Did you know there are 12 million people in the UK living with hearing loss? It’s Deaf Awareness Week and Cumbernauld Community Health Information Hub explores how we can become more aware, inclusive and supportive to people with hearing loss.
Deaf Awareness Week 2020, taking place from 4-10 May 2020, is a campaign organised by UK Council on Deafness which aims to raise awareness and challenge perceptions of hearing loss and Deafness across the country. It also provides an opportunity to show that people can live well without their hearing.
Most Deaf people do not see their deafness as a disability or even a problem that needs to be solved. They just view it as part of their normal life experience that they share with others in the Deaf community and with their family and friends.
However, there is evidently still a stigma around deafness in the UK which needs to be eradicated. Last year, national charity Action on Hearing Loss Scotland conducted an online survey in which 89% of respondents with hearing loss indicated that they felt they were being stigmatised or discriminated against.
The majority of people polled highlighted that deafness and hearing loss was still something many felt appropriate to make fun of, and that as a result people felt the need to hide their hearing aids.
Despite hearing loss affecting approximately one in six people in the UK, only a fraction of the population use British Sign Language (BSL). There are around 151,000 users of British Sign Language, with about 87,000 of these people being Deaf.
Contrary to popular belief, sign language is not international. Sign languages have evolved all over the world, wherever there are Deaf people. As you’d expect with spoken languages, there are many variations with sign language too.
For example, even though the main language in the UK, Ireland and the United States is English, all three have separate sign languages.
What many people don’t realise is that a high number of Deaf people recognise British Sign Language as their first language, with some finding difficulty in using English as it is structured completely differently.
As such, the more people who learn and use British Sign Language, the more inclusive the country will be for Deaf people. Online courses are available for those wishing to learn British Sign Language in their own time through visiting www.british-sign.co.uk.
The challenges facing the Deaf community are all the more pertinent at the moment in the light of the national coronavirus (COVID-19) emergency across the UK.
For example, national addresses and briefings about coronavirus provided by UK Government ministers have not included a sign language interpreter, making it extremely difficult and frustrating for many Deaf people to receive important health information and guidance.
Action on Hearing Loss Scotland is providing a telephone helpline (0808 808 0123), a textphone helpline (0808 808 900), an email support service (firstname.lastname@example.org) and a web chat facility for Deaf people requiring advice and support during the coronavirus pandemic.
HOW DO I COMMUNICATE WITH A DEAF PERSON?
One on the main issues for both people in the Deaf community and those who are not is the problem of communication. Many hearing people might wrongly assume that Deaf people will not be able to understand them and there are still many misconceptions about the abilities of Deaf people which need addressing.
Often, hearing people become easily frustrated trying to communicate with Deaf or hard of hearing people (especially with older people) and often give up in their attempts. This can leave the Deaf or hard of hearing person feeling isolated and lonely. Hence, it is important that hearing people gain more understanding and information about ways they can effectively communicate with the Deaf community.
In this respect, here are some helpful tips anyone can take on board when communicating with a Deaf person:
Find out the person’s preferred method of communication. It could be speech, lipreading, BSL or a mixture. In some instances, an interpreter may be needed.
Get their attention before attempting to communicate. For example, you could wave, knock on a table or lightly tap their shoulder.
Face the person and stand still when talking so that they can see your face clearly.
Speak clearly and naturally – if you try to over exaggerate or speak too loudly or slowly, lipreading becomes more difficult.
Don’t cover your mouth with your hands when you speak. Many people try to speak whilst eating, smoking or chewing gum, which makes understanding difficult, even for hearing people.
Use visual cues where you can. Even if you don’t know official British Sign Language, you can use commonly-accepted gestures and facial expressions to communicate ideas.
Ensure they know what the topic is, or when the topic changes.
Stand in the light or by a window so your face is visible and speak one person at a time.
Try to reduce any background noise – turn off radios / machines or do up car windows.
Use alternative communication methods where required, such as texting, emailing or using a pen and paper.
Be especially considerate and understanding of the needs and frustrations of Deaf children, and take appropriate steps to ensure they are fully included and listened to.
Take time to learn British Sign Language.
A range of awareness and fundraising events and activities would ordinarily be organised locally and nationally during Deaf Awareness Week. This year, because of coronavirus restrictions and the particularly vulnerable position this places Deaf people and their loved ones in, individuals are asked to show their support online and in kind.
There are many charities which provide useful advice and information on how to communicate with Deaf people, including Action on Hearing Loss Scotland, National Deaf Children’s Society, Deaf Scotland, British Deaf Association, Deaf Action and Hearing Dogs for Deaf People. Opportunities exist to support these organisations through donating, volunteering, participating in Deaf Awareness Training and raising awareness with friends and family.
Further information about Deaf Awareness Week 2020 can be viewed by visiting Action on Hearing Loss Scotland’s website. Access to bespoke support services for Deaf people and those with hearing loss living in Cumbernauld can be obtained by visiting Deaf Services Lanarkshire and Lanarkshire Deaf Club online.