Read My Lips

Most of us would have been involved in games trying to trick people with lip reading when they were younger. When I was at school people would say ‘colourful’ to one another over and over again because it looked like you were saying ‘I love you’, followed by roars of laughter and screams as it is super gross to love people when you are in Year 6. I know from talking with friends from other schools that they also did this – our version of things going viral back in the days before social media!

For people who can seriously lip read though, I have a lot respect for you! It is an incredibly tough skill to learn. People ask me if it is something I can do working with deaf people and from learning British Sign Language but I can honestly say I am absolutely dreadful at it and not sure I will ever be any good. It is not something that you are taught when learning BSL, but there are lip reading courses you can go on. If you type into Google ‘How to learn to lip read’ it comes up with some pretty obvious/useless suggestions such as:

• Put the TV on mute and see if you can follow the lip pattern

  • Ask a friend to mouth something to you

• Mouth words to yourself in the mirror

• Watch lip reading videos on YouTube… you get the gist. 

These suggestions are all fun and games as a hearing person – someone who can decide to stop playing when they want and then continue daily life using their ears and talking easily with their friends, family and strangers. For the deaf community, however, they are relying heavily on being able to lip read those in a hearing world, where people do not sign and where many mumble.

I think it is assumed that deaf people can all lip read! And it is just not true.

Most will have speech and language therapy but there is only so much you can do in such a short space of time and with little funding available to provide the best quality of service. Practice and getting out in public helps to build up confidence but it should not be an expectation that a deaf person can lip read. They already have to battle and find ways to communicate without having the added pressure of also learning English, BSL as well as lip read. Although it is an advantage, it should not be something deaf people need to be able to do to survive. Perhaps we should be helping hearing people learn to lip read and have lip reading skills. Some hearing people will deliberately slow down their speech for a deaf person but that is actually more difficult to read because it is not the natural way in which people talk.

Some deaf people have language delay depending on when they were given access to learn BSL. They do not have as wide a range of vocabulary as their mainstream peers and therefore lip reading can be confusing because some words are unknown.

As well as this, many words have the same signs. The word behaviour has the same sign as calm, discipline, patience, etc. I was once teaching about Henry VIII and about how he had only one son. One of the pupils then wrote he had a boy. Boy is the same sign as son but the lip reading was not there and they used their knowledge of boy instead. Due to the words sharing a sign, the context can get confusing.

Another way lip reading can cause confusion is due to the English language which can be very complicated. I know us Brits get a bad reputation because in most parts of the world they can speak English and we are too ‘lazy’ to learn anything other than our native tongue, expecting everyone to speak English but take the word ‘yacht’ as an example. As a hearing person you know how to pronounce this word. Someone who does not know how to say this, however, would initially read it as YA-CHT. That ‘CH’ lip pattern is enough to confuse people when what you’re looking for is ‘YOT’ and an ‘O’ lip pattern. If involved in a conversation and you get thrown by a word you’re unsure of, you may panic, zone out and miss the rest of the conversation.

This scenario then has a knock-on effect as people are not usually patient enough to repeat themselves. It is not fair for deaf people to be missing out on so many aspects of hearing life.

I think it would be beneficial for people to have access to lip reading services as well as BSL. I have started an Instagram account #selfpromotion @thehappyhearingaid aimed to help people have a little bit of deaf awareness and simple access to BSL. Some friends are telling me they’ve now started to watch the videos without any sound to see if they can follow it and are finding that the more videos I post, the more used to watching my lips they are and as a result, are starting to lip read.

Practice makes perfect!

To get in touch please contact:


Don’t Put The Blame On Me

It is so easy to blame other people for the things that go wrong in our lives. History is full of people blaming one another, especially in politics. We are seeing it everyday with Brexit.  It’s Teresa May’s fault the negotiations are going so badly. Those that voted to leave the EU who are to blame! We don’t like taking responsibility for our actions and as my mum has always said, “a bad workman always blames his tools”, although the tools may genuinely be useless I still understand the idea.

