Flipping the script

I’m going to enjoy this article. A lot. Within recent times there has been a major cry from the deaf community about the lack of access to critical information. To them it seems as if no one is listening at all and those in authority are content to either do nothing or just have no idea how their actions are impacting their lives.

The call to have interpreting on a wider level seems to be falling on deaf ears. I was busy on an errand recently when I got a BB from a couple irate deaf individuals asking why there was no interpreting on tv at that point in time. I had no clue what they were talking about because while it was early evening the only thing I remembered showing around that time slot was Elmo’s World.

However, I learnt that there were showing the opening of Parliament live, and this was what the individuals were referring to. In their opinion and rightly so, they should’ve known exactly what was happening, what was being said and this was not a right which was afforded them.

Just when I thought that this song that the deaf community was singing here and in other countries was going unnoticed, ABC Family network in the US did something which had never been done, but which sent a huge message to the 1.6 million who had tuned in. What they did was rather revolutionary and in my opinion ingenious.

There is a show called Switched at Birth and airs on that network, starring some deaf individuals. While many tune into this exciting programme on a weekly basis, they weren’t prepared for what happened early in March of this year. The producers of the show did the entire episode in American Sign Language, with not a single word being uttered.

The only saving grace for those who couldn’t understand sign language was if they turned on the closed captioning, they would’ve been able to read the text and follow in that capacity. I wonder what the 1.6 million viewers thought? They said there was only a slight fall-off in the ratings since the show is usually viewed by 1.7 million.

However, I wonder what those watching took away from the exercise? For those of us who know ASL I’m sure it would’ve been fun to watch, educational and even inspiring to see the actors both deaf and hearing perform in such a wonderfully dramatic way even though your eyes would have to adjust to focusing solely on hands as opposed to using your ears.

We’re not used to being the “left out ones” and I’m sure some viewers were upset and annoyed when they realised that if they wanted to understand anything they would have to read or know sign language. However you spin it, the task would’ve been tedious since those who read would have a hard time following the acting on the screen at the same time. Difficult indeed.

I’m sure some opted to just watch the acting rather than read and try to figure it all out on their own; like charades. It’s truly not easy adapting to such measures when you’re used to living your lives a certain way.

I’m sure the deaf community was pleased to see that something which catered to them in a personal way was being showcased. The sense of pride, acceptance and value placed on their language which plays a major role in deaf culture must have, for that single episode, given them a sense of belonging in a world where they are the minority.

However, the script was flipped for those of us with hearing as for the first time we were the minority in a deaf world. As Lizzy Weiss, the creator of the series said: “Every single viewer — deaf or hearing — was forced to put away their phones and iPads and anything else distracting in this A.D.D. world we all live in and focus. You had to read. You couldn’t do anything else. And that made you get into it more. It drew you in.”

As great as this exercise was, you could still follow along with the caption; but unfortunately for the deaf community there are far too many un-captioned programmes and lack of interpreting done so that they are kept fully informed and on par with hearing people. This is their story. This is their life. They feel un-noticed, alienated and cast aside.

So while some are breathing a sigh of relief that regular programming has resumed, the plight of the deaf community and their struggle for equality in a hearing world continues.

We tend to talk “big” until the shoe is on the other foot and then we get a sense of the pain and discomfort others feel as they try to take their rightful place in society. May we all not only be more sensitive to the needs of the deaf, but do everything possible for communication to be accessed by all!

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