Our Project Coordinator, Tomas, has noticed a sharp increase in people asking about deaf people and their culture ever since deaf actress Rose Ayling-Ellis appeared as the first deaf contestant on Strictly Come Dancing.
She has quickly become a role model, challenging stereotypical norms surrounding deaf people and music. Teaching the nation more about deaf culture has been at the heart of her appearance on Strictly, however, will this be enough to create a long-lasting impact on deaf inclusion and accessibility?
Tomas shares his thoughts.
“Have you seen strictly come dancing?” is the most popular topic of conversation lately whenever someone finds out I’m deaf. Admittingly, it is more interesting than the usual “my grandad has a hearing aid too”, “I’ve always wanted to learn sign language”, or my personal favourite, “You don’t seem deaf”.
What Rose has achieved on Strictly Come Dancing is nothing short of phenomenal. Deaf awareness has increased massively thanks to her appearance on the popular show. She has smashed the conventional beliefs about deaf people; the mainstream audience quite naturally do not associate deaf people with music, but she has shown to millions that deaf people CAN do anything!
Not only that, but Rose is also the natural role model – unafraid to project her deaf voice onto the screens of households across the UK and showcase the native language of British Sign Language that has 125,000 users. Her confidence and pride has inspired and empowered the next generation of deaf young people.
Performative or progressive
Despite the great coverage and seemingly growing awareness, I worry that the ‘Rose effect’ may be temporary, with performative media coverage and a lack of real change to challenges our community face.
The fundamental issues that deaf people across the UK experience every day are still very much present. Thousands of deaf children are growing up with language deprivation and performing well below their hearing peers in school. The communication barriers we face every day at home, work and socially are exhausting.
When Rose inevitably leaves the spotlight and the attraction of learning BSL fades, we will still be left with these issues. After all, you wouldn’t have to go far to witness one of the many barriers deaf people face. While Rose was dancing on the BBC, 6 million deaf people in the UK were unable to watch their favourite programmes with subtitles on Channel 4 for weeks due to ‘technical faults’.
Help us keep the momentum going, and use this time to learn more about deaf people and deaf culture. Not sure where to start? Join a FREE deaf awareness session.
Image: BBC Strictly Come Dancing