Culture and Active Citizenship

It was great to see Lillian Lawson and Brenda Hamlin give strong and meaningful presentations related to citizenship at the BDA conference last weekend.

Nope, I didn’t get to fly in to Derby from Barranquilla, nor watch it streamed live – I couldn’t manage a 4am wake up, so watched them later on and got bits of the AGM.

Active citizenship is the bedrock of civil society: a passive citizenship is indicative of an apathetic nation and enables governments to get away with social injustices. As Lillian showed, active citizenship can relate to a very broad range of activities.

My thoughts were on other matters.

A regular question was the lack of young people involved. I think only 4 or 5 of the 40 people were under 25. I’m sure I’m not the only person to be tired of facing this question: for something like 30 years it’s been an issue.

This makes little sense politically given the huge success of the FDP at getting young people involved in politics, and the impact of the Spit the Dummy group: there is no lack of politically minded young Deaf people, neither is the community in decline (as BDA figures showed). It’s just that they don’t see the BDA as the place to be politically, and find pubs and social networking more appealing than a trip to the local Deaf Centre.

I have the utmost respect for those like Brenda who are working tirelessly to address these issues. I was involved with Bristol Deaf Centre for a short while, where we faced terrible problems due to government cuts and previous Centre mismanagement – it was a thankless task trying to sort out the problems.

On Sunday, however I was left asking the painful question: is the BDA the future of the Deaf community? Should it try and pave the way for a newer (non-charitable?) group or organisation, maintaining links with EUD/WFD? Is it worth shutting down and starting all over from scratch under a different, modern, up to date guise?

I somehow doubt that will happen, but whatever the possible solutions, there was one word/sign on my mind: culture. I don’t think it was once mentioned, which, given how important it is to the language and community, is surprising and worrying. Do people take it for granted nowadays? ‘Yeah we got a culture we know that blah blah’, or not think it’s the most pressing issue?

If there is one question I would have liked to ask it would have been whether there are any serious attempts to develop discussions of Deaf culture throughout the UK, with young deaf people today? Is the notion of ‘identity’ more prominent? It’s more surprising culture isn’t addressed given the Deafhood notion was born in the UK.

I have to admit that I have not paid this issue much attention in my work on citizenship, and it is only through privileged visits abroad, and my move to Colombia, that it has really hit me hard how important cultural workshops and discussions are. That could be a bridge to younger people becoming more political active: this should not be a strategy but a natural process.

When I am privileged to be part of these experiences, and I tune in to watch a national Deaf conference with so few people (young or mature) present, with little discussion on Deaf culture; I can’t help but feel that lack of in-depth, meaningful, cultural exploration is one of the most important missing links in the demise of active citizenship in the UK.


  1. Remember how much fun and how many young folks were at the aSL and Deaf pride parade from Gally to the White House last April

    Deafhood Deaf pride Deaf culture and natural signed languages r the key

    Oh and art and activism r grand

    Folks can’t determine their future if the don’t know their past & present nor if they feel they have no future for which to parade march rally sit in etc



    1. Great ideas Patti, especially for UK!

      i remember the fun of the Washington Pride march last Spring!

      Also the Barranquilla celebrations for International Deaf Day two weeks ago brought together 100′s of Deaf children, young people, older folk..

      I’d vote for an annual BSL and Deaf Culture Pride march/event to get things started 🙂


  2. Irish example here: I am thinking out aloud. I was at the Irish Deaf Society AGM last time to see what it is like: the present board is quite moderate full with fair thinking people which is a real step forward but that may be too late because there are no one aged under 30 there (apart from one or two?) – everyone’s over 30. Not even IDYA (the youth association) was there which is saddening. Does Ireland’s deaf youth not need Irish Deaf Society or will the Deaf Village be sufficient enough for our youth’s needs?

    Or what the IDS wants and what the IDYA wants are very different? In the past, it used to be the same thing but now, it appears that IDYA is hungry to learn new things and they are very open to new things. It don’t have to be about deaf stuff all the time? Citizenship for older deafies who are used to hearies running the show may appear to be different from what is it for younger deafies who are used to deafies running the show?

    We are going through a very interesting transition in Dublin.

    1. Interesting reflections Shane. On my travels, in South America, Asia, etc, I’ve noticed there is far more young Deaf involvement in clubs and events, especially when it comes to cultural reflections and discussions. Am not so sure what the situation is with young Deaf political involvement, although when I was researching Deaf protests around the world there was plenty of activism. And many examples were not deaf related. I wonder if Uk, Ireland, etc, can learn something there? Cheers. Steve

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s