As a teacher, you see a lot of questionable things within the classroom and outside of it.  If I’ve noticed a student finding something difficult and I want them to be externally accessed, the funding may not be available or it will take a while to get the ball rolling.  I can see the number of Teachers of the Deaf who do not sign.  I can see the number of deaf children who are not confident in a hearing world. And whose fault is that? I  know it is not mine – but who can we blame?

Around 90% of all deaf children come from hearing parents, and the majority of those parents cannot sign. Some will learn for their child but that is not necessarily straightaway or with any real commitment, while others do not bother at all.

I know, you’re probably reading this and thinking ‘if I was a parent of a deaf child, I would learn British Sign Language’. It is so convenient to scrutinise these parents and criticise them because of the relationship they have with their child or their lack of communication skills.  A lot of deaf children face numerous issues with mental health and one of the reasons is due to lack of communication and frustration.

Some deaf children from hearing families are very frustrated and feel left out of home life.  They can play up and have extreme tantrums at home, wanting to play on their PlayStation or Xbox until they pass out from extreme exhaustion, but at school we see a very different side to these children. They are kind, caring and have great communication. Some lack the level of language they should have reached for their age group – but they try very hard and pick it up so quickly.

Imagine though that you are a parent to a deaf child. Imagine that you work full time and have several other children to look after. Imagine that you are a single parent and need to work to afford food, let alone paying for sign language classes.  Learning British Sign Language is not a cheap hobby.  It is not only expensive but time consuming and not something adults can pick up over night. Children’s brains are like sponges, and the speed with which they can learn the language is amazing. They become more and more alien to their parents every day with all the knowledge they are gaining.

For many parents, they feel grief and sadness for their deaf child. To me this is totally absurd, as people who are deaf can grow up to live extremely normal lives, go to University and get great jobs.  Some parents feel bitter and sad by this realisation. They have carried a baby for 9 months and there is something ‘wrong’ with them. The fact that doctors will say ‘I’m sorry your baby is deaf’ just says it all. 

Some parents are in denial. They will think that they can solve the problem by mainstreaming their child and trying to give them an education in that way with a communicator and 1:1 support doing everything for the child. By the time someone realises that this is not working and they move their child to a deaf school, it is too late and a very bright and capable young person is falling behind because they do not have the language skills to be at the level they should.

do believe that any parent with a deaf child should learn Sign Language. Even if you make the decision to implant your child because you have decided you would like them to try to speak, they should have access to their cultures first language.  I can, however, see why it is a struggle for some parents when they want their child to be part of their hearing world and adapt to the way of theirsiblings and family.

We have to remember that everyone has their problems. We cannot judge and assume we know how a parent should behave, or criticise the parenting skills of others because we think we could do better. It is a shame that so many issues do seem to arise for deaf children due to the support they have at home – but through education and exposure I hope we can be part of a world where children, no matter what their ability, are put first and supported. But, whose fault is it that this isn’t already the way?

Contact –

Summer Days… Drifting Away.

I blinked and it went from July to October. I’ve gone from bikinis and maxi dresses to jumpers and jogging bottoms in what feels like only a few days, not months. The tan has faded and my hands have started to crack from playground duty coldness!

I was very lucky this summer to go on a couple of trips! Last year, I went to Singapore and Bali which wiped my bank account clean (sorry mum and dad, sorry future me still living at home at 30). I am so happy that I managed to get away during the holidays.

I went away with friends for two weeks, my family for one week, and then I had a horrible cold for the remaining week of the holiday. I spent the whole time unable to breathe with a weeping eye (attractive). I wanted to feel better so desperately, and I did eventually!  I was a picture of health come September 3rd when term started again (typical).

My first holiday was to Tel Aviv with my besties from work. One deaf friend (the infamous Ellie) and one hearing (Nikki Nik). I was interested to see how we would handle communication while abroad as it was going to be my first time travelling with a deaf person, although I very quickly learnt there was nothing to worry about!

