politics

Colombia experiencias de talleres de FENASCOL (versión en español)

Gracias de corazón a Paula Vargas, para la traducción al español (Heartfelt thanks to Paula Vargas for the translation to Spanish)

Al llegar a Bogotá (el 24 de marzo), P y yo nos dirigimos al hostal que habíamos reservado con bastante anterioridad. Al llegar al lugar nos enteramos de que nuestra habitación había sido asignada a otra persona. Desinflados, aceptamos la invitación de M, la hermana de P que vive en Bogotá y nos dirigimos a su apartamento. Éste se mantuvo como nuestra base para los seis días que estuvimos en la capital de Colombia.

Recordaré mi estadía en Bogotá por tres cosas: el viaje en tren a vapor para algunas ciudades pequeñas en las afueras de la ciudad, la experiencia de correr a gran altura, y los dos talleres realizados en FENASCOL (Federación Nacional de Sordos de Colombia), donde me reuní con varios líderes Sordos de Bogotá. Realicé dos visitas a su organización: la primera fue un breve encuentro para conocer a las personas de FENASCOL y amoldarse a la comunicación (todos usábamos lenguaje de señas, pero el LSC es muy distinto al BSL, de manera que usamos bastante del Lenguaje de Señas Internacional). En la segunda visita, dirigí un taller, aunque en realidad el objetivo era una reunión informal para compartir ideas y experiencias.

Anduvimos un poco perdidos tratando de encontrar la sede de FENASCOL, pues nos guiaron en la dirección equivocada varias veces! Al final nos dimos por vencidos y tomamos un taxi, porque íbamos a llegar tarde! Al llegar, me dieron un pequeño tour por todo el edificio, me presentaron a muchas personas sordas y me dieron una breve presentación, en Seña Internacional, acerca de FENASCOL. Es una organización relativamente joven, que sólo se formó en 1984, pero su historia y la situación actual es impresionante y merece un reconocimiento más allá de Suramérica. Ellos tienen una visión clara (misión, visión, objetivos) de lo que es FENASCOL; tienen conexiones directas y vínculos con el gobierno donde están en la capacidad de influir en políticas, y una estructura clara que es liderada por varios líderes Sordos. Su enfoque en la tecnología es algo que encontré particularmente inspirador, ya que están dedicados a asegurar el acceso a través de Lengua de Señas Colombiana (LSC), el establecimiento de subtitulación en la televisión y poner en funcionamiento un servicio telefónico en LSC.

Todo lo cual me dejó en una especie de dilema, ya que FENASCOL está claramente adelantado en muchos aspectos. Así que junté unos cuantoas diapositivas de Powerpoint sobre mi trabajo en la Ciudadanía, que se remonta a la época en que empecé mi tesis doctoral (2002). También mostré algunas fotografías de los años de activismo durante el período 1997-2003 que llevó al reconocimiento del BSL. (De hecho el LSC fue reconocido por el gobierno colombiano en el año 1996 más o menos, mucho antes de que el Reino Unido). El enfoque de FENASCOL es lo que yo llamaría persuasivo, donde tienen manifestaciones culturales de Orgullo Sordo y desfiles al tiempo que tratan de convencer al gobierno de la importancia del reconocimiento del LSC y el acceso para las personas cuya primera lengua es el LSC.

Yo no estaba en condiciones de representar al BDA, la organización hermana más cercana a FENASCOL, pero expliqué un poco acerca del post-reconocimiento, donde el gobierno del Reino Unido había proporcionado £1,5 millones a proyectos para aumentar la divulgación del BSL en toda la sociedad: la mayoría de los cuales hizo no fue directamente al BDA, y mucho menos al FDP. También le expliqué la gran cantidad de organizaciones que existen en el Reino Unido, y que tratan de unirse bajo el ‘paraguas’ de UKCOD, a pesar de que la filosofía de algunas de esas organizaciones son muy diferentes.

Lo que siguió fue un debate muy intenso y vivo en torno a varios temas. Los primeros estaban relacionados a la ciudadanía: la mayor parte de esta discusión se llevó a cabo en LSC, pero un punto importante fue si las personas Sordas deben aceptar beneficios y apoyo bajo las leyes de discapacidad, o si deben tratar de alejarse de aquellas leyes para con el fin de promover su autonomía. Sin embargo, como uno de los colegas señaló, estos eran más temas políticos que temas gubernamentales, ya que es a través de la política que las personas sordas están posicionadas en la sociedad.

Me preguntadaron acerca Deafhood, tal como esperaba, e hice mi mejor esfuerzo para explicar el concepto. No fue algo sorpresivo que esto condujera a otro debate muy animado, durante la cual tuve la oportunidad de tomar asiento entre el grupo, mientras que las personas sordas discutián el tema de Deafhood desde su perspectiva. Gran parte de esta discusión se volcó hacia la educación de niños sordos y el lugar que ocupan aquellos que se han incorporado al sistema educativo estandarizado (por ejemplo, aquellas personas sordas que fueron integradas al sistema educativo estándar, desarrollar Deafhood?).

Tal fue la emoción y el ambiente emotivo generado por estos talleres que la primera noche se alargó por hora y media más, mientras que la segunda duró cinco horas de corrido, con una pausa breve de 15minutos! Personalmente, me sentí orgulloso de mí mismo por haber participado y por haber podido captar la mayoría de las cosas que se comunicaban a través de Seña Internacional – sin duda me ayudó la experiencia de tantos años en contacto con personas sordas que usan distintos idiomas.

Y no he olvidado la promesa hecha que voy a tratar de hacer realidad: enlazar por video a FENASCOL y al CDS para discutir Deafhood!

¿Y qué del viaje en tren a vapor, y de correr a gran altura?

