English Versus BSL? By Mervyn James

I think a lot of deaf are upset at the command of grammar and written English when they get responses that way. Deaf annoyed when lengthy text responses go in to debates and discussions, when maybe their sole reliance is on sign not text as such.

At a number of levels including captioned TV and films etc. Some deaf can still struggle and the age-old system deaf used in their social clubs, of ‘Chinese Whispers’  still seems a valid way for them to pass on information to each other when some meeting or other has gone to length to discuss some involved issue.

Some attach their love of BSL grammar and signs, to the argument to oppose, but basically we should just look at it as horses for courses. If you ‘dumb down’ (and this is a serious issue with some hearing interpreters and others), it is asking for trouble from some deaf, because they feel insulted. If you use good English and grammar, some may well struggle with it, it is sod’s law, and you will not win.

Over 40 years’ experience with signing deaf that I have, including deaf club attendances and socialising with them, the longer and more detailed your responses or technical input, the more uncertain and disinterested they become. That simple statement will be seen by some as patronising, but when you are faced with 30-40 or so deaf people you are faced with deaf with academic abilities ranging from poor to excellent, and everything between, but only one level of skill/communication comes from the centre. It is inevitable a fair percentage of those in attendance then will not follow a lot of the details at all.

However during observations I did point out, that when they went straight to sign only communications, there were actually huge gaps in translation there too, and they were not getting all. Deaf purists brushed it off as ‘BSL Concepts’ include detail too, but they do not explain how, Interpreters more accurately said they pitch to their education abilities and observations on what they felt the deaf client can take in. However having done that, where do they inform the necessary areas of the details they think the deaf client won’t understand?

Of course, here is no identification of those deaf able to follow these mysterious BSL concepts, a lot just go with what they can see via the simple signs used. The BSL dictionary was actually panned by the deaf as appearing to be manufactured by hearing people, and signs invented on the spot to fill space, there have been many additions and clarification since, and the age-gap means under 30s may not be able to follow ‘new’ BSL effectively now.

Interpreters and lay people, tend to Stick to the highlights omit ‘boring details’, but, the devil is IN the detail isn’t it? I distinctly recall attending an local authority meeting, with a sign interpreter in attendance who stopped half-way through the meeting stating she hadn’t the signs available for some of the technical terms being used, and the deaf there were struggling to follow as she tried desperately to explain the terms another way……. It is amazing many deaf do not realise Interpreters specialise too, via court interpreting only, and in schools, and in health areas. Do they insist the suitably qualified terp is there? Do they KNOW the terp specialities?

In Health areas, very few actually are skilled enough in signing medical terminology. The approach? They ‘dumb down’, make it simple to understand, good? Or maybe not if a vital fact passes the deaf patient by. If we watch BSL on TV, is that the same BSL used on the street? Maybe it is not! There is a system of ‘media signing’ which is designed to make the most access to the most deaf, but that has been debated as accurate or widely understandable, because of UK regional differences in sign, and the subtitles are usually the ‘bridge’ that saves the BSL day. Basically near all BSL Interpreters are hearing and from hearing education, even subconsciously they will avoid the ‘grammar’ of BSL without being aware. It is not a fault as such.

Interpreters DON’T accurately adjudge the academic skills of their client, some may only meet that client 5-10 minutes before they start, no time at all to establish the right ‘pitch’ or level of sign to that client. That is why deaf people prefer same terps all the time, so that the rapport is there and it helps both parties to follow, these days, you cannot rely on having the same people all the time.

We live in an English written/speaking and spoken world, maybe BSL is just for the purists?

By Mervyn James who can also be found “At The Rim”.

Mr Mervyn James.

Mr Mervyn James.


Come In Take A Seat I’m All “Hears” by Wendy Bebb-Sutton

Firstly I should introduce myself, I was born hearing, but following an accident at the age of sixteen, I lost almost all of that hearing. I wear two hearing aids, which, up until the age of forty I kept well hidden under my hair. After a complete lifestyle change at that time I no longer hid my aids, I finally arrived at the stage in my life where it wasn’t a secret, I was deaf, if my aids offended anyone, well that was their problem.

A visit to the theatre in Bristol one evening sparked the interest in sign language. The performance was enjoyed by the hearing in the theatre and the deaf, thanks to the lady stood on the side of the stage, who acted as interpreter . So where did I fit in? The answer was , I didn’t. For the first time in my life I realised that I needed to face my deafness. I struggled to understand conversation even with the use of hearing aids, indeed so many times I would nod, smile or even just say yes, when really I had no inkling of what was being said.

