Nearly 15 years on – Reviewing Jackson’s predictions in “A Pictorial History of Deaf Britain”

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As my thesis continues to grow and sprawl into multiple areas like some sort of uncontrollable vine (side note: all I have to hand are a pair of secateurs. Woo for metaphors!), I found myself reading “A Pictorial History of Deaf Britain” (2001) by Peter Jackson. I was looking for information regarding the first documented use of sign language in the UK – a record marriage dated 5th February 1576 from a church in Leicester (available to view from this part of the DCAL website) – but I stumbled upon something that deems a bit of reflection. I’d also like any interested and informed readers with thoughts on the following to leave comments, if you’d be so kind!

Jackson’s work spans multiple themes and several centuries via text and imagery, providing an immersive look at the history and development of Deaf communities and culture.Despite being published in 2001, the book does show ‘it’s age’ in some sections. For instance, it is noted that BSL “still has to be accorded official language status by the British government” (p.25), which occurred in 2003 (although many rightly wonder how much of an affect this recognition has had). However, skipping through to the end (p.316), Jackson provides a page on ‘adapting to change:’ a set of predictions about the future of the Deaf community and BSL.

It’s now nearly 15 years on, and I’m curious to see how clairvoyant the author was! The following are a set of quotes from the above-mentioned page, alongside a few comments and links of my own. Again, if anyone would like to add to this, please leave a comment below!

Oralism will be outdated as respect and interest in sign language among the hearing population grow.

If you’ve never heard of oralism, or how Alexander Graham Bell played a part in this, have a look here. Oralism has indeed given way to other forms of education, particularly bilingual approaches and the use of sign-supported communication or “manually-coded English” (MCE). For instance, Exeter Deaf Academy provide this statement on how they approach communication. In addition, there are BSL courses dotted around the country with many hearing people learning the language to some degree. Arguably, interest in signing (worldwide) has also heightened, most recently around this video of Father Christmas ‘signing’ with a girl, backed up with some examples from one of my posts from earlier in the year.

Deaf clubs with flourish to cater for hearing people’s interest in Deaf Studies and communicating with the Deaf

Oh how I wish this had also come true. However, Deaf centres across the UK have been closing down for some time, in the senses of ‘community centres’ and ‘academic departments.’ How much of this is austerity-driven, I’m not entirely sure, but Bristol in particular has been hit pretty hard (i.e. no more Centre for the Deaf and no more Centre for Deaf Studies).While this is a real loss, the advent of online forums and quicker/higher quality online communications has lead to hundreds of BSL users connecting across the globe (see this as an example). Deaf pubs and events continue to occur in major cities across the UK, but as for a local centre where a community can gather and share their experiences, language and cultural heritage? Those days seem to be disappearing fast.

…flexibility and respect to other Deaf individuals who wish to have Cochlea (sic.) implants (…) even the development in genetic surgery should be viewed in a positive light if it improves the healthy well-being of those who could be multi-disabled as well as being Deaf.

I shan’t wade into this one too much. From my time on Deaf forums, I know that issues surrounding cultural identity and the use of CI can create some very heated debates, let alone how advances in medicine and gene therapy are (slowly) moving towards auditory restoration. As I do not form a part of this community, however, I will leave this here and move on.

Although there are some fears ver the future of existing deaf programmes when analogue television ceases in 2007, there is a possibility that (…) a number of individual channels catering for the needs of the Deaf will spring up, thus generating employment to Deaf people

The digital switchover seems like a lifetime ago, and while certain things continue to exist such as the BBC’s SeeHear and the occasional in-vision signing of BBC News, right now there aren’t (to my knowledge) any specific TV channels on any digital service catering directly to the Deaf community. Catch-up players online occasionally have interpreted versions, but there’s no full provision set in place… or at least if there is one, it’s not really being stuck to! And as for employment… you might want to check out the ongoing “Access to Work” saga here

Organisations for the Deaf will no longer exist as such (…) they will become organisations of Deaf people

There are numerous Deaf associations in the UK – the BDA, the RAD, Action on Hearing Loss, Actiondeafness, the NDCS, to name a few. Anecdotal evidence suggests that more could be done within some of these, and as for whether they’re organisations ‘of’ rather than ‘for?’ I’ll have to leave that for someone more in the know to clarify that for me!

That which was supposed 15 years ago versus that which is reality today is similar in some respects yet vastly different in others. Recent advances, like the passing of the Scottish BSL Bill, may have radical changes for BSL and the Deaf community in the next 15 years, but it’s the unforeseen or difficult-to-quantify aspects (e.g. austerity, the rate of technological advancement, etc.) that seem to have some of the biggest impacts.

If you’re interested in this kind of stuff, I highly recommend Jackson’s book, available here (it’s available elsewhere too, but it can be tricky to find!). Also, have a look at Mike Gulliver’s blog, looking at present and historical Deaf communities. DCAL also provides a brief overview of the development of BSL, if that takes your fancy!

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