James Blunt

Israeli’s can be said to be blunt. They are not timid to speak their mind like us British and pretty much do what they want without even apologising for it later (from my experience). Deaf culture share a similarity in this – the stereotype is that deaf people are also blunt! Some say it how it is and don’t beat around the bush. Some will tell you if you look bad. Some will ask personal questions because they want to know!

I found this abrupt behaviour quite amusing on holiday because it felt like being at school with the kids who are not afraid to be so honest.  It may be seen as rude to most people, but when you understand it is a culture difference (deaf culture), it is easier to accept and get on with.

Signs and Gestures

I found myself using BSL wherever we went to try and communicate with people. It was much easier to use BSL instead of repeatedly trying to speak English with people who have a limited English vocabulary. The sign language and gestures were a much better way of communicating. Being in a country where the local language is not English puts a hearing and deaf person in the same playing field. We both had to find ways to communicate the best way we could and I felt privileged to have my sign language knowledge to aid me in this way.

Centre of Attention

I am from a drama background and I therefore do not shy away from attention.  However, when using sign language people do stare and the attention irritates me. In the UK, I feel that people stare for the wrong reasons. I can’t explain the frustration, but I am sure it is felt by deaf people daily.

On holiday, people were watching, but I feel that they were genuinely interested in what was happening. One couple approached us and asked what Sign Language were we talking in. They also asked my friend questions like: ‘do you dream in sign language or are people talking with voices’, ‘do you meet other deaf people when on holiday’ and ‘is there an international sign language’?

Some people we met were out there were on a gap year, with mega hippy vibes, gone away to get themselves a new tattoo and having not washed for weeks in hope of ‘finding themselves’  – this may have something to do with their keen interest and questioning but even so, it’s more interest than what I see in the UK!

‘I met a deaf person once…’

Everyone has something they want to share in relation to deafness when they see us signing. In Israel they have a deaf museum. The employees there are deaf and hearing visitors come, put on sound proof headphones and walk around different rooms as if they are deaf. There is also one for the blind too!! When I would ask the people recommending we visit this museum what it is like, none of them had been there. They then didn’t know if there were any schools for deaf children or any further information other than the museum that they knew existed.

When I first went to University many people told me they had never met a Jewish person before, as if I was some sort of North London alien. It is the same with deaf people. People usually comment on the fact they either have or have not met a deaf person before. This is so peculiar because you would never comment on aspects of mainstream life in this way. This just proves we need more deaf role models and more positive deaf related things widespread.

‘You must find it hard to communicate with other deaf people when you can only talk in BSL’.

When abroad people want to know why Sign Language is not universal. People genuinely think it is ‘stupid’ that all countries have their own native sign language.  Could you imagine saying that about spoken languages? No one ever criticises spoken languages being different, with in most cases, the majority of other people trying to learn one.

Deaf people will be used to having to adjust their register and communication style for the hearing world they live in. Meeting another deaf person who is not fluent in BSL is no problem. The use of gesturing and some internationally known signs will help, but overall it is much less of a problem than hearing trying to communicate in a different language abroad.

Now… I only have to wait one more day until October half term… not that I am counting down the hours or anything!

holhol 1hol 2

To get in touch please E-mail:


Substandard Subtitles

A few years ago, while still at University, I was a reality TV fiend. I couldn’t get enough of it. I would watch The Only Way is Essex (TOWIE), Made In Chelsea and Geordie Shore without fail. As I’ve gotten older, and more mature (I promise!!) I gave up these programmes for more pressing matters such as… getting my degree!

This year was all about trying new things and this meant I gave into my reality TV ban. I’d joined the rest of the world by watching Love Island. I had never watched a series before but, as most of my friends raved about how good it was, I thought I’d give it a go. I even went as far as to download the ITV Hub app in case I missed an episode.

Despite succumbing to the trend, I can proudly say I do not watch it religiously. I do need some down time though and therefore I attempt to watch it on ITV Hub online or on my phone app.