That theatre visit turned my life around, I knew then I wanted to be able to sign. So after attending various different colleges, I am now more than happy to communicate using BSL. I am also lucky that my partner also learned alongside me, thus making our communication now for the bigger part, sign. Well time moves along and I have reached the stage that when I have hospital procedures I use an interpreter, this is not an option but a necessity. I spent too many years relying on my partner listening to doctors or consultants, I now accept my deafness.

The question that I have asked myself recently is……”how comfortable is a deaf person, with an interpreter present at what can be, very personal times?” How many of us deaf folks lip read quite well, at least I do, but NOT with all people, it can be a real struggle. Sometimes, however, it is not always appropriate to have another person present, I for one have no idea of the confidentiality issues involved with an interpreter, indeed have no idea where I would find this information from. This uncertainty of another person at my appointments came to a head a few years ago, when I attended my first visit to a counsellor. This lady is hearing and was made aware of my deafness by my partner. So, from the onset we were both aware of our sensory differences. Well, I was extremely lucky, I find her quite easy to lip read , I don’t think my deafness has been an issue for her, however for me there have been issues that only perhaps the deaf or indeed a someone who needs to talk to a counsellor would understand. As everyone who uses BSL to communicate knows, facial expressions, body language and placement are a must, this involves face to face conversations. Likewise, if lip reading a hearing person you will need to watch the face of the speaker. This was, and is my stumbling block, I think that the majority of people when taking about something they are not comfortable with do NOT want to look at the other person. I must spend at least half my counselling session staring at the most uninteresting walls. This is a double edged sword, I am either embarrassed, ashamed or quite simply unable to look at my counsellor at these times. Which I believe is quite natural for all of us when in an uncomfortable situation, I find this thoroughly frustrating, I DO NOT want to make eye contact. Given that the only way I know what is being said, I MUST look at my counsellor. A difficult situation overall.

What comes to mind for me is the recent changes in the Welsh government laws that introduce accessibility for all. Surely questions need to be asked about the numbers of counsellors who are BSL users, I have tried in my limited capacity to find out the figures; I am given to understand there is a deaf lady counsellor in South Wales, however she works in Bristol, hardly easily accessible. The whole dynamics of mental health support from a patients perspective has dramatically reduced its services and availability in the last few years. Indeed our help through the avenue of counselling is limited to the magical ‘six sessions’ hoping to resolve matters and that’s IF the client has no communication needs.

So, given the fragile structure of the NHS in the counselling and mental health sector, exactly how does a deaf person cope in this situation? Well, for my part, I am incredibly lucky, I have a counsellor who gives me time, is patient, never rushes me, ensures when I can’t lip read certain words or phrases, to say explain using words I can follow. I am incredibly lucky to have someone who has given above and beyond what one would expect; sadly I am in the minority.

So my deaf friends, don’t hesitate to demand your accessibility, it’s your right. The need is there, for more counsellors who use BSL, maybe more deaf in this profession, certainly interpreters at sessions if we are happy with that situation. The name of my counsellor……….. no sorry folks, I won’t share, after all I have my own deaf friendly who ‘hears’ me. Go on, demand your deaf rights, accessibility for all.

~ Wendy Bebb-Sutton.

Wendy Bebb-Sutton



Following on from last year’s extremely successful festival, Incloodu (pronounced/signed as include you) returns with an even higher quality event with a theme of ‘Working together’.

This year Incloodu will illustrate examples of Deaf, HoH and hearing collaborating to create a unique window on what can be achieved through collaboration, alongside of work produced/performed solely by Deaf artists.

We are sure that both evening and daytime events will be a memorable occasion for everyone involved. This really is a ‘not to be missed’ event for anyone interested in visual or performing arts.

We are very excited about the debut showcase The Vibrating Chairs; there will be five of them. A working diagram. is on our FB page. Designed by Robert Jack, a PhD student in sound engineering at Queen Mary College specialising in, making music accessible without sound, has designed a chair that enables you to experience vibrations across a wide range of frequencies.

In the past, we have seen vibrating dance floors and hand held vibrating units that only really work with effectively with ‘bass’ frequencies. These chairs which are ergonomically designed to enable you to experience the rhythm and vibration of music right across the frequency range through the use of strategically placed pads that correspond to the parts of your body that react to different pitches of sound i.e.; Bass is felt most in the abdomen whilst the higher frequency and mid-range sounds are best experienced at various positions on the spine.

We cannot wait to get feedback from your experience of this.

There are far too many acts and workshops to list here. However, please do feel free to have a look at the websites (below) of some of the people involved who are all committed to raising awareness of creative work arising from the broad-spectrum deaf community.

