The UK Council on Deafness, the umbrella group of deaf organisations who manage Deaf Awareness Week every year, have given this year’s event the theme of ‘coming through it together’ – let’s talk about that.
There’s something about this phrase which, at first glance, feels a tad like so-called ‘inspiration porn’. As the deaf community looks to celebrate our work as a collective, discussions of our work to break down societal barriers and dismantle audist attitudes and infrastructure need to be viewed by hearing people from a place of respect, rather than inappropriate exaggeration. We’re not ‘overcoming’ our deafness to secure change; we’re making progress together, as a community, in defiance of audism.
Look no further than the year-long campaign to have a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter present in the room for the UK Government’s briefings on the coronavirus – a project known online as #WhereIsTheInterpreter.
As a result of the Deaf community’s tireless campaigning, led by Deaf presenter Lynn Stewart-Taylor, we’ve caught the attention of the Government, news outlets, opposition parties and Parliamentary committees. We’ve raised thousands to help the campaign, and secured permission for a legal challenge – specifically, a judicial review – to take place on 16 June.
It’s not the only way in which the community has “come together” during the current COVID-19 pandemic, either, as we’ve called on the national and devolved governments and healthcare providers to provide clear, transparent face masks. Progress in this area has been slow, but the UK Government did procure 250,000 transparent masks from the US company ClearMask in health and social care – in a pilot which “demonstrated that transparent masks were valued and proved a need for them”.
“Building on this pilot, soft market engagement is being undertaken and there will be an assessment of a broader scope of products from a range of manufacturers to inform future procurement,” the UK Government recently told the Women and Equalities Committee. “This assessment will test different types of transparent masks that are currently at prototype stage, against a new technical specification being developed by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).”
For fellow deaf people reading this post, this is perhaps a reminder of the progress we have secured together in circumstances none of us could have foreseen, at a time where the crisis is being used by the Government to erode the rights of deaf and disabled people. As for any hearing people reading this, these are just some of the ongoing campaigns being led by the deaf community to which you can lend your support.
After all, there are some ways in which ‘together’ includes hearing people and allies working with us to challenge discrimination where it rears its ugly head. I plan on writing an article every day this week, and some of these will no doubt touch upon the correct way in which support can be given in the right way. For now though, it comes down to listening: listen to and speak up with us, not for or over us. Recognise the barriers and challenges we face, but don’t see that as a reason to pity deaf people, or admire our ‘bravery’ (see aforementioned point about ‘inspiration porn’). These struggles do not mean we can’t advocate for ourselves, so we don’t need hearing people acting like that’s the case.
To me, the ‘together’ in the theme ‘coming through together’ does not exclude hearing allies – their involvement is essential. What it means, though, is deaf people being front and centre of the issues which they wish to address and tackle as a community, with as many deaf people as possible working as a collective to amplify the specific concern(s) to the necessary decision-makers.
Hearing people, your job is to listen and uplift.
We can do this together.