Deaf Awareness Week 2015

It is the time of the week again for another episode of Game of Thrones… Sorry, I meant the week where several organisations get involved to celebrate the culture, heritage and language that are unique to deaf people. Just like how a Walther PPK, the shaken, not stirred Martinis and Aston Martins are exclusive to James Bond.


Deaf Awareness Week is used to promote rights of Deaf people, especially in education, access to information and services and accepting the use of sign languages. Organisations educate about degree of hearing loss, the misconceptions of being deaf, the deaf culture and the challenges that deaf people face on a daily basis.


I have always likened Deaf people to Bruce Wayne and his secret identity - Batman. No one knows Bruce is the Batman, except for his loyal butler, Alfred. Like the secret identity of Bruce Wayne, not many people know about Deaf people’s life. Apart from battling the villains (cue, lack of access) on a daily basis, Deaf people actually have their rich culture, heritage, history and language. They have their own Olympics games for the Deaf, named Deaflympics, and here’s a fact, Deaflympics existed 36 years before the Paralympics was formed! I am enormously looking forward to our next summer Deaflympics at Samsun, Turkey in 2017.


Some of Deaf people have their own special bionic gadgets and some of them have the ability to move their fingers and hands fast. Believe it or not, there is a Guinness record of fingerspelling A to Z in 4.7 seconds, set in 2008 by Thomas McWhinney. That’s blisteringly fast! Some of them can lip-read well, in fact, a few have worked with police as forensic lip-readers. Some talented Deaf people can weave a story or a song in the air with their hands beautifully. Everyone is unique. Unfortunately, the beauty of their sign language is under appreciated.


People in the UK are trying to get BSL acknowledged through a BSL Act. The countries of Zimbabwe, New Zealand and Finland had their Sign Language Act approved by their governments. The main purpose of these Act is to promote the realisation of the linguistic rights of signers. Authorities are required to promote the opportunities of signers to use their own language and receive information in their own language. British Sign Language was recognised by the Government in 2003, but no real progress has been made since then.


The Government introduced the Equality Act in 2010, which legally protects the disabled from being discriminated in the workplace and in wider society. Yet, a majority of Deaf and hard of hearing people are unable to enjoy leisure such as going to the cinema at a time of their choosing. Instead, Deaf and hard of hearing people must check frequently for a subtitled screening that are screened at a specific time, which is usually during the working hours! That amounts to a total of nearly 450,000 people with hearing loss in the North East who are unable to enjoy cinemas fully. In an alternative reality, maybe cinemas would devote a single subtitled screening room so Deaf and hard and hearing people would be able to enjoy the cinemas with freedom. Regrettably, this is one of several problems and barriers that Deaf people face on a daily basis, and do not get me started on the issues concerning employment, education and health for the Deaf people.


However, I must raise an issue in employment and that is Access to Work. After recent extensive revamping to the scheme, they introduced a salary cap for each individuals to receive support. Originally, the purpose of the scheme is to give access to the disabled to establish a suitable working environment, enabling the disabled to do their work properly. For Deaf people, it meant receiving support in the form of a British Sign Language/English Interpreter, enabling them to do their work efficiently. Recently, new instructions states that the employer needs to make reasonable adjustment, collaborating with Access to Work to provide support for the disabled.


Now that the employers must provide additional expenses to provide support, which I believe will witness an all-time high unemployment for the disabled. The Government keeps failing their plans for an inclusive society. What good is the Equality Act 2010 if the Act does not promote an inclusive society for the disabled? Regardless of the Act, the Deaf community is forced to look overseas for protection in the form of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which actually mentions sign language seven times because the Equality Act 2010 does not mention sign language at all. It would be a catastrophic tragedy to see British Sign Language end up on the UNESCO’s list of endangered languages.


Yet, in the multi-universe alternative, it would be superb to see the new Government after the elections on Thursday to provide much needed stability for us Deaf people by providing our rights as human beings. It also would be fantastic to see other organisations such as cinemas pledge to support us by providing access for us. A school that actually teaches sign language along with French, German and Spanish, as you are more likely to bump a sign language user than a foreigner in the North East. Another example, there’s a BSL Bill in Scotland that is being discussed as I write this article, and recently, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland introduced BA Performance in British Sign Language and English. Despite all of the problems that our sign language users face, in the North East of England, there is always a silver lining, and that silver lining is Deaflink.


Deaflink provides support for the Deaf, Deafblind, Hard of Hearing and families across the North East. Deaflink provides services and signpost to other services if necessary. Primarily, Deaflink focuses on improving access to employment, education, health, leisure and social for all of our users, to raise awareness of the needs of these excluded groups to statutory and voluntary organisations, and to act as a consultative group offering training support and advocacy.


Since I joined Deaflink just over a month ago, Deaflink have provided access for the Deaf, Deafblind and Hard of Hearing by hosting Question Time at The Council Chamber in Civic Centre, inviting local MPs and having the MPs answer questions from our users regarding the upcoming general election. Our patron, Lord John Shipley took a research undertaken by Deaflink about accessibility in banks to the House of Lords to raise the issue, and banks underwent a change in their policy to improve accessibility in banking for the Deaf, Deafblind and Hard of Hearing people. To me, that is some real progress, and if you would like to find out more about what we do at Deaflink, learn more information about deaf, learn sign language or just pop in to say hi, then please do contact us.


Personally, working for Deaflink is rewarding because I get the opportunity to improve the services to the community that is close to my heart. I would like to share a belief that a very wise man, Mahatma Gandhi, proclaimed, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’, and that alone fits with not only my but Deaflink’s philosophy too. It is just exactly like James Bond, working for Her Majesty, to protect the United Kingdom, but unfortunately without the Aston Martins, and the gadgets from Q. I’m not too sure about the shaken, not stirred Martinis, but I’ll settle for a Pisco Sour instead.

Useful links

 Newcastle City Council Social Care Direct - Adult social care services for deaf, hard of hearing, blind, partially sighted, deafblind people. Click here for more information.

If anyone Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing living in Newcastle is struggling they can arrange a needs assessment by contacting Social Care Direct on 0191 2788377 or by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Once the assessment is complete, equipment can be offered free of charge and is not means tested.  Once equipment has been provided subsequent equipment would need to be self-funded. There is a website to support the identification of equipment and clients should visit

Another Council Services can be found on this link

See our Safeguarding Adults BSL/Subtitled videos for different types of abuse and how to report - Click here

Read our Blogs here

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Deaflink North East is a Company Limited by Guarantee, registered in England and Wales; Company No. 7982375; charity number 1147237.