Hope to see you all there on the day!

Mark Bushell, Ruby Sehra, Amanda Jane Richards – Incloodu Directors



Mark Smith – Deaf Men Dancing.

DJ Chris Tofu

Nao Masuda – Music in motion.

Analema Group.

The Deaf.

I happened to be in the vicinity of the National Portrait Gallery when I was notified that Grayson Perry had done a piece on the deaf community as part of his “Identity” series. This intrigued my friends and I so we seized the opportunity to view his art work – some of which resonated with us, especially the “Memory Jar” and “A Map of Days” which was rather unique.

The episode which portrayed Grayson Perry’s time and artwork as a result from having spent with selected members of the deaf community was being broadcasted the very same day, amongst his other research with other aspects of “Identity”. Once I saw the artwork that reflected the deaf community on display in the National Portrait Gallery, I just knew there would be a repeat of certain schools of thought, of which some will say is justified for their own reasons. I decided not to watch the said episode for my own personal reasons which was respected.

The Deaf.

The Deaf.

grayson perry 2

However, I suggested another piece of Grayson Perry’s artwork to my husband as I thought he would be interested in that aspect of Identity and he took it upon himself to watch the episode that featured Grayson’s research and the artwork. It happened to be shown in the same episode as “The Deaf”.

Subsequently we had a chat and I felt compelled to relay his thoughts to the rest of the Tree House dwellers for another angle on it all coming from a hearing person’s perspective.

My husband (who studied at St Martins Art College) says…

“As an artist it is not Grayson’s fault that he could not portray deafness very well because he is not deaf himself therefore could not grasp the true concept which is why his poster came out rather boring as deafness and sign language is very visual”.

On the other hand, my husband also felt “certain people who were chosen, were very selective in who they “grouped” with.” 

My husband then reminded me which I completely forgot about, how he did an identity project for his Masters as he is an “alien” in this country – One aspect of his project, he made a video of me signing and this video went up for debate amongst the students who were left feeling frustrated at not being able to understand and they dictated that he could not use this video because he was not deaf. He shut them up by saying it was part of identity and who he is, being an alien in this country – reversing the frustration back at them, at not being able to understand and/or follow a language.

It takes a lot for my husband not to like anything and what he perceived being presented via the deaf people in the episode was nothing new – to him.

I can only wish Grayson Perry had the opportunity to be exposed to a wider spectrum of the richer diversity within the deaf community so he could truly understand the issues that comes with deafness and our various communication abilities, skills and needs. There is no deaf culture or D/d per se – is there a hearing culture, H/h? Is there a blind culture, B/b? Let us not create any more division when there is no need or justification for it.

On that note, we would like to invite Grayson Perry and anyone else who may be interested in the deaf community to visit us at the Tree House, who would also be more than welcome to come along to any of our events in order to meet us for a truer insight into just who we are, a community that respects each and every one’s needs and their/our choices of communication methods which results in TOTAL communication. A community that respects each and every one for who they are and wish to be. A community that is inclusive of all.

But not one that would even dream of wishing a child would be born deaf.

Thank you for your time and patience.

~ SJ (Sara Jae)

Favourite BSL Signs

Greetings, beautiful Tree House dwellers and passing admirers (it’s a beautiful tree, come and see for yourself!).

The other week, we asked the dwellers of the Tree to say what their favourite BSL signs are, and to do a video of themselves signing them – if they wanted to, that is!

Below is the result…and there will be more to come, as a few of us have yet to make our videos. Pop back a little later in the week for more signs! Enjoy, and get those fingers flexing…

We hope you have had a great Sunday, and have a fantastic week!

Lots of love from the Tree House dwellers.

Sarah Ward x

Embracing Identity, Celebrating Difference by Michelle Hedley

Today, from two different sources on Facebook, I was made to feel inferior and not able to call myself “deaf”.  Worse still, those comments were made by other deaf people in the so called deaf “community” and as a result are quite hurtful.  I might expect ignorant comments to be made by members of the hearing community, but from other deaf people?

I was (probably) born deaf, having finally been diagnosed at 3 years of age, and for the first seven years of my education until I was 10, I attended a mainstream infant and junior school in a nearby town that had a “unit” with deaf children attached. Thus I was integrated with both hearing and deaf children whilst getting speech therapy. At that point in time, sign language was frowned upon by those in the education authority (early 70s) and thus I was taught to talk and lip-read. For me, I was unaware of any other way to communicate in my early years of childhood.