Bueno, el viaje en tren fue lento y nos tomó todo el día, lo cual es intencional y relajante. P y yo pudimos ver un par de pequeños pueblos, empaparnos de la atmósfera, y disfrutar de auténtico café colombiano y tortas! Una experiencia inolvidable fue la banda que tocaba en cada uno de los vagones del tren hasta el final del viaje, y en los lugares donde paramos: Incluyo una foto aquí:

Y la corrida a gran altura! A mi llegada a Bogotá, me pregunté por qué tanta bulla acerca de ser una ciudad tan alta, pues yo podía respirar perfectamente. (Bogotá está a unos 3600 metros más cerca de las estrellas.) Qué inocente. Después de correr los primeros 200 metros de un trote planeado para 20 minutos en el Parque Country Club, estaba luchando por respirar y mis piernas se sentían como si acabaran de ser inyectadas con plomo. “Se me pasará”, pensé para mis adentros. Pero no fue así, de manera que tuve que luchar zancada a zancada. Y pensar que en Bogotá se corre una media maratón!

Después de la trotada en el Parque, P me condujo por un supuesto “atajo” que en realidad resultó ser una “vueltota”, pero no puedo ser muy duro: fue ella quien encontró el lugar ideal para trotar. Y fue también ella quien ayudó en el vínculo entre FENASCOL y yo para hacer realidad los dos talleres.

Me alegró poder trotar nuevamente, esta vez durante 40 minutos. Espero regresar a Colombia en el futuro y ver más de Bogotá. Pero una cosa es segura: no será para correr una media maratón!

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Social science and humanities academics – dawning of a new era*?

The week before I took a much needed holiday I received a Deaf studies related doctorate and news of a new publication.  I’m eager to take time out to sign (yes, not sing!) the praises of the latest research work, but also to throw forward a suggestion that we are living through the potential ‘dawning of a new era’ in academic-related research work in the Deaf studies field.

Here I’ll explain my thinking a bit further.

It’s hard to see this sometimes when engrossed in my genetic related research (Teresa Blankmeyer-Burkes work being an exception),  but I was thinking through all the academics, Deaf and hearing, who have most recently achieved PhD ‘stardom’ and basking in the fact that so much of it is social science related, as opposed to, for example, linguistics or psychology.

Now I’m not at all knocking academics from those disciplines: I was pleased to receive information from a Deaf friend engaged in linguistics research that his thesis has been submitted, and that follows hot on the heels of another, and I know at least one more on the way.  That’s in addition to hearing friends who have also achieved their PhD in the last year or two.

My focus is on what seems a little boom in ground-breaking social science research in the corner of Europe in the last 2-3 years: I’m thinking of John Bosco-Conama’s challenges to the use of the term equality; Hilary Sutherland’s bilingualism through the eyes of a Deaf child; and Mike Gulliver’s research on French Deaf schools that provides us with new perspectives on Deaf Space. [While here I want to also cite Janie Gonclavez research on Deaf pedagogy in Brazil, achieved at the Centre for Deaf Studies and which deserves a mention as it outlines unique approaches that our Euro-centric education departments could learn from.]

Three other friends are either at the end of completing their PhDs or nearly there, one other I know is near completion – all within the social sciences, all Deaf people – and two others (one hearing) have just started theirs.

The numbers add up but the subject matter and their quality is equally as important.

However, I want to return to the two mentioned earlier, the first being Donna West, who has just had a book joint-published, entitled ‘Deafhearingfamilylife’ and kindly put up on Mike Gulliver’s blog, which can be seen here on Facebook. Donna tells the story of a narrative inquiry with three deaf-hearing families about deaf hearing family life – she was once a teacher of Deaf children and has reflected on her experiences, and developed some valuable insights based on her experience.

[She is giving a talk to launch the book at the Centre for Deaf studies, on April 25th. The event will take place from 5-7pm in room 410 of the Graduate School of Education, 35 Berkeley Square, Bristol, BS8 1JA.  Discounted copies of “Signs of Hope: Deafhearing Family Life” available.  BSL interpreters provided  🙂 ]

It is, however, the work of Annelies Kusters that I want to focus on.  Annelies achieved her PhD in January 2012 and in between doing so spent time commuting between four countries, getting married and having a child! (Mine was achieved in four cities within close promixity to each other and I thought that was tough!)

I have seen a presentation of a summary of her PhD and am now eager to read it. Here is an outline of what I understand of her work.  Annelies undertook anthropological research in the village of Adamarobe, Ghana, and brought back with her a breath of fresh air: a perspective on a community that was sociological, emic in nature (insider-research led), and groundbreaking in developing a theory that, on my initial understanding, straddles Deafhood with concepts of Deaf Space. Many research-led projects take place in these villages where there are a higher proportion of deaf people than is common, often due to a high rate of genetic incidence and emergence of sign language as a result (mexico, bali, nicragua, to name a few).  These projects are focused on the language used by native Deaf people but there is little depth to how Deaf people within these villages lead their lives in relation to their hearing peers or amongst themselves.

Annelies spent time in the village for several months in the early part of her research, where she conducted observer-type learning, asking questions of the villagers mainly to develop an understanding of their day to day lives.  Although she was learning the language during this time, it was only on returning to the village for a second, longer time, several months later, that she began to be more active in interviewing, exploring villagers cultural life, and carrying out inquiries in line with an anthropological approach.

She touches on the language in many respects but is more concerned with assessing transnational parallels with communities worldwide. The people living in these villages lead very different lives to those of us privileged to be able to conduct this type of research, and Annelies’ findings not only question the utopia and romance of Groce’s ‘everyone here uses sign language’, they inform our understanding of Deafhood and Deaf space, and challenge us consider broader aspects of what it means to be Deaf: socio-economic factors, ethics of research within such communities, Deaf-Deaf and Deaf-hearing relationships, and many more.

