IM this article to a friend!

September 12, 2003

Deaf Talkabout: Signs more important than words

From: Belfast Telegraph, UK - Sep 12, 2003

By Bob McCullough

HAS the time come to change the name of the Northern Ireland branch of the British Deaf Association in the province?

BDA chair Doug Alker spoke to a big crowd at Wilton House last Friday and suggested we change to "Northern Ireland Deaf Association".

This is not so much because of the political situation here, but because the same quest for autonomy is also taking place in Scotland and Wales.

We need a strong voice speaking for the signing deaf community in the province. Does the proposed NIDA fit the bill?

Speakers from the Northern Ireland Deaf Youth Association said the name and acronym was too similar to their own. Would Deaf Association for Northern Ireland (DANI) be more acceptable?

It is generally recognised that we have too many deaf associations in the province and that our lobby is weak when trying to convince government offices of our needs.

The word "deaf" has many different meanings and Malachy McBurney, of Deaf Senior Citizens, suggested it might be time to bring back "CORD", Council of Organisations Representing the Deaf", so that we could all speak with a united voice.

Whatever is decided, Doug said it was time deaf people took control over the teaching of their native sign language and made sure those who taught it, and the way it was taught, would ensure that hearing folk in positions of responsibility, such as teachers or social workers, were really adept in the language and fluent in all aspects of communication.

There are about 4,000 sign language users in the province and many more, such as parents and relatives, who use sign occasionally. It would be great if we could keep this higher level of skilled communicators and at the same time publicise sign language so strongly and attractively that many more hearing folk would learn the simple signs of every day life that would make things so much easier for deaf people.

Just being able to sign "hello" or "good morning" is a good place to start. Deaf people want to know that you are aware of their deafness and are willing to make the effort of putting them at ease.

Once that hurdle is overcome they will be very willing to communicate by writing or by means of simple gestures.

Deafness is the most isolating of disabilities and it's lovely to meet people prepared to make the first move.

Doug is very much aware of the different ways people communicate but adamant that sign language is the only certain way to make sure we receive unambiguous information from professionals, such as teachers and doctors.

He is just as keen on better education as I am, but argues that deaf children start life with a big handicap and need all the stimulation available to enable them to make their mark on life.

Tonight I am meeting Michael Schwartz for dinner. Mike is an American lawyer who has been deaf from birth and is now in the final stages of his PhD studies with the aid of his ASL interpreters.

He was speaking at a seminar on disability at Queen's this afternoon and is the type of deaf man whose intelligence and charisma light up a room.

© 2003 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd