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Simon answers your questions about being Deaf

Written by Zara Gemmell on

Our BSL Translator, Simon, answers questions about being Deaf and gives his view on certain issues around Deaf access.

Can every Deaf person read and write?

Simon: No not all Deaf people can read, some can read, some can write, but most can't read or write and they get left behind. There's a Deaf person and a hearing person growing up, they [the hearing person] can absorb English from speaking, from radio, from television. But back then there were no subtitles. So it's easier to absorb English if you can hear. When you're Deaf you miss a lot of information and the development of English you can get left behind easily. So, no not all people deaf people can read.

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How do Deaf people communicate?

Simon: Communication and access through British sign language (BSL), and some have supported sign language some supported English. We also communicate with lip-reading but mainly signing because communication in sign is easier.

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If someone doesn't know Sign Language, how can we communicate with a Deaf person?

Simon: Gesture can really help. I used to work at a shop, and a customer would try and talk – lip reading is difficult, but if you can gesture like... brushing your teeth, or roll-on, cotton buds. Some gesture it's easier to pick up than lip-reading. Without the sign, it can be difficult but gesture can really help. It makes it quicker. So gesture is a really big help. So first is gesture, also lip-reading, but not too fast. If normal speech I can pick up the lip-reading – if we're really struggling to communicate we can write things down. But the fourth and most important thing is to be patient.

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Hearing people think in English, do Deaf people think in Sign Language?

Simon: Yes sometimes I'll think in Sign and sometimes I even talk to myself in sign language.

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Can Deaf people listen to music?

Simon: Yes some Deaf people can listen to music with headphones, or radio in the car, and yeah, some can listen to music. Some of my friends are Deaf DJs.

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What do you wish hearing people would understand about your experience as a Deaf person?

Simon: Sometimes you feel left out that's the worst thing. If you're at a party and the communication isn't there... Last January I invited my mum and dad to my zoom meeting for my birthday we had a zoom party and lots of my Deaf friends were communicating. My mother and father really had to step back and felt what it was like to be in a room where they couldn't understand and felt left out, so they realised what that was like to be Deaf.

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What's the best thing about being Deaf?

Simon: Best thing is sign language, it's a beautiful and rich language, it includes facial expressions, body language and it it makes for an interesting conversation. Second, it's peaceful. You can't hear, it's very peaceful you can sleep anywhere. If lorries rushing by you're sound asleep. The third thing is the culture, the community, it's a strong community.

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Why should I learn BSL if you can read my lips or read my writing?

Simon: My answer, lip reading is too hard to work –  it can be tiring watching lips. I only really pick up 30 per cent when lip-reading. Back at school a lot of it was oral I missed a lot, being taught English, science, history, geography, it's all very oral and you get behind. Anything like art, PE, drama and maths you can learn but it's not very oral. But they all get you left behind and it's hard. Some can't read, some can't write, so communication is better if you can sign.

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Can Deaf people drive?

Simon: My answer is... it's a stupid question! Yes of course! I had a motorbike for about 20 years until I had to change and get a car because I had children. I have a class two lorry license. So it's all good, of course, I can drive. The only thing we can't do is drive a plane because of the communication and the hearing and the talking through the headphones. But I can do anything. It's only my hearing that's broken.

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What's one thing you can't do because you're Deaf?

Simon: Me? I'm very happy, I can do everything, I'm happy. But of course, life would be easier and faster if I could use the telephone. Everybody communicates on the telephone it's faster – you can get jobs done quicker and easier.

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As a Deaf person do you access online information the same as someone who is not Deaf?

Simon: No no no. Websites have a lot of audio or written English, pages of English. To absorb is really difficult – it goes over my head. Video definitely not, no BSL translation. And, if I want to go to a contact page and contact us a lot of the time it has a telephone number. There is also email but sometimes it just takes forever for people to get back a reply, sometimes they never even reply, and sometimes it just takes forever. So the telephone is a lot easier. What would really good is if you use Sign Live. We get instant access through a third party; they can have the conversation and ask the questions and they sign and interpret the conversation so that we can ask. It's also good for hard of hearing people.

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Which one thing do you wish all websites had?

Simon: BSL translation. Pages of content pop up with a sign video, the translation beside. Page translations in BSL. Translate all questions, all lists of answers, how to use things and how-to guides. This makes it a lot easier to absorb the  information that other people have asked to keep us all on the same level.

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Is reading information harder than signing?

Simon: Yes sometimes reading goes over my head. Not all deaf people or hard of hearing people can read. For some Deaf and hard of hearing English is their second language. So it's hard to read – signing is good.

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How do you watch videos without BSL?

Simon: It is impossible to absorb the video. Without the translation it's impossible. [At the start of the pandemic] The government and Boris Johnson made lots of announcements; lists guides, safety information and had no interpreter. Whereas most of the world had BSL translation for the announcements, and in Scotland, they had one every time an announcement was on, and they always have an interpreter. Here, nothing. Important information to keep us safe should have an interpreter so that everyone can receive the information at the same time. Everyone's getting left behind. If I can't hear and there's no BSL, the information is not getting through. I can miss information, or be told something wrong. Everyone should be on the same level and be able to get the information at the same time. There are 10 million deaf and hard of hearing people and they're left behind.

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Should everyone be taught and learn BSL?

Simon: Yes. Deaf people need that access of communication every day. And, it's a beautiful language, it's  fun to learn, it's a cool language. My view: at school we learn german or french or other languages. Maybe they need it for a job or holiday but most people might go to Germany once in their lifetime and come back. We don't  speak it, and we don't go to Germany again. Some will go to France and speak fluent French but most people just speak English anyway. We need it here where we've got access, here we need it every day.

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