This week in the UK, many school children begin the new academic year. Google decided it would celebrate by showcasing one school in particular – the Braidwood Academy, founded in 1760 and considered to be the first School for the Deaf in the UK. It has now closed down but it was instrumental in providing education for d/Deaf children through British Sign Language.
To help promote British Sign Language and d/Deaf education, Google’s Doodle showed school children fingerspelling Google.
I thought this was absolutely fantastic, giving a voice to the d/Deaf community and showing the importance of British Sign Language.
However, not long after that went public, many articles and information began floating around the internet, offending and essentially mocking British Sign Language and the d/Deaf community.
So what turned into a great moment, became one of frustration and annoyance towards the ignorance of journalists who thought it was completely fine to undermine and discriminate a marginalised community.
(This video above was also made by Google, claiming that Thomas Braidwood (a Hearing man) was instrumental in developing British Sign Language. )
As it stands, British Sign Language does not have legal recognition in the UK. This means that all rights and access to the language are denied by the government and public services. Whilst Scotland now has a BSL Act (passed in 2015), none of it applies to the UK and we have no knowledge of whether it is enforced or not.
To say that a Hearing person ‘invented’ BSL erases centuries of history and complex evolution of a language that is steeped in culture and widely recognised by linguists and academics. It also reinforces the misconceived superiority between d/Deaf and Hearing communities, diminishing Sign Language as simply a ‘communication tool’.
If they’d done their research, journalists for these particular news outlets would have come across the 1880 Milan Conference, an international conference of teachers and intellectuals (mainly Hearing) debating how best to educate d/Deaf children. Against the wishes of America and Britain, they unanimously decided against Sign Language and voted in favour of oralism. Delegates returned home to weed out Deaf teachers, eradicate Sign Language and force non-oral d/Deaf children to speak instead of sign.
It took until 2003 for the UK to officially recognise British Sign Language but like I mentioned above, it does nothing for the rights of the 1 in 6 d/Deaf or Hard of Hearing individuals who might use BSL as their primary language. Even then, it is only now that the UN has called out the UK for systematically violating the rights of d/Deaf and disabled individuals, hoping to pave the way for a future BSL Act that would be enforced across the nation.
What frustrates me the most is that the Independent seems to think it is acceptable to continually use the outdated and now offensive “Deaf and Dumb,” as well as describe deafness as an ‘affliction.’
It is hard enough fighting and promoting awareness when reports like these essentially reinforce the stereotypes we are trying to fight and overcome.
Had any of you seen these reports?
What did you think?
Thanks for reading and have a good day!