Commentary: Power In Our Hands

One of the video trailers published online.

‘In Our Hands’ traces the changes and growth of the Deaf Community in the UK from the early 1900s to the present day. The documentary looks less at what it means to be deaf and instead looks more at how social groups and movements have supported the community over the decades. The documentary is comprised of a collection of interviews interspersed  with footage uncovered from the British Deaf Association (BDA) archives.

The documentary traces the development of the BDA and the Deaf community in the UK from a close but disperse set of individuals who meet occasionally for sporting events through the them becoming a very structured and politicized group in the early 2000s. It looks at how the community has flourished and their pride and sense of identity has grown of the years, as well as their struggle their journey away from reliance on hearing individuals into becoming a self-governing association.

A key change in the community is their sense of self-pride, spurred by a boost in confidence and belief in their own identity and abilities. The documentary suggests that in the early part of the century deaf individuals were often poorly educated and were often reliant on hearing ‘missionaries’ for jobs and for instructions in their day to day lives. They were reluctant to sign in public for feel of ridicule and instead their social lives revolved around local Deaf clubs and associations.  These clubs arranged sporting events around the country and it’s clear that the competitors and their communities prided themselves on achieving high levels of competence in their chosen sport. These events served as a meeting place for people to socialise, broaden their networks and provided a platform for political ideas to spread and grow.

The documentary then goes on to show how various key individuals within the BDA started to help shift the mindset of the community by helping to showcase the achievements of individuals in the workplace, providing more educational support and by encouraging people to start believing that they are worthy of such rights and opportunities. These changes started a shift away away from the community relying-upon and accepting the instructions and beliefs of the hearing community and instead a focus on inspiring deaf individuals to move into leadership positions. This happened gradually with the first step being the existing ‘missionaries’ being replaced by leaders who were Children of Deaf Adults (CoFA) into BDA leadership positions (they were considered to understand the community better than external missionaries). This then led the way for deaf leadership.

Along the way the BDA encouraged film as a key medium by which groups and individuals could document their culture and language – something not possible in written form or via photographs. The BDA also championed and supported researching into signing and were part of the discovery that it is in fact a language which they then christened British Sign Language (BSL) and have been campaigning ever since for it to be recognized as an official language. The documentary challenged the audience to think about the importance of community support and the importance of having an understanding of the communities culture and history, and that this support and teaching come from within the Deaf community rather than an external reliance on the hearing.

Something that wasn’t touched upon within the documentary was the evolution of BSL itself, however the fact that it has evolved quite significantly within the last century was very apparent from the footage itself. The earliest footage suggested a very heavy reliance on finger spelling. Perhaps this may be because other signs weren’t as established, or perhaps because individuals had signs that they used among their own friends/family but which weren’t standardized across the whole community and hence spelling was the back-up. I do not know. As the footage rolled forward in years it was notable to see the proportion of spelling vs. gesturing changes significantly suggesting both a more standardized and comprehensive language system.

The documentary is educational, inspirational and stands with integrity: there is no spoken language during the show except for some of the old footage which had an original spoken translation accompanying it. I’d certainly recommend this documentary for anyone interested in Sign Language, Deaf Culture and also to anyone who’s interested in seeing social-change in action. 

DISCLAIMER: The author of the above article is a volunteer with ExtraOrdinary Horizons. All opinions expressed herein are thus the personal views of contributing individual authors. They are not indicative of any endorsement, political or otherwise, or lack thereof, either on the part of the organisation.

9th International Deaf Academics & Researchers Conference (11-13 May 2019)

THEME: “Deaf academics across disciplines and generations”

This event took place in Iceland. It is supported by Supported by Málvísindastofnun Center for Sign Language Research, University of Iceland. You can check it out at www.dac2019.com.

Since I was unable to attend it this year (because of my school exams), I would like to keep the list of presentations that I wish to look out in the future. I obtained it from my subscription:

  • Pre-conference workshop: International Sign (Ramon Wolfe)
  • Session theme: Deaf academics – who we are and how do we contribute?
    • Opening Lecture: Waves of interdisciplinary science can make global change (Barbara Spiecker, Camille Ollier, Caroline Solomon, Linda M. Campbell)
    • Workshop 1: Can critical disability studies benefit research into deaf people’s everyday experience? (Mette Sommer, Octavian Robinson, Hilde Haualand)
    • Workshop 2: Researchers as mixologists: Selecting suitable ethnographic research methods (Erin Moriarty Harrelson, Steve Emery, Annelies Kusters)
  • Session theme: Reading & writing skilla
    • Presentation: Deaf academic knowledge production: The role of reading groups (Annelies Kusters, Erin Moriarty Harrelson, Steve Emery, Sanchayeeta Iyer)
    • Workshop 3: Writing tactics, tips and hacks – smart strategies for academic writing (Maartje De Meulder, Annelies Kuster, Joseph Murray)
  • Session theme: Careers and strategies
    • Presentation: Deaf academics across disciplines and generations (Cathy Chovaz, Kristin Snoddon, Linda Campbell, Veronique Leduc, Kathryn Woodcock)
    • Workshop 6: Reaching the top of the mountain: navigating the tenure track process as a deaf faculty member (Christopher Kurz and Jordan T. Eickman)
    • Workshop 7: Mapping deaf academics’ places and spaces in academia (Dai O’Brien)

This earlier format is more of reporting here. Anyway, I understand that there are a very few deaf researchers in Asia. This road to become the researchers is really tough because of lack of financial support, accessibility and other unforeseen circumstances. In my personal opinion, it is very challenging for me this time because of my present/current situation. Maybe, I try opening doors for the future generations. No guarantee here…

Alright, I have been following DAC2019’s tweets. Also, I could see the efforts from deaf researchers to stay connected with one another around the world to improve empowerment and representation in deaf academia. Some websites, such as www.deafacademics.org are not updated, perhaps because of lack of support or resources. 

