Celebrating Dot Miles at the BDA…some reflections on ‘the Vision’

Back fresh from the British Deaf Association (BDA) conference; my initial reaction is …. interesting!

Good to see a conference brimming with energy and enthusiasm, a full hall of people celebrating the memory of poet Dot Miles; and people getting involved in workshop discussions.

There is a new BDA Chair now, but I’d like to see some credit go to Francis Murphy (and all those involved in behind the scenes work) for keeping the ship going through rocky waters 🙂

Thanks are due to the BDA for allowing Deaf academics in the UK the use of a room to initiate a meeting: we are hoping to run a conference for Deaf academics as soon as we can secure funding for it.  In the meantime there is a new website that is accessible to the public and for the use of Deaf academics working within universities in the UK: http://www.deafacademicsintheuk.org.

Some things struck me from the BDA Membership workshops.

Far too many of the ideas coming out were focussed on short term work.  What happens short term can work well if it’s part of a long term vision or strategy.

Things people raised struck a chord and would be ideal for developing a longer term vision that could help focus short term work:

A. Building the bridges with the younger generation of Deaf people.

This came up repeatedly (and it wasn’t helped that there was a glaring lack of young presence) but short term solutions seemed hard to shake off.

Mainstreaming is now the norm, the cochlear implant generation will surely be entering citizenship in larger numbers in the coming years.  How can the BDA encourage and welcome a generation who have probably not been able to access sign language, or Deaf culture?  How can the BDA assist in developing Deafhood?

I have no easy answers to this issue, but suggest some kind of strategy is necessary to encourage whom Paddy Ladd called ‘Deaf street people’ to participate in keeping sign language and Deafhood alive for future generations.

Unfortunately there were not enough Deaf young people present to help take that debate forward so it might be time to think of how the BDA can actively go to where the young people are and learn from them in their own geographical spaces.

B. Networking politically.

A guy brought this up at the workshop session and that point he made was hugely valid.

I’m thinking particularly of the genetics campaign; sure, the clause that was campaigned against wasn’t overturned, but there were rich political networks that activists were able to tap into and have an effect and influence thanks to hearing political allies who shared the concerns of Deaf people over the HFE Bill.

The point isn’t necessarily winning the battles you fight; if it means losing a few to learn new skills to help to win a longer term war, those losses will have been worthwhile.  If you don’t fight you never have any chance of winning anyway.

A long term strategy to build up long term relationships in the field of politics, so that anything to do with Sign Language and Deaf education becomes a BDA issue, and not an RNID or UKCod one will take a few years.  You need a longer term vision in the first place though.

Central and crucial to this is political networking involving some kind of strategy for engaging with parents; which again I’m not an expert on, but some kind of debate needs to take place with how that might be achieved.

People are still getting up at these conferences and talking about the need for action; there were some complaints the BSL marches of the past were ‘too passive’.  It’s an important debate to have but political action takes active people doing active things; it involves risk taking, boldness and being prepared to confront.   I never remember the Wolvie Six telling people they needed to block the roads, they went out and did it!

The BDA is not a direct action political organisation though, it can’t be expected to do everything; and in any case historically any kind of activism has traditionally come from outside the ranks of the BDA.  That doesn’t mean the BDA members cannot lend support to action that does take place.  The BDA itself could run workshops on the issue, perhaps.

One final question related to the conference: why weren’t hearing people allowed into the Interpreting workshop?

Finally a real highlight of the weekend was the train journey home to Bristol.  The journey was such a brilliant communicative event that it hardly mattered how many times we had to change seats not knowing they were reserved, and never before was I so un-bothered by a crowded train.



  1. Dot Miles was the ONLY person I have ever seen who could suggest sign language could be an art form. I’ve seen nothing since anywhere near but copies of what hearing people do in BSL. The lack of youth taking interest is a real killer, it will defeat the BDA. They have to engage them or die. As you said it is older people urging more pro-active campaigning, they have done their bit, and want youth to carry things onward, and youth is lethargic, uninterested,have it all, they are all getting drunk in pubs and playing on facebook or bebo, they live,off the fat of the progress land, older people worked for, and there’s no shame in it either ! Tsk !! If they couldn’t care less, should we ?

  2. I missed this ‘cos we were away… but I remember talking to Dough Alker a few years ago about how to get academic foundations under some of the things that the BDA, FDP were doing at the time so that when politicians got involved there was a wealth of material there to inform them… (particularly to counter the ridiculous misinformation available to the government – see the Cardiff debate on genetics for ref…) Great to see that this is beginning to happen with the BDA’s blessing, even if it’s only through individual members at the moment.

    Be interesting to chart the evolution of the BDA through the last 10 years… it would make an interesting, and probably alternatingly joyful and painful story that would reveal much about the evolution of the wider community…

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