Reflecting on Deaf Awareness Week 2021
Deaf Awareness Week 2021 involved increasing awareness, celebrating our community and shining a light on new accessibility issues that came with the pandemic.
Face masks, subtitles and interpreters were some of the topics highly discussed throughout the week. As a deaf-led charity, this week was incredibly important to our staff to reflect on what we have done and what we are doing for an inclusive future.
Sarah, our Senior Social Worker, has been with Deaf Action for 7 months. As a hearing person who has been quickly immersed into deaf culture, her first Deaf Awareness Week was invaluable. She reflects below.
“My first of many”
This week is Deaf Awareness Week and it offers me an opportunity to reflect on the last seven months that I have been working for Deaf Action, an Edinburgh based charity supporting the d/Deaf* community. I moved to the charity in October 2020, in the midst of the global pandemic and lockdown in Edinburgh as their new Social Worker. Saying that I was jumping in at the deep end was an understatement.
I applied for the post as I had personal experience with family members experiencing hearing loss and deafness. I was also familiar with the charity having taken my introduction, level one and two BSL classes there. However, even with this sliver of experience and knowledge, it has been a huge learning curve through working alongside and supporting people who are Deaf, hard of hearing or experiencing hearing loss.
My manager’s and many of my colleagues, first language is BSL so that has improved my skills no end and it showed me the importance of working with Teams!
I have never experienced having so many video calls. In my previous work a phone call would be the default contact when you needed to speak to a colleague if you were working at home or out of the office. At Deaf Action, you always need to be ready for a video call, no pretending the video doesn’t work because you’re in PJs and haven’t washed your hair! Video is essential for effective communication between team members.
BSL is a beautiful visual and expressive language but not the easiest to learn, while my skills are developing I am very conscious of how much I need to learn before I have anywhere near the level of fluency that I both want and need to be an effective communicator. I am ever grateful to my generous colleagues who sign slowly and clearly for me and tolerate my attempts at replying. Working alongside and supporting BSL users it has been shocking to see how inaccessible so many services are, as well as the inaccessibility of information, often verbal or if written, wordy and dense.
This has been one of the ongoing challenges in my role, often the support we offer is in direct response to the accessibility of services, obvious and easy examples are seeing the GP, during the pandemic GPs are been defaulting to phone bookings and consultations only. Entirely inaccessible, our team has spent a lot of time on the phone to doctors surgeries negotiating face to face appointments. Applying for housing has been the same, especially if you don’t have internet access. Face masks are another challenge that has disproportionately affected the Deaf community.
Reflecting on DAW2021
This Deaf Awareness Week is my first of what I hope is many, however perhaps the aim is to not need an awareness week. That we will become more aware, more thoughtful and accessible. Accessible communication, using plain English and increased knowledge of BSL will help everyone not just those who are affected by hearing loss or are Deaf.
For me I am looking forward to learning and understanding more. Thank you to my colleagues for supporting me so far and thanks for your patience!
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