This is Deaf Awareness Week, with Cumbernauld Community Health Information Hub eager to raise awareness of the isolation that Deaf people can sometimes experience as well as emphasising how important is it for everyone to play a role in ensuring social inclusion for the Deaf community.
Around 11 million people in the UK are Deaf or hard of hearing, which equates to one in six people, yet it remains true that Deaf people continue to face exclusion and inequalities on a daily basis up and down the country.
Taking place from 3-9 May 2021, Deaf Awareness Week enables us stop and consider how we can become more aware, inclusive and supportive towards people with hearing loss. The UK Council on Deafness campaign also seeks to challenge perceptions of Deafness and provides an opportunity to highlight that people can live well without their hearing.
Deafness and hearing loss can mean different things to different people. People use various words and terms to describe how they view their own Deafness or hearing loss. In fact, 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. Recently, national charity RNID (Royal National Institute for Deaf People 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 indicated 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 a significant proportion of the population, only a fraction of society uses 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 given the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, with mask-wearing causing particular problems for those who rely on lipreading. Furthermore, national addresses and briefings about coronavirus provided by UK Government ministers have not included a sign language interpreter (although Scottish Government addresses have), making it extremely difficult and frustrating for many Deaf people to receive important health information and guidance.
To help alleviate such difficulties, RNID is coordinating a telephone helpline (0808 808 0123), a textphone helpline (0808 808 9000), an email support service (email@example.com) and a text message service (07800 000360) for Deaf people requiring advice and support during the coronavirus pandemic.
One thing that everyone can do to support the Deaf community is take heed of some simple pieces of information and advice in relation to making communication easier for a Deaf person.
KEY CONSIDERATIONS WHEN COMMUNICATING WITH A DEAF PERSON
A central issue 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.
Frequently, 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.
To this end, 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 close 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.
An array 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 RNID, 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.
More information about Deaf Awareness Week 2021 can be viewed by visiting RNID’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.