Janis McDonald, newly appointed Associate Director of the ALLIANCE, shares her thinking on inclusive approaches within the sensory field.
As former CEO of deafscotland, I am returning to work with the ALLIANCE after a period of leave. I have been thinking about the new Scottish Sensory Hub deafness and the opportunities presented as human rights are embedded further in the culture and sensibilities of Scotland. The Scottish Sensory Hub is formed through the joining up of deafscotland, the Scottish Consortium on Visual Impairment (SCOVI) and the ALLIANCE. It is hoped that many will get behind a more strategic and targeted approach. The Scottish Sensory Hub looks to travel towards the social model of disability; the barriers that disabled people face are not to do with one’s condition per se, but rather on societies inflexibility to enact change.
Like many others, I have been following the progress of Rose and Giovanni through their Strictly Come Dancing progress. The role modelling of the BBC and both dance partners throughout the experience is powerful. The pairing exposes the fundamental challenges in modern communication accessibility through language or communication barriers. Rose communicates using a beautiful but different, visual language, known as British Sign Language (BSL). She lipreads too and can present in her own voice. Some people affected by deafness also need an interpreter to translate for them. Others rely on subtitling and some, affected by deafblindness, require more tactile forms of communication. For many, the need for interpretation will be assigned to Rose however they are needed by all parties to make communication successful. By contrast, we can also see so much can be communicated by dance, without words.
Rose has proven to be determined, enthusiastic, articulate, accomplished and driven to improve. All qualities we can admire and would wish anyone to emulate. For many deaf children this will be the first major experience of seeing deafness represented positively on TV. She has shown poise, maturity and professionalism. It often feels that those presenting with disabilities are lesser in some way, yet continually we are shown this is not the case. Perhaps we need to speak much more regularly about normalising abilities rather than focussing on the negatives and inclusion in an abstract way.
However, we should not ignore Giovanni and many others in this year’s Strictly team that have in many ways demonstrated a greater change. By becoming more aware of deafness and accepting the need to change further. Giovanni and others are using BSL/ English Interpreters to articulate and communicate positively and to learn more of a new language – BSL. Giovanni has made no secret of his learning. The effort to understand deafness, learn some of the language and level the playing field for Rose is visibly obvious. So obvious that it has encouraged a huge uptake of requests for BSL training, and the Strictly team are using more signs, more often throughout the show. In the past, various groups have been left to their own devices.
I called COVID-19 the communication virus. It has demonstrated the need to change and accelerated inclusion in a very meaningful way. The world of democracy, engagement and involvement must strive for integration to create stronger communities rather than reinforce segregation. Why? Because communication support is the solution not the barrier. It contributes gain in the socio-economic marketplace, professionalises services and underpins society.
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