Deaf Studies Corner25th March 2014

Deaf BSL Role Models Inspiring Younger Generation

As Part of BSL Celebration week, the Exeter Royal Academy for Deaf Education invited role models to present to the students

by Sarah Lawrence

During the week of the eleventh anniversary of British Sign Language being formally recognised as a language in the UK, it was great to see so much activity last week promoting greater access to BSL and raising deaf awareness/rights more generally.

I was delighted to be contacted by the Exeter Royal Academy for Deaf Education and asked to take part in a role model event they were running during their BSL Celebration Week, a week long programme of events being jointly run with Signup BSL and Deafinite Interpreters. 

The Deaf Role Model Event took place on Thursday 20th March, with students given the opportunity to attend sessions run by me, in my guise as Editor of the SLFirst magazine, Dave Ellington, a film maker, Harry Hilliar, a surfing champion and Cathie Robins-Talbot a Youth Worker from Swansea.

With the role model event fitting into the wider BSL Celebration Week, I built a session around BSL and the role SLFirst plays as a unique bilingual publication. Central to my involvement is my long held belief that Deaf youngsters should celebrate their history, heritage and culture. In learning high levels of proficiency in BSL and BSL linguistics, youngsters can be encouraged to be proud of their language and their identity.

My first group were 16 to 22 year old College Students. Fluent in BSL, I had some fun with them about the use of sign names and toyed with some of the regional variations for certain signs, with students coming from far afield to attend the College.

Along with three further groups of students ranging from 12 to 17 years of age, I was able to enjoy good levels of interaction, with some of the students keen to enjoy the session and interested in the much wider range of role models I was able to show them through the stories I have covered in the magazine. One slight disappointment was the occasional use of a ‘hearing BSL user’ sign, such as riding a horse, so I was pleased to be able to promote the importance of maintaining high standards of precision.

I was pleased to see a good ratio of staff members to students at the college through the provision of teachers and support workers who sat in on each of the sessions. With a good mix of deaf and hearing teachers, the majority of staff had good levels of BSL and could follow most of my session.

Keen to provide young people with positive role models through the ‘celebration of success’ nature of the SLFirst Magazine, I was delighted to explore the ambitions of the youngsters who came to my sessions. Telling me about a range of work life interests, from training seals to being a racing driver, I was interested to see the amount of chatter these revelations generated amongst the staff members who were watching on.

Whilst some of the ambitions may have appeared fanciful, I know from my own experience of being repeatedly told that I can't do something, that negativity towards those ambitions will limit a student’s achievement and life choices. As a Deaf Education Academy with a proud history, I am sure all concerned at Exeter will work with these youngsters to give them every opportunity to flourish.

With some students displaying challenging attitudes and using inappropriate signs in my presence, I’m not sure they realised at the start of my session that BSL was my first language, and that I was also a teacher of BSL. Sadly, these students did not get the most out of the session. Faced with these attitudes, I finished the day feeling frustrated that a lack of ambition for some youngsters will limit their achievements later in life.

I applaud the programme run by the Exeter Academy and the use of outside speakers to add value to the week. With BSL seeming to be under challenge from different sections of society, I believe week long programmes like this are essential for the future well-being of the language, and I hope to see the BSL Celebration Week gaining in support in the coming years.

Article by Sarah Lawrence

posted in Deaf Lifestyle / Deaf Studies Corner

25th March 2014