I would highly recommend a read of it; a thorough review would be even better!  Annelies work will, I hope, inspire others to carry out further social science based research: Annelies PhD can be found here through Mike Gullivers blog and I understand she will be producing video recordings of presentations summarising the research very shortly, hopefully toward the end of April or early May.

Finally, at the end of this excitable entry, I want to end with a more sober mention that the growth of Deaf academics is something that is in urgent need of examination.

We Deaf academics, along with the wider Deaf middle-class, and the Deaf intelligentsia, oppressed and downgraded by oralism,  are increasingly in a position of greater social mobility compared to millions of hearing people : while it would be a mistake to suggest we are entirely free of the chains of oppression, it has been long overdue that our privileged positions require discussion of how funding for research work can be genuinely based upon what these communities want to see.  How do academics ‘give back’ to the communities upon whom they owe their careers, and in what ways?  I do not refer to finding funding to undertake more research (and hence also prolong our own careers).  But, what constitutes ‘giving back’, and who decides what should be further researched and how? What would it require for it to happen?

That requires open and honest socio-political analysis and exploration: it’s something that I am addressing with Dai O’Brien, and we hope to have available a thought-provoking article shortly, so watch this space!

(*with thanks to the Specials)

Urgent: Bristol Deaf Centre sale and closure imminent!

So it’s official re: the seriousness of the situation of the Bristol Deaf Centre, which faces imminent closure, as reported by the Evening Post just before Xmas. This follows an article by Charlie Swinbourne recently on the woes being faced by Bristol Deaf people – which is, to put it metaphorically, a large pair of scissors.  Cut, cut, cut. Cut the school, cut the Deaf Studies courses, cut the Deaf Centre.

Bristol Deaf people are now faced with the problem that unless a solution can be found within the next few weeks, there is a possibility that the Deaf Centre will become liable to Avon Pension Fund so as to meet a debt (£700k) that was not of local Deaf people’s making.

It is now known that as far back as Nov 2007 that there was a pension debt of £300k, and yet there was no pressure then on the Centre to sell to pay off that debt. More importantly, there was no known discussion with local Deaf people about what to do about such a growing debt in 2007 nor has there been up until now. [Click this link will open into a PDF Document.]

Ok, so there are obviously issues related to the past that come into play here; and these should be looked into.  And, also, let’s be honest: the pension issue is not one that only affects Deaf people’s Centre – there was a huge strike on November 30th about cuts in people’s pensions.

Yet as people were pointing out at the meeting, this is the Deaf Centre we are discussing: just take a look at what it has to offer Deaf, hard of hearing AND hearing people. For 127 years Deaf people have had a meeting place, to socialise together, to build networks with local and national communities, to teach sign language classes, to ensure the more vulnerable Deaf people had support and companionship. But, above all, where hearing parents of deaf children could take their young people and introduce them to the world of Deaf people, show them role models for their future, enable them to develop an identity.

On that note a personal detour. I myself, mainstreamed (like 90-odd percent of deaf children in the UK today), still vividly recall memories of attending the annual Deaf Centre Xmas parties, to which my mother took me. Vibrant, happy, full of fun, and Deaf adults who I never had an opportunity to see daily.

So whatever the situation, the politics, the pension, the council, the services, etc, this issue is about a community, a people, a culture, a way of life, a contribution to Bristol’s history – and the Centre itself is based in an area known for it’s local community diversity: Stokes Croft.

So the question is always: what is to be done to regenerate or save the centre? Now?

I’m heartened by the turn-out of numbers of people at recent EGMs (23rd September, 2nd November and 21st December) – one just 4 days before Xmas woah! All meetings were totally packed out, spilling out of the main hall, and the depth and extent of the passion in the air is a clear indication of just how much people value the Centre and want to see the continuation of a central meeting point, a hub, a club, a pub, call it what you want.

Question: can that passion be turned into something that will either save the Centre from closure or see the emergence of new beginnings?

So many people do care and want to act, do something, anything, to try and find a solution: be it through campaigns, meetings, become a trustee, or whatever. But at present, and let’s be honest, it appears the majority are spectators. They see fiery meetings, and are witnesses to a sparky debate. Not always a great spectacle, and a bit like seeing a car crash scene and finding yourself unable to look away.

Worse still is to be left feeling ‘oh what’s the point, the end is inevitable anyway’.

So, what’s next?

There is an AGM on February 8th. Motions need to be in to the AGM two weeks before that time.

Well, it’s certainly an option to sit around until then and wait for yet another fiery passionate meeting, allowing people to get up and have their say, but that is hardly the issue. The fact is that behind the scenes, plans are being put in place to sell the Centre and leave Bristol Deaf people either homeless or in a temporary place. Indefinitely, for all we know, for these situations leave one hard to know who to trust.

I have been active in the Interim Working Group to try and collect information about the situation the Centre finds itself in. [Please see below.] And I’m exhausted from it, especially as it has been almost Kafkaesque in nature – you know those situations where you reach a line, finally, only to find it has been moved forward or sideways…yet again.

The Interim Group suggested it would need a period of 6 or so months (from November 2011) to gather information but all the while it has been doing so, events have moved on.

We may well have reached a point where there is little more we can do in terms of gathering information.

[By the way, see below for an outline that shows what the Interim Working Group was set up for and what shady activities it has been up to…as you’ll see, nothing sinister. Just trying to get information together.]

Now let’s take a look at the Elim Housing offer to buy the building and reconvert the land into a block of flats, allowing the Deaf Centre to rent out the ground floor (at a cost) on a 125-year lease.  But does their offer really represent an adequate or fair ‘option’. How much is the Deaf Centre really worth? What would it sell for? Evaluations reported in the Evening Post are not independent of the sale to Elim Housing, which, by the way, has a church of the same name just round the corner from the Centre – I can’t work out if the two are linked are not…

Should a fresh, new group of trustees be set up to begin a re-building process? If so, who might they be? What might they do? What support would they get?  Would they simply become a ‘mopping up’ brigade of the type we saw after the August riots? And what exactly would they have to build with in terms of money, capital, and people?

