One of the most illuminating experiences of my adult life occurred during my first month at Ai-Media UK. I’d come straight from the conveyor belt of university and, at that point, my exposure to the deaf community had been minimal. The Deaf Day 2014 conference, hosted at City Lit in Covent Garden, provided me with the opportunity to find out more.
Ai-Media had a stall alongside the many other companies who work with the deaf community. While the main goal of attending the conference was to increase awareness of Ai-Media's unique technology, the most memorable part of the day for me was the atmosphere of the convention.
Being at a deaf conference, the amount of talking was limited as most people were using sign language. A conference with so many people interacting with one another in silence was a completely alien concept to me. Within this room, my spoken language was practically redundant, and not knowing sign language made me the exception rather than the rule.
As a result I went from majority to minority, from articulate to inarticulate. This role reversal was initially disorientating and uncomfortable. As I watched the great camaraderie and friendliness between the people communicating through sign language, I felt left out. I lacked the tools of communication to join in many of the experiences in the room.
And that was when it clicked. I was suddenly able to understand the frustrations the disabled community must feel when they are not able to share the experiences of wider society. In that moment, I was placed into their shoes and discovered how much I had taken accessibility for granted in everyday life. Yet what I was feeling in this small pocket of London was only a microcosm of what the disabled community too often face in society at large.
These revelations were so profound that it almost felt as though the convention had been crafted for this precise purpose. I still don't believe my experience could have been recreated in any other setting.
But more important than our differences are our similarities. When we don't create a level playing field, it is not only the disabled community who miss out on experiences – the rest of society also misses out on enjoying the company and the experiences of the disabled community. Thus, rather than being shelved as a distant memory, Deaf Day 2014 reminded me of the importance of inclusion for all.
This is not an issue of disabled and not-disabled. Successful communication is always a two-way street when it comes to expressing ourselves and understanding each other – in any context. More importantly, this is about humanity's ability to grow and learn through the relationships they build and the teamwork they engage in with all kinds of people.
Deaf Day will return to City Lit in Summer 2016 after a year break, promising a new look and an exciting program.
Written by Robert Potter, Captioner