According to Action On Hearing Loss, there are over 900,000 people living in the UK who are severely or profoundly deaf, and for many isolation is just a normal part of everyday life. Raising awareness about the deaf community and culture has never been a more pressing issue. Medical reports predict that the number of people suffering from hearing loss will grow to 15.6 million by 2035; a figure that will no doubt continue to rise as the damaging effects of noise pollution from today’s digital devices begin to materialise. So, how do we prepare for the future and work towards creating a more inclusive society for the hard of hearing?
Can you speak in my language?
Although the use of hearing aids can help to improve speech clarity, many in the deaf community prefer to use sign language as their primary means of communication.
BSL is a visual-gestural language with its own unique grammar, which uses hand shapes, facial expressions and body language to convey meaning. The British Deaf Association estimate that 87,000 deaf people in the UK use British Sign Language (BSL), with spoken English being their second or third language. The UK government passed landmark legislation in 2003 recognising BSL as a minority language in a bid to bridge the gap between the hearing population and deaf community.
Shockingly however, only 0.1% of the hearing population in the UK are able to sign, facilitating the development of a catastrophic language barrier between the hearing and non-hearing. In response to this, Dawn Foster became the first Member of Parliament to speak to the House of Commons in BSL calling for the British Sign Language Act to be passed, which would give it the same legal status as other spoken languages in Britain.
Consequently this has put many in the deaf community at a significant disadvantage by undermining their ability to effectively interact with others. This can make it hard for them to fully integrate into society, causing feelings of exclusion, dejection and frustration. A recent review found that many deaf people suffer from social isolation, with the prevalence of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety being much higher within the deaf community than in the general population.
Practice makes perfect
To bring attention to this social issue, Clinic Compare has teamed up with some charismatic young people in the deaf community to create a series of fun gifs teaching people how to sign some popular and friendly phrases in BSL. Learning how to sign even the most basic expressions can promote inclusivity and help to make the world more accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing. It is hoped that these gifs will empower members of the hearing population to communicate with deaf people and make them feel part of a conversation.
Deaf actress Vilma Jackson, who appears in the gifs says: “It can be tough being deaf, especially when the support isn’t there, so even learning just a few basic signs can have a massive impact on breaking down communication barriers between the hearing and non-hearing. What’s so great about these gifs are that they show you how to sign phrases that you would genuinely use with your friends”.
Check out the gifs and start practicing with your friends at home - happy signing!