I am not writing pretending that I have answers to the situation. But there is one thing I do feel quite strongly about, as I’m sure a lot of people do: The Deaf Centre belongs to Bristol Deaf people: it has that name for a reason. The current Centre was bought in 1973 on that basis and it is through no fault of the community that a debt of £700k has built up. It has been the home of the Bristol Deaf community, the meeting point, the focus of much that happens in the Bristol Deaf Community.

It would be completely unjust and unfair for all of that to be lost, or reduced, to pay a pension fund deficit that is not of Bristol Deaf people’s own making.

entry ends

Statement from Interim Working Group members for meeting of 21/12/11

On Wednesday 2nd November, an EGM of the Bristol Centre for Deaf People was held.

At the meeting, it was voted on and agreed an Interim Working Group would be set up to obtain information for the benefit of the Bristol Deaf Community. The information would be required to help Deaf people make a decision about the future of the Deaf Centre.

On Wednesday 16th November, the Interim Working Group held an open meeting at the Deaf Centre. We explained that we had held a meeting with a very experienced legal adviser and the adviser gave us a list of important information that was necessary before the Deaf community could make informed decisions about the future of the Centre.

We explained that our aim was to try to obtain 8 pieces of information and we will list it here and explain what has happened in response, in bold:

Firstly, we want to express our thanks to people who have agreed and been willing to meet us in the last few weeks

  1. the minutes of all meetings of trustees held during the calendar years 2008 to 2011;

These have not been provided

  1. the accounts to the year ended 31 March 2010 (as recited on the website of the Charity Commissioners);
  1. all draft accounts prepared in respect of any period after the year ended 31 March 2010;

These have been provided and are available – it is now up to the Board to distribute these to you.

  1. the “governing documents” referred to on the website of the Charity Commissioners, namely the “constitution adopted 24 January 1979 as amended 26 September 1984 and 5 December 1990” plus any documents effecting material changes subsequent to those documents;

These have not been provided 

  1. the original title deeds to the land and buildings at 16-18 Kings Square (now registered under title no. BL38229 – including but not limited to the conveyance dated 16 February 1973 referred to in the Charges Register) ;

These have not been provided, but we understand the land and buildings belongs entirely to the Bristol Centre for Deaf People

  1. any emails or other communications relating to the nature and extent of the pension deficit/liability;

Some information has been provided and the Board will be making this available at the meeting for 21/12/11 

  1. correspondence (including emails) between Bristol City Council and the trustees/centre relating to funding / its withdrawal; and

 These have not been provided

  1. written confirmation that no assets or functions have been transferred to the private company limited by guarantee incorporated on 5 August 2010 under company number 07336999 under the name “Centre for the Deaf Limited”.

No written information has been provided – however we are assured that no transfers have been made.

We have reached a point where we have done everything possible to try to obtain the above information for your benefit; it is up to the Board to provide the information to you and we have done our best and worked hard to try to get them to provide the necessary information.

IWG meetings and legal communication

November 21st – meeting between Elim Housing, Deaf Centre, Bristol City Council

November 23rd – meeting with legal advisor

November 30th – meeting with representative of Deaf Centre board

December 8th – meeting with representatives of Bristol City Council

December 12th – meeting with legal advisor

December 20th – meeting with staff at Deaf Centre

The legal adviser has written two strong letters requesting information from the Board

The IWG has communicated via email regularly with the legal advisor, Bristol City Council and a representative from the Board.

The IWG has met on a total of four occasions since November 16th

Ends

Bristol Centre for Deaf People meeting: high passions

I attended an eventful (open public) meeting at Bristol Centre for Deaf People (BCDP) on Friday night. Am not going to do a ‘report’, impossible, cos so much happened, but this is my brief ‘tweets’ timeline as a way of summary:

Emergency General Meeting was called to discuss cuts in services by Bristol City Council to Bristol Deaf People, and was held Friday 23rd September, 6-9pm.

6.05pm: Meeting opens: Chair outlines Council cuts and the effect they will have on Bristol Deaf Centre and services

6.20pm: Deaf members request BSL translation of statement from Bristol City Council’s Health and Social Care dept before discussion continues

6.35pm: Statement suggests a key reason for cutting services is due to BCDP poor management, that Board denies

6.50pm: Ideas for future of Centre put forward by the BCDP CEO, rejected as ‘far too late’

7.00pm: Heated, passionate debate fires off between members from floor and Board, tensions running high

7.10pm: Centre of anger is on Board management’s failure in last few years to act to secure future of BCDP

7.15pm: Several members from the floor critical of the Board’s management, ‘they had been left with a mess but failed to clean it up’

7.20pm: Board have totally lost the meeting but continue to strongly defend their actions, strenuously denying any wrongdoing

7.30pm: Debate continues to be highly charged, personal attacks, inappropriate public naming of people, pleas for calm

7.35pm: Board starts to try to end the meeting

7.40pm: Floor wants to keep meeting going, bitter dissatisfaction expressed towards Board’s behaviour

7.45pm: Board Chair formally closes the meeting and entire Board walks off the stage!

7.50pm: Deaf members urge a break in proceedings for passions to calm

8.15pm: Informal meeting (of majority of those present but minus the Board) reconvenes to discuss the situation

8.30pm: Meeting discusses its options within the constitution and draws up a list of issues to be discussed at a future Emergency meeting

9.00pm: Meeting closes.

One thing is for sure: the meeting ain’t the end of the matter, and further developments can be expected in coming days and weeks ahead.