If you’re a regular reader of my blogs then you will know I struggle to watch TV without subtitles. I am so used to having them on the screen (much to my family’s annoyance) due to having lived with deaf people and I feel like it is a security blanket for me in case I mishear something as I often do when my ear infections returns.

So, let me set the scene: I’m snuggled up in bed with my cuddly toy that I’ve had since I was 2 (you’re never too old for your childhood teddies), with my PJs on and a soothing mint tea. I was all set to embark on the magical world that is trash TV and went online to choose the latest Love Island episode (I had missed it when it first aired).


The adverts were running and there was no option to turn on subtitles. I assumed as it’s just the adverts (not that that’s a good enough excuse) there were no subtitles as this is standard even at the cinema. I thought I’d just wait until the programme started.

Fast forward to 3 minutes and the opening titles have come on and and there are still no subtitles. In utter panic I turn to my phone and try to watch the episode on there. The same thing happened! There was just no option but to watch the programme without subtitles.

The mobile app and the website for ITV will only let you watch a show with subtitles once the episode is at least a day old, it is not ready straightaway. How is this useful to deaf people who want to be accessing programmes on ITV Catch Up? Why should anybody have to wait for subtitles if they need it?  The fact a deaf person would have to wait until an episode is older than a day to get subtitles is outrageous!! I’ve been told in the past that some of my blogs can come across as angry… but…I am!

The whole point of Love Island is that it is on daily for you to see what the contestants have been up to on that day. This system that ITV have means people who rely on subtitles for access will always be one day behind everyone else which ironically reflects the perception of deaf people from the hearing world anyway. Deaf people are seen as behind mainstream children with language development, behind academically (even though deafness is not a learning disability) and behind on accessing information due to a delay from interpreters relaying information which is unavoidable.

In addition when the subtitles are working, they do not always match what is being said on the TV. Lots of things were missed out which means people relying on subtitles are not gaining full access to the show like a hearing person would.

Deaf educators and people who work in the deaf charity sector are working hard in trying to bridge the gap that deaf people face in a hearing world and society yet we are letting them and the deaf community down by removing something that is so easy to solve.

Curiosity Killed the Cat.

As the proverb says ‘curiosity killed the cat’ –  I could not help myself but to go onto BBC iPlayer and see what they were offering the deaf community.

The BBC iplayer service has very clear categories displayed ranging from films to documentaries and ‘signed’ to ‘audio description’ – finally some accessibility!


I wanted to try these out for myself and started to watch ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ from the ‘signed’ category – waiting for the signer to appear. Nothing happened. There were subtitles, but the whole point of the category is that there is British Sign Language being used for access.

People often say to me ‘Oh have you ever thought about being one of those sign language interpreters on TV who sign the news at 5am’? Everybody is aware of these irregular timings for interpreted programmes. It is a well known ‘joke’ in the hearing world and it shouldn’t be like this. I wish there was a TV remote that allowed you to press a button to activate a BSL interpreter. Who wants to join me in developing this and going on Dragons Den?

Not all deaf people have strong reading skills and the signing aspect on the programmes will allow people to access the show in their first language. This happened on three other programmes I had clicked on in this category. Some did have the intended signer, but it was not consistent at all.

During the World Cup the subtitles were very conveniently placed covering the score…


It meant that I had to turn them off to know what was going on score-wise. Being forced to turn the subtitles off means that deaf people are not accessing the commentary. We had waited four years for this – you would have thought someone would  have realised placing them in this position was pointless!

Subtitles are a constant battle for the deaf community. There have been many recent petitions on this topic from access at the cinema to many complaints from the public on Netflix and how there are words missing from their subtitles.  YouTube is an example of very poor subtitling as most of the time they are done through an automatic voice recognition system that mishears the words. I recently watched something where ‘keen’ came up as ‘key’. When you are hearing, you likely wouldn’t realise that this is wrong. As a deaf person, it is likely you would not be able to realise keen was the intended word. It is confusing and stressful. That deaf person would have to have a really strong understanding of English to realise it was not the intended work.

