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October 29, 2004

Deaf Talkabout: Bringing home a positive side to deafness

From: Belfast Telegraph - Belfast,Northern Ireland,United Kingdom - Oct 29, 2004

By Bob McCullough
29 October 2004

In the same week that former Miss Northern Ireland Zoe Salmon gained fame as the new presenter on Blue Peter, Belfast girl Diana Martin won attention of a different kind when she played the part of a deaf girl with an overbearing mother in Doctors, BBC1's popular afternoon programme about life in a medical centre.

Diana is severely deaf herself and for the past couple of years has played a major role in Switch, the BBC2 See Hear drama centred round a deaf club in London that captured the imagination of the deaf community and made the programme compulsive Saturday morning viewing.

I understand a new series is being planned.

In Doctors, the mother had made herself an expert in sign language and embarrassed her daughter in public by boasting of her proficiency in the language and rudely demanding that the doctor and receptionist learn it, too, so that they could communicate with the deaf girl.

Her intentions were laudable, but her arrogant attitude was a good example of how to put people off learning sign language. With the mother out of the room we saw the deaf girl making friends with the receptionist, charming him with her personality and sharing her enthusiasm for photography with him.

The mother couldn't believe such a thing was possible and on her return asked the young man how communication was achieved. She was told it was no problem at all and that they had used lip-reading when possible and simple gestures and writing had done the rest.

At the hub of the story was the mother's fear that she was developing arthritis and that sign language might become impossible if the disease worsened and affected her hands. She couldn't imagine her daughter being able to cope without her and this fear was exacerbated when she discovered her daughter was making quite a name for herself in photography and becoming closely involved with a young man. How could all this happen without the mother being there to look after her deaf daughter and interpret and help with important decisions?

But Diana Martin is charming and confident and demonstrated these qualities in her character in the film. We saw the mother's surprise at discovering her deaf daughter was perfectly capable of talking to the doctor on her own and taking charge of all the complexities of her busy life. It was a struggle, but she also came to see that her daughter had the right to learn of her health fears and reluctantly decided to leave it to the doctor to break the news.

It was uplifting to see deafness portrayed in such a positive fashion and to show our young as being perfectly capable of coping with the worries and responsibilities of life and of finding ways to get over the communication barrier even when professional sign language assistance is not available and their own parents are worrying unnecessarily about them.

Deafness is a very complex disability and situations often arise where professional help is not available and we are left to our own resources. The mother in Doctors had concentrated on making herself a lifeline between her deaf daughter and the unsympathetic hearing world. But the daughter had other ideas.

2004 Independent News and Media (NI) a division of Independent News & media (UK) Ltd