When I was 10 years old, due to a family move to another part of the country, I was plunged into the unknown as the education authority’s policy there was to place the child into mainstream schooling with no support. Thus I became the first deaf child in the village and the schools I consequentially went through to the age of 18. This meant that I had no contact with other deaf children (or adults) and continued to develop my lip-reading and speech skills.  I was lucky in a sense, as I loved learning and I loved going to school! I also loved the English language and had a reading age far advanced of my actual years.

My parents then became members of the NDCS and this meant that I started to engage with other deaf children again. However this was short lived as most of them signed and I was unable to communicate with them.  I went to various deaf clubs in an attempt to socialise with others, but soon discovered that because I didn’t sign, that I was not considered “deaf” and was shunned by them.  Despite trying to learn some sign, I was ignored and after this happened so many times, I made a decision at the age of 18 to no longer be a part of the deaf community. It did not mean that I did not identify with being deaf, just the fact that at that time the community felt unable to integrate with deaf people who were not able to sign for whatever reason.

Years and years passed and I remained firmly in the hearing world with no contact with other deaf people. Despite having speech I still had the usual difficulties that are associated with being deaf by not being able to make telephone calls, follow group discussions, follow TV without subtitles and so on. Despite being “excluded” from the deaf community I still fought battles with organisations for equal access with some successes.

It was not until I became more familiar with social networking a few years ago that I started to socialise online with other deaf people on both Facebook and Twitter. I became more involved with activities and campaigns and slowly started to integrate back into the deaf community. I was still painfully aware though that there was still a division between BSL and Non BSL users. Last summer, as a Big Brother fan, I became a daily blogger for Limping Chicken following Sam Evans for 13 weeks reporting as he eventually came to be the winner of the series! This resulted in my being invited onto See Hear to be interviewed for TV! This was such an exciting time to travel down to London (from Northumberland) in order to share my experience of following Sam throughout and the deaf awareness that it helped to create. That excitement was dulled somewhat when after it was televised I received comments that as Sam and I both didn’t sign, that we didn’t represent the deaf community and were not really deaf!! Coming from adults in this day and age I was frustrated to find that perhaps the deaf community had not changed at all since my teenage years. Nevertheless I managed to recover from those comments and continued to embrace my deafness and took part in several campaigns to benefit others such as the recent Lovefilm/Amazon and Sky.

Those feelings came to the fore again today when on both the Love Subtitles Facebook page and Treehouse Facebook page, comments were made referring to BSL users and Oral deaf and again implying that deaf people are bsl users. One poster on the Love Subtitles page said “I do remember feeling ‘teed off’ when Eastenders showed Ben last year to be a normal speaking boy. How did he lipread when looking away? That does not represent a hard of hearing person does it, let alone a deaf person.”  David Buxton, Chief Executive of the BDA said on the same subject “I Vividly remembered a sense of joy when we heard Phil Mitchell’s new born son being diagnosed as deaf. I envisioned future episodes of Eastenders featuring deaf children growing up in a gangster family and using BSL.  Sadly I was totally mistaken!  His son wore a hearing aid, spoke fine and went to prison!” I was shocked to read that sort of comment from someone in that position and that he appears to not accept that deaf people can talk and lip-read and yet still have the same issues that arise from being deaf just like BSL users do.

Time and time again I see comments about little d and big D and implying that deaf means BSL. When a deaf character appears on TV and doesn’t sign, the snipes are always there about BSL and that “real deaf people do not talk”!

Don’t get me wrong. I am not against BSL at all. Far from it.  Just like speech is right for me personally, I also know that BSL is the RIGHT way of communication for many of you. All I ask is a bit of consideration and remember that we are all in the same boat. Remember that some of us from older generations had no choice about how they learnt to communicate at school.  We all have different hearing losses, mild to severe/total (I have a severe hearing loss in the high frequencies), with our own ways of communicating. Some of us may be able to communicate in more than one way.  There is no right and wrong way, we must all do what is best for ourselves as individuals. But PLEASE be considerate of each other and remember we are all human and have feelings. Do not make the same mistake that hearing people make of trying to put labels on us all and make us fit into the same boxes with our very different needs. Whether we talk, lip-read, sign BSL/SSE or a combination, we all face the same issues our deafness creates in this society and together we can share our experiences and advice.

I have really had to stand back and ask myself whether I wanted to be a part of the so called community that chooses to exclude certain individuals based on what communication method they choose to use. I realise that none of the comments today were directed at me personally, but I still am affected by them as an “oral deaf” member, and the insistence to put labels on ourselves doing exactly what we hate hearing people to do to us! I am hoping this is just a blip and nor the norm as it were. Lets embrace each other and celebrate the fact that we are all different but united in the one thing that bonds us all together – the need to communicate by whatever method we can to get by in this world.

