// Tuesday 7 Feb 2012
Approximately 9 million people in the UK have a hearing impairment; about 16% of population; 1 in 7 of the population in Jersey. Most are Hard-of-hearing, meaning they lose their hearing getting older; some are deafened through illness or accident. About 0.1% of the population are part of a smaller, ethnic minority group, the Deaf Community; These people use British Sign Language (BSL) and they view themselves as a linguistic-culturally minority, which use their own language; (BSL), culture and identity, they do not consider themselves to be a group of people with a disability.
This means they are ‘culturally Deaf’, with a ‘capital D’, where as the larger group I mentioned before are considered ‘hearing impaired, deaf people', with a small d.
The main difference is that those with BSL use their own cultural language, BSL which is visual and they do not have English like the deaf, hearing impaired group, the majority.
BSL is the 4th preferred language in the UK, as English is first, Welsh and then Gaelic. BSL is ancient in origin, and has evolved over time through the Deaf community, as their form of communication. BSL is not international because each community has developed its own distinct Sign-language to communicate.
BSL is totally different from English because you cannot write it down; there is no word for sign translation, or vice-versa. BSL has its own structure, grammar and syntax. There are lots of elements that make up BSL, these are specific hand shapes, location they are used, orientation and movement of the hands, facial expression, lip patterns, eye gaze, and body posture.
BSL is structured differently from English, the order is totally different. In English we would say “What is your name?” In BSL it is signed “Your name what?” Or “My Name is Pat”, would be signed “Name Me Pat”.
Therefore BSL is entirely different from the English Language, but it is a language in its own right. In the 1970’s it was agreed that BSL was the true natural language of the Deaf Community, and it was officially recognized by the British Government in March 2003.
The Deaf community in the world today is changing, many Deaf schools are closing, Deaf clubs are too, many Deaf children are being mainstreamed, and whilst this has advantages, there are disadvantages too. It means that there is no or little contact with other Deaf BSL users and more importantly the Deaf Culture and sense of Deaf Identity, which is passed along generation to generation. There is a lack of Deaf Role Models so the Deaf child growing up, feels very much isolated, although with the help of technology can communicate in today’s world much better than the world was before Computers, I Pads, Mobiles etc. It is a changing community, and the lifestyles of the Deaf Community are also changing, it is changing shape, not disappearing, just evolving.
I have people asking me, why I chose to Sign, I was brought up learning to talk with the help of Speech therapy, which lasted till I was in my 20’s plus I had hearing aids but with many operations and ear infections and damage, when I was 25, the social worker for Deaf people visited me and asked me why I was not part of the community or sign. After learning BSL 1 and 2, I feel I can now participate in life fully, much more than I could before. I may have an audible voice, which I use most of the time, but when im receiving information I prefer BSL, it’s less tiring than lip reading, and is much more accurate (lip reading is only 40% accurate).
Growing up, I soon became involved in Music, becuase I loved to watch a friend of the family play the piano, and she gave me her piano, once I started taking lessons at age 9. I soon learnt to play Cello with the Instrumental service and then privately and I achieved Grade Eight on both instruments and Grade Five theory before I left school. Music is a huge part of my life, and I used to arrange and write music for the Grouville Pantomime. I love to compose music and have written many pieces for piano, in different styles. I also love to sign to music, and have regularly signed to well known songs with a signing choir, to which we entered the Local Jersey Eisteddfod and was filmed for See Hear.
Learning BSL opened up my life, and I consider myself to have a Deaf identity, and I'm part of the Deaf community here in Jersey and in Southampton. Having learnt BSL I was the first person ever from Jersey and the first girl from the UK to be accepted on the first University one year course in Chester that was taught and assessed all in BSL.
I'm now the first deaf person from the Channel Islands to go through Winchester Diocese Reader Training Course which is three years, and I have an interpreter and have BSL as my main language, esp. for training and exams etc. Having passed all my exams and assessments so far, I am nearly finished my training and will be licensed in October at Winchester Cathedral.
I consider myself to be both in the hearing world and deaf world, because I'm bilingual. It’s a cool place to be!