This needs to change, we need to have subtitles on programmes that are accurate, consistent and reliable. When will this become the reality?

I have previously written about subtitles in cinemas. To read more about this, please see: When going to the CinEMMA


Emma Colton –


His Master’s Voice

We have all played that game ‘would you rather’? We’ve been playing it since we were children asking our friends questions in the playground. I used to think I was so sophisticated asking my friends whether they would rather be ‘poor and happy’ or ‘rich and unhappy’? (Poor and happy every time just for the record).

More recently, when people find out what I do for a living they ask me whether I would rather be deaf or blind? I can understand why people ask this question but, it usually goes down the route of people responding saying: ‘I couldn’t imagine not seeing what my children or husband looked like’ or ‘imagine a life without music that would be so sad’.

This question is not something that should be used as entertainment but, if asked, my response would never be along these superficial lines. It feels wrong to sit here and say which situation I would ‘prefer’ to be in but, of course, I would choose to be deaf. I know sign language already so I would be able to communicate. Becoming deaf is a real possibility for me in later life due to getting older and also being prone to ear infections.

However, I was born hearing and therefore have an advantage of being able to use my voice for others to understand me when I speak. Some deaf people do not have the ability to use their voice in this way. Deaf people become vulnerable and lose their voice as it is handed over to a complete stranger, an interpreter.

Imagine how frustrating it must be to rely on someone else to be your voice or feeling that your voice is not adequate enough to be understood so someone else has to ‘fill in’ for you. In serious situations such as being in court to fight for benefits or at a private doctors appointment, you need to rely on someone else to deliver your personal information.

A lot of trust is needed between the deaf person and the interpreter. Who is to say the interpreter will be speaking the exact information without changing something or to interpret the true meaning of conversation back to the deaf person? The interpreter has a lot of power and it could be very easy for them to manipulate the situation. This is of course totally twisted but, it is something that COULD happen.

The interpreter represents that deaf person, speaking on their behalf. The way they speak has to match the way that it is signed. If the signer is talking about something sad but the voice over is speaking in a jolly and upbeat tone, that is the impression the listener will have of the signer. That is the voice that is heard – and the deaf person has no power to change this or know that this is the situation.

As well as this, if an interpreter is saying ‘ummm’ or ‘errrr’ as they are unsure as to what is being signed then it reflects on the deaf person and makes them look like THEY are unsure of what they are saying. This is not the reality! It comes down to the quality of the interpreter but, unfortunately it reflects uncertainty of the signer. I have been to talks where this has happened and it ‘dumbs’ down the deaf person who is speaking.

I think deaf people would prefer the interpreter to fully understand what they were saying, checking for clarification before speaking, as this way the deaf person knows that their views are being fully interpreted correctly. Some interpreters may feel embarrassed and are scared to seem unsure of what they are doing so will speak anyway even if the information is not 100% correct. It is ironic how the use of interpreters is meant to avoid communication breakdowns but, in practice there are also opportunities for this to get misread and confused.

It should not be about the interpreter feeling embarrassed but, the deaf person they have been employed to speak on behalf of. For example, a deaf friend of mine had arrived at University for her first day of her Masters in English Literature. She had been allocated an interpreter who you would assume would be aware of what the context was for their booking. My friend was nervous as it was her first day and wanted to make a good impression – yet the impression she gives is down to the attitude and personality of the interpreter. The class were asked ‘what sort of literature are you interested in’? My friend signed ‘modernism’ to her interpreter who said out loud ‘fashion’.

People were laughing at my friend and she felt humiliated. Did the interpreter think she was in a textiles lecture? Did my friend get a choice in what the first impressions were of her to the rest of the class? She understood the question and gave a relevant answer. It was the interpreter who misunderstood, and yet that is the voice and answer the class were exposed to. No fault of the deaf person at all.

