‘I have never felt that anything really mattered but knowing that you stood for the things in which you believed and had done the very best you could.’ – Eleanor Roosevelt.
Today is Blogging Against Disablism day. I wasn’t sure what to write about for today’s post, perhaps because there are a lot of things I could write about. I could write about times when I’ve felt discriminated against, times when misconceptions about deafness have made things harder, or even about how I define my deaf identity. However, I’ve already written about deaf identity here, and in other articles. Today I’ve been thinking about something else, about how people come together to make changes in society. Specifically, about how the Deaf community in the UK has rallied around the campaign for a BSL Act.
For about two months, we have been sending letters and emails to MPs to ask them to support EDM 1167, an Early Day Motion we want them to debate in parliament to consider creating a BSL Act. As it is early days, the aims of the BSL Act are to give BSL (British Sign Language) legal protection and reinforcement as an official language of the UK. This would mean that public bodies (such as the NHS, Police and GPs) are legally obliged to provide interpreters, and hopefully other means of access (such as Speech to Text Reporters or lipspeakers) to deaf people around the UK.
As it stands at the moment, access is still incredibly patchy and in some places non-existent; with apparently booked interpreters not turning up (or not having been booked at all), and many other issues, such as poor deaf awareness, relying on family or friends to interpret (not ideal) or poor support within education settings.
Mostly though, I want to focus on how I’ve noticed that social networking has created an opportunity for deaf people to express themselves, to share stories, to campaign and rally around a cause more effectively. What worries me though, is how there often appears to be a split within the very foundations of the deaf community, or what I consider the deaf collective – as not all of us are involved in what is called the ‘big D’ Deaf Community.
I support everyone’s right to access and consider the BSL Act a brilliant step in the right direction. I’ve just been noticing that people who consider themselves ‘little d’ deaf or hard of hearing, or partially deaf, often feel as if participation in the ‘big D’ Deaf Community somehow means that their access needs are not being met – specifically the things that I personally use, like subtitling, captioning, Speech to Text Reporters, lipspeakers, SSE (Sign Supported English) and so on.
These things are equally essential as part of the access spectrum for all deaf people (including BSL users), and it worries me seeing that people are so divisive with each other. Instead of division, our voices (and hands!) are so much stronger together. Especially in a time when the government is attempting to erode our civil rights, take away essential benefits, and are attacking the access needs of deaf children in education.
We all have different identities and ways of seeing the world. I personally feel no division between supporting a BSL Act and supporting subtitling and captioning, for example. They are two sides of the same coin. They are both essential. That is why it troubles me when I see arguments and negativity in Facebook groups that don’t move anyone forward or contribute to change.
The same arguments and divisiveness have existed for as long as there have been deaf people. When you look outwards, and wonder how it looks when we are trying to raise the public consciousness about deaf awareness, this is not an ideal image of the community. What people need to put an agenda forward – for access and for the BSL Act – is unity, tolerance and the ability to listen to each other.
Too many voices shouting over each other doesn’t mean we’ll all be heard – it means that we’ll muddy the waters for each other. I think everyone should have a chance to speak, and then people need to work towards a solution that incorporates all means of access, as well as gaining recognition for BSL. Instead of becoming prickly whenever someone mentions BSL, and saying ‘well what about me!’ we should all listen to each other, instead of becoming defensive. Listening requires patience, and learning from each other.
Intersectionality is not about choosing one or the other aspect of who you are to fit in. We can have different and sometimes contradictory elements within us:
‘Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.’ – Walt Whitman.
It is recognising that we are stronger together – and we can campaign for everything that matters to us together – whether we are women, men, gay, disabled, deaf, from a different culture, a person of color, trans – we are all stronger together. Everyone has their own opinion, everyone has a story, and they all matter. I feel that listening and respect are key. Working towards unity and therefore collective activism.