Reflections of Deaf Awareness Week

It was recently Deaf Awareness week and this year the theme was inclusion. As a deaf person myself, I reflect on how things have moved since Deaf Awareness week last year and I am struck by how much more representation and visibility we now have as a community.


Our disability is an invisible one which means that sometimes it’s not always obvious or visible that we have a hearing loss. So what has happened in the last year?

Picture of Sarah Petherbridge who is a disability awareness trainer and Speakers Collective Member
Sarah Petherbridge - Disability awareness trainer & Speakers Collective Member

Our language of British Sign Language (BSL) is now recognised as a legally recognised language which means that BSL will be used far more in the provision of public services as public bodies will be required to provide interpreting services to enable deaf people to access their services. This will hopefully ensure that deaf people who sign will have access to the same essential information and services that are available to the hearing population and which were previously inaccessible. This is a major win for the deaf community and on the back of this, there are other related developments in the pipeline such as a 999 video relay service (set to launch later in the year) which will also help to improve the accessibility of public services.

Photo of Troy Kotsur Actor and Director
Troy Kotsur - Actor & Director - Photo Credit Wikipedia

Turning to the world of entertainment, a wonderful deaf actor Troy Kotsur won an Oscar for his outstanding performance as a deaf father of a hearing child in the film CODA, thereby giving the deaf community some much-needed visibility.


We also had a deaf contestant, Rose, winning Strictly Come Dancing last December.


I truly believed that her winning the show was a pivotal moment for the UK deaf community in terms of deaf awareness, representation and visibility.


She showed millions of viewers that deaf people could dance to music like everyone else albeit in a slightly different way.


Actor Rose Ayling-Ellis with her Pro partner Giovanni Pernice
Actor Rose Ayling-Ellis with her partner Giovanni Pernice

Rose and Giovanni’s moment of silence during the show was so powerful - a moment that helped the deaf community feel heard and included. Their partnership was also a great demonstration of the true power and strength in being inclusive of one another. Giovanni learnt sign language and ensured that he looked at her when he spoke to her so that she could lipread him too. He also designed the dances at the start of the show so that she remained in close body contact with him throughout the dance. This meant that she followed him rather than the music as her confidence grew. The show also provided sign language interpreters so that she could communicate with the judges and presenters. By having these adjustments and allies such as Giovanni, Rose was enabled to feel included and perform to her very best to win the show. A fantastic result and representation for the deaf community.


Which brings me back to the subject of inclusion, being the theme of this year’s Deaf Awareness Week. What do we mean by inclusion and why is it so important? Inclusion means that everyone can be their authentic self, irrespective of their background. It’s important as it enables people to thrive and succeed as well as feel a sense of engagement and belonging. It only takes a few steps to make everyone feel included and thrive in the workplace and society. Steps such as workplace adjustments and becoming our allies to support us and provide us with a psychological safety net. But those steps will make a powerful and lasting impact for not only deaf employees but for people with other disabilities.


We don’t need an awareness week to do the things we should be doing on a daily basis to make an inclusive environment for deaf people or for anyone with a disability – we just need people to have a better understanding and increased empathy for people with disabilities. Sometimes it only takes a little bit of kindness, thoughtfulness and compassion to make a huge difference to our lives. So what steps can you or your team do to make that difference?


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If you are interested in Sarah Petherbridge speaking at an event or providing training please contact info@speakerscollective.org. The Speakers Collective is a Social Enterprise. We work together with a shared commitment to challenge stigma, facilitate important conversations and promote learning on a variety of social issues.


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