The interpreter should have checked before speaking aloud to make sure what they thought was right or wrong. Instead, they would rather save face and go with what they think even if it is at the risk and detriment of the deaf person’s reputation. Their position of power may mean that the deaf person feels that they cannot speak up for themselves because of the trust and reliability they have for the interpreter. Some deaf people may not be able to lipread and would not even be in a position to correct the interpreter for their mistake.

I sometimes watch interpreters on the news who do not ‘interpret’ everything word for word. Sometimes the signed language is not the same as the spoken language on screen. This is also dumbing down the language for deaf people. Why should the interpreter feel that is it okay to make the language more simple? Some deaf people may benefit from this but others may be intellectually curious and want more challenging vocabulary. Is it right for the interpreter to change the wording of what is being said to be simpler? Again, it just shows the power that the interpreter has.

To someone not in the deaf world, you would see interpreters as a way of breaking communication barriers – yet it is still not a perfect solution. We could live in a world where everyone learns sign language from birth to avoid these situations as we would all be fluent. We could find ourselves in a world where children are immediately implanted at birth to make them ‘hearing’ which would see the end of deaf culture and sign language. Both of these options would mean there would be no need for interpreters anymore and many people would lose their jobs…so, let me ask you… what would you rather?

Disclaimer: This post is written from my opinion based on some things I have observed from being in the deaf community. Interpreters do an amazing job and it takes a lot of training to become one.


This is dedicated to my Grandpa who would have been 94 last weekend. He was a brilliant poet for many decades and I believe I get my flare for writing because of his creative genes. Happy Birthday, Grandpa. x


Emma Colton –

Personality Traits

When I tell people what I do for a living – they show a lot of interest. They ask questions like: ‘how old are children when they can start to sign?’ and ‘how do you become a sign language interpreter’?

Some people have a misconception and stereotype deaf children in a particular way. I’ve been asked ‘why Deaf children are usually autistic?’ And with that I was slightly taken aback.

Deafness is absolutely not a learning disability. Of course there are deaf children who have additional needs but, there is nothing about being born deaf that means you will have difficulties with learning. However, deaf children may appear to have additional needs due to their delay in language.

As a hearing child you are accessing language all the time without realising and will automatically pick up words and what is happening around your environment faster than a deaf child. A deaf child is not immediately exposed to this and as a result may be mute until later on in childhood. Some autistic children are mute because they are overwhelmed by life and having to juggle their anxieties, going to school and maintaining relationships that it is too much to speak as well. This can be confused with deaf children seeming to be autistic if they do not have language to communicate.

To deaf children eye contact is very important. Without any eye contact the information will be missed. A deaf child will constantly be asked to watch in class because they need to. A hearing child can listen and write at the same time and still get access to information. If a deaf person wants to write down notes they will miss the next part of the lesson. It is tiring and hard to keep watching the entire day. In regards to eye contact, autistic children find it hard to remain keeping it. This could present itself as a symptom of autism in deaf children because of the lack of eye contact.

I asked the man why he thought this was the case for deaf children. He explained that when he was at school there was a deaf child who came from a hearing family and had a brother who was autistic. He said that at the time, he just thought his peer was autistic because he behaved differently, didn’t like looking at people and seemed to be very strong in maths. It is possible that this boy was copying autistic behaviour from his brother as that was the only example he had of another child for most of his life.

Some autistic children will have outbursts and then ‘get their way’ even though the outburst isn’t because they are naughty but, struggling to handle life situations. As a child, if you see this happen, then you are likely to behave in a way that results in you getting what you want. Who could blame them? It is a very clever thing to be able to recognise this behavioural pattern – shouting and screaming can result in getting what you want.

What is the reason for this behaviour? What was the communication like with his family? Was he lacking the appropriate communication at home to be able to learn and be taught social skills? For example, if you’re not taught you should not go into a grocery shop and eat the produce while going through the aisles, then how would you know not to do that? If the child was ‘teaching himself’ how to behave then it is unsurprising he would pick up unusual habits.