Italy proposals met with opposition

Rather worrying events in Italy have drawn the attention of the world’s Deaf people. The full details are at Grumpy Old Deafies and I wanted to add my support for the opposition to what’s happening in Italy – I wrote to the President of the Italian Parliament and others yesterday to express my extreme concerns (see G.O.D for my letter along with others).

I want to put up two things here: a copy of the Press Release, and secondly express my support for the numerous protests taking place on Wednesday 25th May [corrected 30th May], and add that I think it’s very heartening to see activity take place at such short notice. Planned so far are marches/vigils at: London, Belfast, Edinburgh, Dublin, Berlin and Washington DC.

Peace.

URGENT PRESS RELEASE

World Outcry Against Italian Parliament Bill

There is a bill in the Italian Parliament that was originally going to
recognize Italian Sign Language (LIS), but pro-CI/oral “special
interests” succeeded in changing the wording that will change LIS to
LMG, which is Language of Mimes and Gestures.

The Deaf sign language using community throughout the world are
outraged by this insult. It has long since been proven and recognised
worldwide that sign language is a language in every sense of the word.
Just as any spoken language it has its own structure – syntax,
linguistics, synonyms and morphisms.

Tomorrow world wide people from the Deaf and hearing community are
gathering in protest.

In Belfast at 16:00 many Deaf people and hearing supporters are
meeting at the City Hall to protest and sign a petition against this
blatant and deliberate discrimination against the Deaf sign language
using community in Italy and around the world. Please support our
cause.

Lina Kankeviciute
Chairperson Limepie Theatre and member of Deaf Community
cankaslina@gmail.com

BRITISH DEAF ASSOCIATION SUPPORTS MARCH

To all you who are marching today

Re:

The British Deaf Association is appalled, at the proposed new change
in the wording of the legislation being discussed by the Italian
Parliament today.. It is not only an insult to sign language but to
the Deaf people throughout the world who have fought many battles to
get our indigenous sign languages recognised by governments The
European Parliament has officially stated and this was reaffirmed only
last November In Brussels, and it also reaffirmed and has long since

been proven and recognised worldwide that sign language is a language

the same as spoken languages. And just as any spoken language,

TO all those on the March my sincere thanks and appreciation, my only
regret is I am unable to join you as I am attending the EUD GA in
Budapest, my heart, mind and souls is with you all

Terry Riley
Chair
British Deaf Association

With thanks to Alison for providing the above details

The growing power of the Deaf professional-managerial class

It seems absurdly ironic that the Deaf Professional-Managerial Class (PMC) in the UK are emerging in times when people are expected to tighten their belts in times of assumed austerity and when revolution lights up the middle east.  It is possible, however, for the Deaf PMC to be pushed into taking actions of its own – let me explain what I mean here.

The triggers for this blog entry are the Sorenson VRS campaign in the UK, and the Deaf Managers course being set up at Heriot Watt University, but the ideas contained within it are ones that I first wrote about 20 years ago. It was possible to see what could happen, but it was not inevitable that it would. Plus I felt clouded by my own political ideology and philosophy back in those days. I wrote about Deaf nationalism and equality in a mini-dissertation for my BA in Cultural Studies in 1991, but had only a tentative understanding of the nature or state of the Deaf world back then. [1]

I’ve been meaning to re-visit these thoughts for a last few years, but the timing seems right to do so now.  Any constructive views and thoughts are welcome; this blog entry is a hypothesis, a philosophy that has empirical reasoning.  It is also written with the coming of the eighth anniversary of the UK government’s acknowledgment of British Sign Language (BSL), and the key tenets are as follows:

1. The Deaf PMC has grown and strengthened in the last 8 years, but remains restricted to further growth due to societal barriers;

2. This class is dominated by political ideologies that reflect its material interests, and the emergence of a Deaf intelligentsia reflects its growing development and influence; [2]

3. The main beneficiaries of BSL recognition have been the Deaf PMC, and any further campaigns and protests for ‘rights’ will mostly benefit that class, unless these are specifically campaigns for social equality.

The concept of a ‘Deaf middle class’ is not new: historical studies pre-Milan 1880 have consistently referred to Deaf people working in professional managerial occupations and holding an above average education, although the notion that the majority of deaf children who went to deaf schools ended up in manual and labouring occupations tends to receive less recognition. The strengthening and developing of the modern PMC has been simmering ever since BSL acknowledgment, and doesn’t begin there, but goes further back. Paul Redfern, for example, draws attention to a growing ‘professional class’ as far back as 1996[3], while Paddy Ladd[4] addresses class issues in his 2003 Deafhood publication.

Before continuing, I want to clarify that I use the ‘professional-managerial class’ rather than ‘middle class’ as the later term tends to be far too stretched, referring to everyone who owns a home (or two), possess a lot of cars and takes several holidays a year: I much prefer to use the term ‘professional-managerial class’, since it is easier to associate this with people who have a bit, however small, of power, control and independence within the system. They are a person who typically sits between the working and upper classes and was first coined in the 1970’s by Barbara and John Ehrenreich. [Hopefully, also the use of that term will inspire the creation of an appropriate sign in BSL!] Critically, they are best understood as a class, albeit a sometimes contradictory one, and not amalgamated isolated individuals who add up to make up a whole. Deaf people of all classes regularly come together, with class differences holding little sway amongst those who are keen to express their thoughts, views and feelings in sign language, and gather collectively to celebrate Deaf culture in a myriad number of spaces.

To be more specific, here are a section of the various people who I would deem to constitute the Deaf PMC:

1.      the managers of services and charities, be they independent or part of the voluntary or public sector;

2.      those who run a business, which are mostly quite small scale at the moment, but may aspire to become something a lot larger and more profitable;

3.      growing numbers of tutors and lecturers within the field of further and higher education, including the growing ‘Deaf intelligentsia’, linguists, psychologists, social scientists, anthropologists, etc.[5];

4.      ‘professionals’ who work within a whole range of services such as mental health, community development work, social services, the legal profession, and so on;

5.      celebrities and artists from the world of t.v., theatre, drama, etc, especially those engaged in free expression of the culture.