– Michelle Hedley.

Michelle Hedley.

Michelle Hedley.

Between A Rock And A Hard Place.

In just one day, I had never experienced so much irony.

First things first, a BBC researcher contacted the Tree House because they were alerted to a trend “Nomination Drench” of which they wanted to learn more about. It surprised them that said trend was stemming from within the deaf community, a couple of us were invited to the BBC’s New Broadcasting House to be interviewed by camera but we had to try and keep our answers to ten seconds limit each. I think we (the deaf visitors) felt a tad miffed by this method because we tend to need at least an hour or so (it seems!) to discuss something in depth with passion and detail not to forget the effort that goes into our facial expressions, body language, sign language and lip-reading. It was then explained to us that there would be a separate more in-depth interview for the radio.

My first thought was “Hmmmm?!” This was an interview about what was trending from within the deaf community to be broadcasted over the radio. That felt a lot like putting an advert over the radio for the deaf and an advert in the papers for the blind. This point was kindly and politely made by myself and they understood it from our point of view, thinking it was a very good point. We all learn something new every day and I could see they gained insight, experience and deaf awareness from just our presence and the interpreter (Andrew Green) who helped to bridge the communication barriers. Many thanks to Communication ID for being there for us.

Andrew and Dexy inside BBC's Radio Studio.

Andrew and Dexy inside BBC’s Radio Studio.

We all very much enjoyed being at the BBC, seeing how they worked and being interviewed by them. Delighting at going inside on what seemed like a mini tour. It felt very open plan and communal compared to their old BBC building. To the presenter I asked if the videos on their blog would be subtitled for the deaf community to access on an equal and united basis and he reassured me they would be.

Something else was trying to eat away at the back of my mind, keeping an eye on the time (not literally!) because I knew there was going to be a protest taking place right outside the very same building and that a few of my friends also may be in the vicinity taking part. This did not help my nerves any as well as being extremely camera shy. In order to help raise awareness for the deaf community and for the BBC to achieve their objective I had to push myself to see it through while the other two seemed so confident and enjoyed being in the frame.

The other two people who were also being interviewed, Dexy Wallace and James Clarke, I felt relief knowing there would be an interpreter for them. If there had not been one, I have no idea how they would have all coped and it would not have been without any great difficulty. I decided I would try my best to respond verbally to the questions asked of me during the interview because at the back of my mind, I predicted there would be a percentage asking “Only signers once again, what about lip-readers? They are always forgotten” Don’t forget, both of my parents are deaf and being surrounded by sign language, I am at “home”.

Soon my nerves eased over time and my head was nodding in agreement now and again to what the other two people responded with. It became a moment that was cherished by myself because there we sat, a BSL user and another who was deaf blind, myself (who can adapt to present company) brought together by the BBC who had no idea just how much this trend “Nomination Drench” had brought the deaf community together both in person and in spirit. But most of all that another deaf community was defined and strengthened once again via the use of social media.

To read BBC Trending’s article on “Nomination Drench” trend read “here” or watch here:

Even Water Aid is adopting the trend to say thank you 🙂

With every beginning there is always an end, our Interviews ended which sadly meant our experience was over but another one was about to start as my thoughts turned once again to the protest – This was a protest at the BBC due to their supposed bias towards Israel and lack of coverage on Palestinian issues. The noise was absolutely deafening, chants of “Shame on you!”, “We want change – NOW!” and “Palestine!” seemed to alternate amongst the rallying crowd. I admired how peaceful people tried their best to keep it because that is what Islam is about – “Peace”. All they were requesting is justice and awareness just as every human being deserves, as equals.

A woman who braved her pain just to be a part of the protest. Photo by SJ.

A woman who braved her pain just to be a part of the protest. (Photo by SJ)

Once again I felt this wave of self –confliction – not long before then I had been inside the BBC being interviewed (in which I did try to point out Gaza, Palestine and 3rd world countries having access to no clean water if any) yet here I was, absorbing the atmosphere that was directed at the BBC. I felt as though I was between a rock and a hard place when all one could do was go with the flow and take one step at a time. Life tests us to see how we deal with what fate decrees for us and that subsequently defines who we are and who we will become.

While the past few weeks of “Nomination Drench” has been fun as it encouraged people to overcome being camera shy, seizing the day in order to be a part of a refreshing trend that once again brought a sense of community together – My heart tells me it is now time to try and remind you of those who are suffering and on that note, I am going to tackle perhaps one of the most complicated issues known to mankind.

Another being between a rock and a hard place on “Waging A Dirty War

– SJ.