It is said that autistic children are very strong in a particular area, maybe maths or building things. Sometimes these children are referred to as geniuses. Maths is very visual and there are deaf children who are strong in maths because you learn by watching and remembering patterns. Lots of deaf children work better from watching examples first which also includes art and P.E. subjects.

Could the fact that he was living a socially isolated life at home impact his behaviour?Frustrations and no communication would have a significant impact on his behaviour. Of course, I am not suggesting this is what happened to the child, I do not have that information. I am pointing out a possible reality for some deaf children. It could be that this child really was autistic, yet he is not autistic because he is deaf.

Apparently, we are all somewhere on the autistic spectrum. There are a range of traits. I think it’s a good thing to be quirky and different. Life would be so boring if we were all the same.

I am using autism as the example here due to the nature of the conversation I had, but it suggests how people are so quick to assume someone has a learning disability due to not understanding them (culture or family situations etc.). It comes down to not being educated and informed. Just because a way of behaving does not seem ‘normal’, it does not mean that it is wrong. We are so quick in today’s society to label people because we think it makes us feel better to have an answer when really, we are all just different.

Emma Colton –

Deaf Awareness Week 2018

Here are some facts that you should deafinitely know about…

  • There are 11 million people in the UK with some form of hearing loss.
  • Roughly, there are only 50,000 BSL users (who use it as a first language).
  • 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents

And…did you know that this week is Deaf Awareness Week? Deaf Awareness Week is designed to raise people’s awareness of deafness, hearing loss and giving advice on what you can do to help be more deaf aware.


It has been circulating around my social media and talked about at work by students and colleagues. I have seen the campaign being published in all the deaf related social media pages that I follow, but there has been virtually nothing on more general sites and blogs – they’re more concerned about whether Meghan Markel’s father will be walking her down the aisle this weekend.

This year Deaf Awareness Week has coincided with Mental Health Awareness Week (also important), but, I’m sure many of you reading this already knew about that one! It is a much bigger campaign that mainstream audiences are exposed to all the time from University students to the retired.

As this is such an important week, I thought it would be interesting to see what deaf awareness is out there already in day to day life. I spent the week visiting lots of different shops and businesses in my local town to see whether deaf awareness is present in their world and work place. Here is how I got on:

Teoni and Alfie – Fitness First


Alfie: “Here at Fitness First we have a number of deaf members and there are a variety of ways in which I try to be as deaf aware as possible. I make sure I always have pen and paper on me or near me to be able to grab at any moment so that people have an alternative way to communicate if we feel there is a communication breakdown. I also like to be quite visual, pointing and talking with my hands – although I don’t know how helpful that is! We have lots of pictures and diagrams on our equipment as well as subtitles on the TVs, but there is a long way to go as all of our announcements are done through speakers. I’d love to learn sign language and not just point to things to show what I mean – I need to know the official signs. I think that it is really important to know sign language as I could go deaf and would not know how to communicate – how would I cope? Who could I connect with?

I would certainly benefit from deaf awareness training and hope this is something that can be delivered while I am working here at Fitness First”.

Teoni: “I don’t know any sign language and I don’t think it means I struggle with approaching or communicating with deaf people but, I do worry about offending and making someone feel frustrated if they don’t understand me. If I knew sign language then this could be avoided. It would be so helpful for the team to know sign language – we do try to accommodate anybody with any need as, for example we have members who have English as their second language and often have to gesture for them to make ourselves understood.  There is no deaf awareness training here at work, and I feel like it would be really useful. I had never heard of Deaf Awareness Week before and it is something I would like to get involved in – maybe learn a new phrase every day and build up my vocabulary”.

Emily – Tiger

“Before I worked here in Tiger, I was a paramedic where I was faced with language barriers all the time as I would meet such a variety of different people with different background and needs. It was a deaf aware environment as I had been trained in gestures and how to make yourself understood in a tense and difficult situation. I have not interacted with any deaf people since working in retail but, I would use my fingers to show how much something was and show a bag if I’m offering a bag.