Now, I understand that these conferences are held every two years since 2002:

11th International Deaf Academics and Researchers Conference
Vienna, Austria ● 2023

10th International Deaf Academics and Researchers Conference
Montreal, Canada ● 2021

9th International Deaf Academics and Researchers Conference
Reykjavík, Iceland ● 2019

8th International Deaf Academics and Researchers Conference
Copenhagen, Denmark ● 2017

7th International Deaf Academics and Researchers Conference
Leuven, Belgium ● 2015

6th International Deaf Academics and Researchers Conference
Lisbon, Portugal ● 2013

5th International Deaf Academics and Researchers Conference
Florianópolis, Brazil ● 2010

4th International Deaf Academics and Researchers Conference
Dublin, Ireland ● 2008

3rd International Deaf Academics and Researchers Conference
Stockholm, Sweden ● 2006

2nd International Deaf Academics and Researchers Conference
Washington, DC, USA ● 2004

Deaf in Academia Workshop
Austin, Texas, USA ● 2002

DISCLAIMER: The author of the above article is the director and founder of ExtraOrdinary Horizons. All opinions expressed herein are thus the personal views of contributing individual authors. They are not indicative of any endorsement, political or otherwise, or lack thereof, either on the part of the organisation.

Volunteering with Deaf (2019)

IMAGE DESCRIPTION: A wefie; around me are Donny, Grace, Jiahui, Janika and Xueting (from left to right) posing together on the school stage.

We’re grateful to Raffles Community Advocates for putting in efforts to create awareness about Deafness in different ways, and to experience working with Deaf. Some students were assigned to learn basic Sign Language (obviously SEE2) from TOUCH Silent Club, in order to communicate, especially with Donny and me. There was another group of students who learnt to song-sign for the SPARK Concert that happened last two weeks. I was to play the duet with Janika for the first time; this gave her another experience.

You might be wondering how you could volunteer with Deaf. It may be slightly different from volunteering FOR Deaf. This time, it looks more at interacting with Deaf.

After contacting the network of volunteers on my side, most of them couldn’t help us because of their studies, work and family commitments. However, I managed to get Grace and Jiahui to help us out, especially Donny. He needs visual cues to support his solo dance, and his part in our duet performance.

Grace had no knowledge about deafness and Sign Language. But sign language videos were sent to her two weeks before the concert. She had to learn numbers in Sign Language, that were needed for his dance solo. It was actually easy to learn numbers on the spot. On his last dance practice, Grace, Donny and I met for the first time. Donny and Grace worked together with each other for some time. This was to help them become familiar with the dance routine, as well as his challenges.

Jiahui is currently learning Sign Language from Deaf and interacting with deaf people for some time. Her signing skills are at the beginner’s level, and she is learning basic sign linguistics from ExtraOrdinary Horizons. Donny chose the True Colours song, based on how much he hears at his comfortable level. I’m very familiar with the song arrangement in Deaf way. I recorded videos for Donny and Jiahui to practice at their own pace.

I have asked Grace and Jiahui to share their experiences here. Grace sent me in her artistic style via WhatsApp and this said,
“You with the sad eyes, don’t be discouraged
Oh I realize, it’s hard to take courage, in a world full of people
You can lose sight of it all, the darkness inside you can make you feel so small.
To the deaf community: I pray you will one day hear clearly the music all around you – till then, I will listen to your stories;
When you speak with your inner strength and dance to a different beat from the world. You guys are so beautiful. You music flows from your heart. Thank you for that <3″

Next, Jiahui sent me the WhatsApp message, and it said, “Lily and Donny’s performances were beautiful and heartfelt, and it was a pleasure to work with them and witness their dedication and passion. Off stage, they were also fun partners to hang out with, and patient teachers – refining the cues with us and explaining signs we did not understand. Would love join them again!”

Based on my experiences when working with volunteers, I still feel that you should get to know and understand Deafness, its Community, Culture and Language better. You will realise that it is different from what you usually think about it. It will be better for you to learn at least Sign Language to communicate with Deaf.

We have our workshops and courses that are conducted by Deaf. Let’s check us out at http://www.eohorizons.com! Thank you for reading my entry.

DISCLAIMER: The author of the above article is the director and founder of ExtraOrdinary Horizons. All opinions expressed herein are thus the personal views of contributing individual authors. They are not indicative of any endorsement, political or otherwise, or lack thereof, either on the part of the organisation.