Encouraging Individuality in Young Deaf People Through Inclusion

Last week I saw an excellent BSL interpreted performance of Billy Elliot.

“If you wanna be a dancer, dance
If you wanna be a miner, mine
If you want to dress like somebody else,
Fine, fine, fine.

Everyone is different
It’s the natural state
It’s the facts, it’s plain to see,
The world’s grey enough without making it worse
What we need is in-div-id-ual-ity.”

From a brilliant number called “Expressing Yourself”, the lyrics got me thinking about access and the barriers faced by young deaf people.

In the audience of this accessible performance were groups of young deaf people from a variety of schools, colleges and organisations across London. The surprising thing was, most of these young people had NEVER attended the theatre before! OK, I am admittedly a total theatre nut but I do understand (well, sort of) that a lovey thespian life is not for everyone. However, cultural activities such as going to the theatre should be made accessible for all, so young people can try them at least once regardless of background, deafness or disability.

A deaf and hearing integrated company called Handprint Theatre in collaboration with Mousetrap ran workshops at the Victoria Palace Theatre prior to the afternoon performance to prepare young deaf people for their first theatre experience. First, a tour of the stage, set and props was given and there was the opportunity to ask questions, then Handprint lead workshops focusing on the themes of Billy Elliot and encouraging the young people to perform to each other. It was wonderful to see such engagement and the response from one individual who expressed his newfound interest to explore a career as a performer.

Theatre is not the centrepiece of cultural experience (sometimes I may need reminding of this). Young people should be exposed to a variety of activities and be encouraged to make an informed choice of their interests, otherwise how can we expect them to grow into well rounded individuals? I direct you again to the lyrics of “Expressing Yourself”.

The Limping Chicken recently posted about how deaf children are being turned away from swimming clubs and lessons as they are seen as a health and safety hazard. Ludicrous! To me the health and safety risk is having a population of deaf people in the UK who can’t swim. We can’t all be amazing swimmers, as a child a quickly gave up swimming lessons to join a youth theatre group but only after I had got the basics and earned a few badges. As a child, this was my choice but thankfully I did not have access barriers to contend with.

However, every cloud has a silver lining and the NDCS have stepped in to assist swimming coaches to be inclusive through providing advice, resources and teaching a few signs to assist communication.

The NDCS are a great charity and provide so many options and experiences for children and young people. If you have a deaf child, I’d really recommend having a good look at the activities and events that they offer.

The work being done to provide access and create inclusion for deaf children and young people is invaluable. It will encourage independence, creativity and confidence in the next generation. Oh and most importantly, individuality. “The world’s grey enough without making it worse…

Aaaand jazz hands!

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