My personal observation of this ‘class’ is that it is working and acting for the collective good and interest of Deaf people and the Deaf community. Those who teach sign language, for example, are people who are tutoring the future generation of sign language interpreters, raising deaf awareness amongst the hearing community, teaching effective means of communication between hearing and deaf people.

Businesses are invariably focused on promoting effective services to hearing and deaf people: be it telecommunications, translation services, video relay services, etc. One could, in fact argue that they have very little option but to work as a profit/loss service, since they rely on the formulation of business plans, and so on.

But even a momentary analysis of the Deaf community from a this class perspective can begin to recognise that Deaf political issues on Deaf / deaf / hearing / Coda / Interpreter / culture / disability, etc. lines, is invariably far more complex when there is the recognition of a class of Deaf people who do have some form of power in the world of work.

The class perspective cannot really be understood without recognition of other classes. An unemployed working-class Deaf person on benefits, for example, or Deaf people who work by selling their labour, be it to work in a supermarket, in post offices, office work, nurseries, cleaning, printing, child-minding, interior design, hairdressing, etc., have different material interests to the Deaf PMC. They may all share the experience of day to day language and cultural oppression, but there are also differences; ones that come to the fore when there is a crisis in the system.

The vast majority of Deaf people feel a bitter sense of injustice that they continue to miss out on day to day services hearing citizens take for granted, such as telecommunications and interpreting, and they suffer exclusion from citizenship due to lack of access to the justice system, politics, and a whole range of social services.[6] The Deaf PMC are more likely to have access to sign language interpreting services, since they are well versed in knowledge of their rights, and of making use of legislation such as Access to Work (which could change pretty soon, however). [7]

But these two classes also need to be considered in relationship to those who have real wealth and power in society: the huge banks who control vast amounts of money, large and profitable businesses who have an annual turnover of millions, the massive telecommunications and media industries, governments and civil servants who frame the law and decide under which discourses Deaf people are placed and, of course, the even vaster medical apparatus which produces technology and research on hearing aids, cochlear implants and genetics.  There is practically no Deaf-control that comes anywhere near matching the power and wealth of these corporations: but there are people who no doubt aspire to do so.

This theory is a simplistic one, and the situation is far more complex, but I defy anyone to suggest such a theory based on class is ‘outdated’, as critics of Marxism (especially postmodernists – and there are many lovers of this theory within Deaf studies) tend to do. There are real differences, for example, amongst businesses, some of which will aspire to capitalist and profitable greatness, others who will certainly not have any interest in doing so but hold a very strong not-for-profit ethos. Deaf political differences amongst professionals will also be evident, with the liberal-minded Deaf wanting to drive forward and reward individual developments, opening up choices for all, while the socialist-minded Deaf will seek to stress the importance of staying true to the communitarian roots of the Deaf community.

Artists are also a mixed-bag, with individuals no doubt dreaming of worldwide individual recognition (whether it be amongst Deaf or the mainstream) in order to demonstrate ‘yes we can’; while yet others will be far more keen to reflect the tensions within and between the communities, or who desire to create works that simply celebrate the beauty of sign language and Deaf culture. In between there are those with nationalist tendencies, for whom ‘all things Deaf are beautiful’, and it cares not what class they are from, or how they develop their Deafhood. [8] Many of us are probably a mix of all three at various times.

The growing Deaf PMC is, arguably, an inevitable consequence of the development of the Deaf community within capitalism, a system based on competition for profits and the reliance on the labour power of working people to create these profits. The same kinds of developments are evident, for example, within many other oppressed groups, the growth of Black businesses for example. What I am putting forward is a theory that is very common, and in some cases very well developed, in other academic studies, but has been badly neglected in Deaf studies. Theories of culture, for example (which celebrate resistance from below and sub-cultures), or Black studies, Womens studies, and so on, have debated class and Marxist theory for years; as has Disability studies. Deaf studies, with few exceptions, largely shuns it, or deals with it superficially, but this type of perspective can surely do nobody any harm other than to those who aspire to be oppressors or part of a powerful Deaf elite.

We might even find it strangely empowering to feel that the Deaf community is an amalgam of such a mighty group, one which does have some form of power collectively, and hence is able to assert its strength at times when it would be of great benefit politically. It may also assist us with understanding that the decline of Deaf schools, Deaf clubs and the near-virtual mainstreaming of deaf children does not equate a weaker and less significant of less powerful Deaf community. That is not to suggest nobody should worry about the fate of deaf children in mainstream schools – it is a strong feature of the culture to care and campaign for natural justice for its children[9] – or fears of what genetic technology will create.

The community has simply shifted and changed, and it also exposes as premature those academics who have decried the decline of the community[10], in very much the same way as mainstream academics never tire of suggesting the working class is dead (until it rises up, yet again), that postmodernism denies there are any more ‘grand narratives’ possible in history (even while they spring up everywhere in new forms), or Fukuyama champions the victory of liberal democracy (even while the citizens of the world take to the streets to fight for real peoples’ democracy).

Understanding this power, however, is also recognition of its potential dangers, and of recognising whose interests’ Deaf political activism can end up benefiting in the long run.  Hence the courageous fight for the human rights of Deaf people and the recognition of sign language, that many are engaged in worldwide may well give some protections to the Deaf community as a whole, but it is invariably the Deaf PMC who will be the key benefactors, as their material situation improves through the opening up of political opportunities.[11]

It is also recognition that without self-awareness and consciousness of the ‘Deaf PMC as a class’, Deaf people themselves can end up becoming oppressors. Indeed, Deaf people have been recognised as promoting linguistic genocide in the developing nations, not necessarily consciously, but simply by failing to understand the effects and impacts of their power. [12]

What does it mean and what should or shouldn’t happen? I do not think it is possible to stop or curtail these developments at the present time. They may even be necessary for the advance of Deaf self-determination, and therefore celebrated. But I do think there are some important questions they raise.

