Monday, 23 November 2020

Are deaf people good signers?

Some controversy on social media where suggestions deaf were not all perfect signers was reported as an 'attack' on deaf people. Quite often we can read deaf stating 'I don't sign that way..' or, 'that isn't the same sign I use..' some gets passed off as regional but a lot are signs deaf have acquired from others who may have made then up to suit. Language evolves and deaf are always playing catch up. Given the poor academic attainment at school leaving ages worldwide, there must be some truth in the report deaf are unable to improve their signing skills too. We know in the UK there is virtually no take-up of further education or adult education by most deaf people, who view them as 'literacy' classes and they feel literacy is a tool used to deny the sign languages and its grammar. Where DO deaf learn sign language? obviously, the community is one source (i.e. assuming they belong to it), or sign used as an 'in' to English in education where BSL and its grammar is not the ultimate aim of it. Criticism abounds at Interpreters who use 'wrong' signs, or make it difficult for those deaf academically challenged to follow interpretation. This is a well-known issue with Interpreters, who have to assess the deaf client often with no prior engagement so starting from 'scratch' and pitching translation on how they assess the deaf are taking in what is being translated and adjusting accordingly. This gets criticisms sometimes unfairly, as 'dumbing down', or using advanced BSL they cannot follow. Hearing attend BSL classes in colleges and Universities so have to attain a proficient level in both, often a higher level of signing than deaf would normally use day to day socially. Interpreters have to double take too and translate bilingually, something deaf do not have to do. Having said that on the spot assessment can be prone to errors, not deliberate. Interpreters are learning as they go what works and what doesn't. Occasionally we get Interpeters trying to be 'inventive' to simplify, that should not be undertaken really as deaf tend to be quite literal. Deaf understand this, it is why many ask for an Interpreter they are familiar with and can struggle with those they aren't. Current usage of BSL interpreters is pretty mundane, e.g. Dr visits health etc, but few interpreters are trained at all in technical areas or specialised so that too, contributes to issues of translation. even a basic visit to a GP may create issues if there is no straightforward way to explain technical jargon. Simplifying an explanation can create issues too. At higher educational levels there are issues put down predominantly to 'poor support' in schools etc, the reality is in higher education there are not the interpreters or the signs to be used, certainly not at University level, as we write the few deaf professionals/scientists etc, have to develop own signs for what they are doing because the dictionary of BSL hasn't those signs, they are hoping they get entered colloquially although in the context they may not be exact enough, who is to say different? The dictionary was created as a 'focus point' for sign as a bona fide language but it didn't have the signs collectively as the English dictionaries did or the academic texts because it is a visual language. The pictorial BSL dictionary was a mess of sorts with claims many were invented or put in to create a context which grassroots had issues with. Indeed the BDA opposed BSL tuition based on it and attempted to create a 'real deaf' alternative. There is a gap between how Interpreters are taught and what the deaf can follow. That gap will always remain whilst there is an educational divide and whilst one hears and the other doesn't. Deaf tend to pick up signs within the community, signs others saw and acquired etc, regional sign evolved that way, but little was based on accurate description or in-depth detail, it was conceptual in approach. You get the idea OK you don't need to now much else Simplistically, I might have a mobile phone, a TV maybe a computer, it makes no difference I don't know how it works so long as I know how to use it. That tends to fall down very quickly if you need to know that or want to build or service them etc.... And become a serious issue in understanding complex health needs. At grassroots level, simply because your immediate peers follow you doesn't mean everyone else will. A language relies on its users, here there is little attempt to improve or normalise it. Here is the 'proof' but it only served to suggest the opposite.

If we need a prime example of a complete mess we have only to look at acquired signers like Paddy Ladd an ex oralist, who wrote a book on DEAFHOOD in a language few deaf could understand, (English), and then used technical Jargon for which no signs existed and even English readers would be confused by. There is no doubting his intellect, but it is obviously one honed via oralism, hearing and English because it would not have been written otherwise. As an example of the need to acquire English by the deaf, he could have written something simpler as an introduction.

They are still attempting years later to try to interpret that in the belief it 'could' suggest there IS a higher academic BSL thing going on. Americans suggest it validates ASL although Brits remained unconvinced. There is the 'proof', but it only served to suggest the opposite because his opus was ABOUT deaf people for hearing consumption, it was never intended for the deaf.