Thoughts on the BBC’s ‘Doctors: Breaking the Silence’

TV is about drama, education, and entertainment, and it’s an incredibly powerful way of introducing difficult, rare, or unknown topics into the public eye. As an example, Eastenders is one of our nation’s most popular soap operas, and is at the forefront of raising difficult topics, ranging from murder and abuse, to mental health issues, complications during pregnancy, cancer, and more. So when I heard that the BBC1 daytime drama series, ‘Doctors,’ had made an episode with a deaf theme, I was keen to watch and find out how the topic was tackled.

The general storyline consisted of a young couple, the boyfriend who had had a cochlear implant for an unspecified amount of time (but judging by the story, probably a few years at least), and the girlfriend who had been recently implanted. Interestingly, it ties in with my latest research about identity, because the recently implanted character (called Iona) hits a form of identity crisis as she’s torn between the Deaf (and signing) world, and hearing (and speaking) world*.

So, there I was, settling down with a cup of tea to watch with interest, but just 10 minutes in I could already point out a number of innacuracies. The first scene of her with her doctor showed them having a conversation with his back to her. That’s fine, I suppose, because everyone is different – some people can immediately understand everything when their CI is switched on, whereas others struggle a lot more, and may never be able to communicate without lipreading or other visual cues. My real gripes, however, started to grow following then – mainly caused by one scene where Iona used a pair of earbuds to listen to music**. Furthermore, the entire programme (with the influence of the boyfriend) portrayed Iona as no longer being deaf.

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Airing programmes with a deaf theme is something that many people affected by deafness agree is needed. It raises awareness about the issues surrounding deafness, including social stigmas, confidence issues, identity, and different forms of communication. However, producers have to be careful not to reinforce stigma within the general population who might become very misinformed by a programme they watch. Although this episode of ‘Doctors’ was well intended, the innacuracies, I feel, might misinform the public to an extent where they see cochlear implants as a ‘fix’ for deafness, or a ‘miracle’. They also may believe that once a person is implanted, they’re no longer deaf and can hear perfectly (which is a common misconception surrounding hearing aids, too). My worry is that the public may be encouraged to view deafness as ‘bad’ and cochlear implants – the ‘miracle cure’ – as ‘good’ without being given the true balance or research they deserve.

So what did other Tree House members think of this programme? It was mainly a large mixture of views:

 

I think I understand what they were trying to do but it just didn’t seem to work. As a hearing person who has deaf signing and non signing friends I think they were aiming for balance with the two different people with CI’s and trying to raise awareness of the [minority] them and us views that we all know exist.”

It’s shame they made it look as if CI is some sort of miracle thing as they spoke so well however It’s good that they included signing which means that having CI doesn’t mean to stop signing.

I watched this on TV yesterday… I thought it was all a little bit dramatic. It was interesting that they put some emphasis on how the ‘oral deaf’ are not welcome at the deaf clubs!

“Well it was a bit dramatised but there have been cases of people having an identity crisis of that kind. As the girl said, it is possible to be in both worlds, as I am. There is no need to have a reversal operation, I can just leave the machine off and I am pretty much totally deaf. There is no need for people to get in a crisis about it.”

In my opinion, this programme had the potential to give an accurate portrayal with a dramatic edge, but unfortunately accuracy was neglected – a real shame, I think. However, there’s not much room for moaning or negativity on my blogs, so you can watch it yourselves here (though within the next 5 days, or 30 days if you download it).

Deaf life continues, and positivity reigns! Each and every deaf person out there has the potential to touch the lives of everyone they meet, and to inspire them by being themselves. After all, being ourselves is the best way to educate the people around us!

 

-Eloise Garland

 

*As portrayed in the drama, the deaf world with Deaf culture was no voice and signing only. In contrast, the hearing world was all oral with no real visual cues (something used in the lives of many deaf people). Although a ‘black and white’ view is good in some contexts, I feel that the world of deafness has so many shades of gray that at least some of these shades should have come through.

** Although recent developments in insertion technique for the electrodes of a CI means that in some people residual hearing is preserved, earbuds are very unlikely to get used for listening to music. This episode gave the impression that with her CI, all hearing had been restored and she could listen to music conventionally. In fact, cochlear implants bypass any natural mechanisms of the ear and therefore the ‘normal’ way of hearing is completely altered. Find out more here.

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2 thoughts on “Thoughts on the BBC’s ‘Doctors: Breaking the Silence’

  1. This article covers so many issues but the common bond between them is simply perception. For years, even back when Jack Ashley received his CI, this operation is seen as a “cure” when in fact it only restores your hearing up to a point and is still not the “hearing” that others experience. The general public are none the wiser that they are being misinformed and thus ignorance is the hardest obstacle to overcome when trying to spread awareness.

    What bugs me the most though is how we, as a community, insist on dividing ourselves and dictating how “deaf” you are depending on whether you sign, have a CI, know other deaf people etc. There was an interesting comment in the article about how it was perhaps over dramatising how the oral deaf were not welcome in deaf clubs. Unfortunately I myself can confirm that situation did use to happen to me as I was growing up. The education authority I grew up in had the opinion that deaf schools were not the answer and I was in a hearing school with no support and not allowed to sign. Thus I became “oral deaf” if you insist on a label. BUt then I found that this in turn meant that when turning to other deaf people in the area at the local deaf club I was shunned simply because I couldnt sign. And yet at that point it was not my decision or choice. I truly felt that I could not belong to either community, deaf or hearing.

    The point I am trying to make is that we cannot expect the general public to have the right perceptions about our community when we ourselves can be biased towards each other. I have often been told I am not deaf enough because I cant sign, and yet I cannot watch tv or go to the cinema without subtitles, I cannot listen to the radio nor conduct a two way conversation on the phone. I cannot listen to people without lipreading and struggle in group social situations. Isnt it about time we stopped judging each other on whether we sign or have a CI etc and unite and help each other instead. Then we can change the perception in which the general public view us.

    • Thank you for this insightful comment – and I do agree that within the wider deaf community we need to actually group together and learn to accept one another. This is an issue that I’ll hopefully be looking at in greater detail in a blog talking about identity. I wonder if it’ll turn into a collection of blogs rather than just one?

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