What we have not yet witnessed (in the UK at least) is the development of wealthy businesses, Deaf owned, controlled and run, being set up and gaining profits, so that they can enter the top echelons and champions of capitalist society. Definitely nowhere near the company ‘Cochlear’, for example, lauded by an ex- Australian PM as an embodiment of Australian values, never mind that of extreme-oralists! Most businesses of the Deaf PMC are much lower level and lower key (what Marx would have termed petite bourgeoisie) of which Remark! is just one, and others are those such as Significant or DeafWorks. Is this what the Deaf community should aspire to, having control of vast amounts of capital in order to achieve the kind of control those such as Sorenson have in the telecommunications industry? It is only a matter of time that this is what we will indeed see happen if the UK Deaf community continues to pursue reformist and liberal politics in order to advance the betterment of Deaf people.[13]

In order to be a ‘capitalist’, it is necessary to embrace fraud, competition, the undermining of rivals, to fall in love with having power and control, ‘loads-a-money’, all the worst aspects of humanity.  Intentions might be genuine, but ultimately they play to the system, to compete with rivals and make profit, to put it bluntly, to ensure they try and get from their workers (Deaf or hearing) as much profit as they can. Capitalism then becomes part of the problem, not the solution.

This brings me, briefly, to the Deaf Managers course, being run in May by Heriot Watt University[14]. From an impartial perspective, it’s certainly welcome. The numbers of Deaf Managers are growing, and they face challenges, as I have seen at first hand on many occasions over the years. [I would certainly never take on their tasks!] The system under which they are operating places on them difficult demands, not least because of the institutional audist nature of their environment; so how do they work within these worlds? [15] Some questions they might ask is: can Deaf managers avoid being oppressive in the workplace to their workers, Deaf or hearing? If so, how will they address potential oppressive practices and behaviour?

Research to explore class issues would be very welcome, particularly in political philosophical areas such as Marxism, or in disciplines such as economics.  Thinkers, who can flex their minds on how to change the world, rather than endlessly seeking to interpret it and reinterpret it in a comfort zone that builds a postmodern cul-de-sac, would also be a welcome addition to Deaf epistemology.[16]

I hope this blog entry will make a small contribution to encouraging that process.

Notes

[1] When I first attempted to campaign for better resources for Deaf and hard of hearing students at university (induction loops for hard of hearing people, interpreters for Deaf people), I was responsible for making some scathing comments about support services.  They didn’t, I argued, provide enough. I was met with some very harsh observations on my actions from other Deaf people at the university. Looking back, I think some of those criticisms of me were fair.

[2] I have used the term ‘Deaf intelligentsia’ in my PhD and elsewhere, but my current thinking owes much to Dr Sarah Batterbury using the term in a recent article.

[3] Redfern, P. (1996) Deaf Professionals: a growing stream. In C. Laurenzi and S. Ridgeway, Progress Through Equality, BSMHD Publications.

[4] Ladd, P. (2003) Understanding Deafhood: In search of Deaf culture. Multilingual Matters:  Clevedon.

[5] I include myself, with some reluctance, as part of the Deaf PMC. In spite of my fondness and pride at stating that my upbringing is solidly working-class, I hold a PhD, work within academia, and have a pretty comfortable material life: this is not something I state with pride by the way, and I am certainly not rich (nor do I want to be), and I experience oppression every day. Even if, politically, I want to see wealth sharing and a celebration of diversity in our society, I have some degree of power in relative terms, and, once again, I state this as a matter of observation, and not self-satisfaction.

[6] My PhD addresses this subject, providing empirical evidence of Deaf people’s concerns.

[7] Access to Work payments have enabled Deaf people to enjoy Interpreting services for the past 20 years; Disability Support Allowance has given the means for Deaf students to become educated, and hence more empowered and assertive. ATW state that half their budget is spent on service provision to Deaf people, since Interpreters are an on-going requirement. The cutting or loss of payments, therefore, would be utterly devastating to the Deaf PMC who will have very little option but to resist any deep cuts, or face a far greater degree of unemployment and already far disproportionate underemployment.

[8] At the 2011 ‘Supporting Deaf People Online’ conference I wrote about these three political tendencies – liberal, nationalist, and liberationist – in more detail.

[9] The term ‘natural justice’ should be credited to Rachel O’Neil during the ‘supporting Deaf people online conference’, February 2011. Once again, my PhD provides empirical evidence, as does my follow up to the PhD on group rights, where most of these rights are deemed necessary to ensure the protection of deaf children as well as Deaf culture. I will be publishing on the findings from the research as soon as possible.

[10] The ‘deaf decline’ theory was first addressed in Australian by Trevor Johnson in ‘Sign Language Studies’, and has since been applied to the UK by Graham Turner in the Journal ‘Current Issues in Language Planning’. Even if they were correct, most Deaf people are resident in the developing nations, where not only technology, but Deafhood philosophy has yet to permeate.

[11] It is not necessarily a conscious act. Marx famously wrote: ‘Men [sic] make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.’ And then went on to write one of the best phrases ever: ‘The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.’ See: “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.” Karl Marx 1852.

[12] I first came across empirical evidence of these developments from a presentation given by Tove Skutnabb-Kangas at the 2003 World Federation of the Deaf Congress in Montreal, Canada. A presentation was given on this subject at the 2006 Deaf Academics conference, in Stockholm, Sweden, by Hilde Haualand.

[13] The granting of minority group rights is partly suggested as a theory to ensure spheres of telecommunications, for example, are genuinely Deaf-led and Deaf-focussed, as opposed to being at the mercy of the market. It appears to me that one of the possible reasons Deaf communities have demanded human rights rather than, say, minority group rights, is because Deaf studies academics worldwide haven’t yet brought to conscious awareness the potential power of the professional-managerial elements of its class.

