I have just started my level 3 in British Sign Language after being postponed due to Covid-19. So my head is full of new signs and the confusing mishmash that comes with learning a new language.
Now, you might have missed it, but last week International Deaf Week included a day where we celebrate sign languages across the world.
It was fitting then that the first episode of Strictly Come Dancing starred Rose Ayling-Ellis, a deaf actress, and it was beautiful to see her use sign language on television. But before I congratulate ourselves, let me note some of the situations and obstacles that I have seen having a direct impact on the deaf community, especially in light of the coronavirus.
I think of my Deaf friend who was hospitalized for 10 days. He hadn’t communicated with anyone at that time except writing everything down.
No interpreter for medical decisions; nothing. He was understandably depressed and frustrated; but his face lit up when I introduced myself and was able to communicate with him in sign language – albeit with my poor skills.
And the gentleman I met when he came for a consultation for a serious illness and an interpreter had not been reserved for him. I helped him in the consultation.
I really shouldn’t have but the choice was either for my rudimentary help or to go home unseen; he chose the first.
Or the many Deaf people who told me that it was impossible to get an appointment with the general practitioner because they have to be booked by phone.
It’s bad enough to hear people, hang on for at least half an hour – you’re now 17th in the queue – sigh.
Or my deaf friends, who because of the masks have been unable to lip read and communicate in things we take for granted, including shopping.
Deaf people are not thick or stupid and do not have a learning disability. They are independent people like you and me. The only thing they can’t do is hear.
We need to do more to break down the barriers that hinder communication and put in place systems that ensure full and appropriate communication for Deaf people.