this right sense of enthusiasm, there’s also a responsibility on us, as deaf people, to teach people in the right way.
And I say this because I’ve seen recent examples where hearing people go up to people who are deaf or hard of hearing, tell them about their passion to learn sign language, only for them to be treated with contempt or made to feel stupid.
And just as much as we don’t like hearing people mocking the language by using it to swear, it’s also important that we don’t mock hearing people when they have a genuine passion to learn sign language.
Personally, I think this is something we can tackle from both sides: the hearing community and the deaf community, and if we work together we can realise the beauty of such a wonderfully visual language. We can help to break down barriers, unite people, and challenge stereotypes.
Thanks for watching.