[14] For more information see: http://www.sml.hw.ac.uk/business/cpd/deaf-managers-facing-the-challenge.htm

[15] The concept of audism has become so disputed, and so stretched nowadays that it is depressingly almost meaningless.  I blame those intellectuals or philosophers who love to indulge themselves in the meanings of words or signs, only to end up confusing everybody even further, probably even themselves. I therefore use the term ‘institutional audism’, first coined by Graham Turner, but I use it partly in order to try and rescue its original meaning: i.e. social policy is not determined or decided by Deaf people; the Deaf community has never historically been recognised as a cultural linguistic minority group, and is absolutely nowhere near doing so, in social policy. Until it has collective self-determination, the original meaning of audism seems the best one.

[16] A brief discussion I had with Dai O’Brien recently raised the issue of the economic purpose and benefits of Deaf people as a cultural linguistic minority group. This perspective might appear a bit determinist, and there is, in my view, no material benefit to capitalism in keeping Deaf and hearing people divided in the way racism and sexism does, for example. Geneticists seem to think it would make economic sense to wipe out deafness. One scientist equated the costs of deafness to be akin to building three motorways around Germany! [See ‘Genes, Hearing, and Deafness’ by Martini et al eds. 2007] These kinds of debates were happening in Disability studies 20 years ago. In Deaf studies they have had little, if any, attention, but I would expect a new wave of Deaf and hard of hearing scholars to be keen to address such questions.

gruelling year ends soon

There’s no denying it – the Chinese year of the Tiger (my sign btw 😉 hasn’t been easy, forever plugging away workwise, one thing after another popping up on top of the usuals. Some grim, others exciting, most in-between.

Can never complain: but has meant the blog’s got sidelined, so apologies for that as some significant stuff’s been going on.

Write ups hope to become regular in 2011 after the hols, but here’s a sum-up:

1. Completed the Group Rights project, one dissemination meet held, another meeting in London due on 20th; have a video recording that I hope to put up after that. I feel very indebted to the people who took part in the project, who have played a crucial part in enabling the development of a positive theory of Deaf people’s minority group rights – more to follow soon.

2. New Genetics and Deafhood project to start asap (that one will run until Octo 2012). This one was announced on Bristol Uni website; it is led by Paddy Ladd 🙂 So I am back into the genetics frying pan !

3. My DVD in BSL already has a publisher (Ishara Press), has been produced, and will be launched in the New Year. Book in English also published. It has taken time, but watch this space! (In the meantime you can watch clips from it on the BSL Uptake project website.)

4. European Parliament visit last month, November: I was pleased to be able to attend this (big thanks Annika and Mark) and saw Adam Kosa MEP for the first time, and this could be the start of a big moment at European level Deaf politics, and especially for EUD. I hope to write on this soon with my observations, praises, and constructive critiques 😉

 

Some not so good developments have also rocked a lot of people’s lives, and I will write in more detail about those here:

First, the teaching out of the BSc at the Centre for Deaf Studies. All the detail about this is on the savedeafstudies campaign website. The Centre itself is not subject to closure (although the fears linger), but with the loss of the BSc there are bound to be major effects. I understand the initial campaign, that received the most superb support from around the world, has lost momentum since the summer, but internal work is ongoing to ensure the Centre puts itself on a stronger base in the coming months.

Secondly, the totally disasterous ‘Browne Report’, that got through Parliament last week through the coalition government. As it passes through the various phrases to become official, the changes are going to be structurally massive and effect staff and students alike.  It is likely that students in humanities and social sciences will be forced to find 100% of funding of their studies, for example.

Secondly, these cuts have been pushed through by a new right-wing Coalition Government of Tories and the Lib-Dems (often referred to as he Con-Dem government). It’s unfortunate that it had to come to seeing Lib Dems getting some form of power to realise that they were not and never have been ‘left’ or ‘alternative’ in any way or form.

It is very, very disappointed to see one of the greatest campaigners on Deaf issues in Parliament, Malcolm Bruce, vote in favour of the proposals.

Neither were Labour much better, of course; as they were the ones who introduced tuition fees and initiated the Browne Report.

The climate it has created will make it harder for Deaf people generally, as I wrote in my blog two years ago when the credit cruch started. It is the marginalised, vulnerable and poorer sections of society who bear the brunt of cuts in a disproportiate way. Women, especially, are going to be hard hit in numerous ways.

So now Bristol City Council finds an opportunity to push for the closure of Elmfield Deaf school into a resource-based unit (although I know there are some who predicted this is what would happen as a result of changes some 5 years previously). Also worrying, however, is the planned cuts in Deaf youth services.

I know they say things come in three’s but….

For me personally, there has been some inspiration and hope: students, lecturers and staff protested against the changes to CDS last May (incidentally right after UK election day) with a lively and vibrant campaign that attracted wide media coverage.

And students generally have refused to accept that a rise in tuition fees and massive cutbacks are ‘inevitable’, but have instead demonstrated through the streets of Bristol and elsewhere in the UK (notably London last week), and also occupied part of the university to set up ‘open spaces’.

These open spaces have widespread support: they have already held one ‘teach in’ on the purpose and value of higher education. In other occupations, subjects have included discussions as to what an alternative, non corporate education system might mean in practice.

That’s a very relevant subject for Deaf education and Deaf people generally, for as we know, the education system has failed Deaf people over the years, and the community is in a situation where it requires open and honest discussion and debate on what is the alternative to deaf kids being sent off, isolated, to mainstream schools.

I hope that 2011 sees people urgently discussing and pursuing alternatives before we see an autiobiography in our shops entitled: ‘my experiences in the last Deaf school standing’.