I would be interested in learning sign language, but I don’t know where to start. I learnt Makaton when I worked in a nursery and I have forgotten how to use it because I didn’t use it enough. I would worry about that being the case with sign language too. I think having deaf awareness training and learning sign language is so important as it brings inclusion to people instead of exclusion”.

Sahera – West Cornish Pasty Co


No work place of mine has ever offered deaf awareness training and I think that is a shame as it would be very beneficial. In fact, we don’t get training on any form of disability including things like autism. I think it would make everyone feel comfortable if they knew that the staff had been trained appropriately and from my perspective I would feel comfortable knowing I’m doing the right thing by the customer. In my old job we held a children’s party for a group of deaf children. I found the experience really hard to manage when it should absolutely not have been an issue and should be just a normal part of the job – but I had not been prepared for it in my life. This includes no education from my school to now.  I hope that no deaf person has ever gone into a shop or situation and has felt like a burden or a problem, because the problem is with the company – it is our fault and we should be trained in deaf awareness. Maybe companies do not see it as a priority because deaf people are the minority, but it should be as anyone who comes into the shop could be deaf – you cant see the disability.

Matt and Joe – Darlish


Matt: “I’ve never heard of deaf awareness week which is a shame as I would like to get involved. I think I know how to be deaf aware – we have many deaf customers coming into the shop. I recently found out that there is a school for deaf children in town and often after school they will come in here to get an ice cream. I think I communicate well, but in the past I have given my phone to customers to write down what they want to say or find pictures of the flavour they are thinking of. I point to different flavours on the wall and show the deaf customer the ice – cream so they can see what it looks like and get an idea if they will like it or not. I want to go the extra mile for all customers and despite not being officially trained in deaf awareness techniques I think I have a good understanding of what is expected of me. I would like to learn sign language. My sister is a speech and language therapist and knows some signs, I think she is a great communicator. Maybe her and I could start a course together. A deaf customer once taught me how to say please, thank you and pounds. Whenever I use this, I always get a big smile from the deaf customers.”

Joe: “Matt taught me how to say please and thank you in sign language when I first started working here as he told me we had a few regular deaf customers. I’m really thankful he did that, but I do get worried I’ll get it wrong. I can be quite shy and I worry about what the right thing to do is. However, when working in retail and with customers, the customer is our core and if we aren’t going to cater appropriately for them then we are failing at our jobs. Deaf Awareness Week sounds like a great cause, I wish I had known about it sooner and hope to one day be involved in it”.

What have I learnt from this experience?

One thing I have learnt is that I am not a ‘normal’ hearing person. I think that sometimes I can be quite critical of the attitudes and behaviours of other hearing people in relation to deaf issues such as when hearing people refuse to watch something with subtitles on or when people think it is okay to say ‘it doesn’t matter’ if they cannot be bothered to repeat themselves. That is only however, because I am in a deaf environment, so is it reasonable for me to have assumed that everyone should feel confident when communicating with a deaf person or a group of deaf people when at work? People in the past have told me they would tense up and freeze. I was pleasantly surprised to hear however that people are using their common sense and trying alternative forms of communication when they encounter a deaf person at work.

It is clear that everybody would like to be trained in deaf awareness and even learn sign language. Although I am so thrilled and pleased to hear that, and I’m sure deaf people would also be happy to know this, I think it is unrealistic. Trying to get everybody to learn sign language is not going to happen. It is clear from when talking with people they find it hard enough to juggle relationships, children, a job, working out and keeping up hobbies to then start paying a lot of money for something they do not have time for. It is unfortunate, because I would love for this not to be the case. Starting with deaf awareness techniques would be a huge start though and could make deaf customers and deaf people feel comfortable and looked after such as: gestures, lightly tapping on the shoulder for attention and flashing lights.

We need to start learning sign language in schools as part of the curriculum as there is time. School days are built for education. Going to school is like a job – and once you leave and have a real job, time is more important for social events and hard to get. The Government shutting down opportunities for deaf awareness and sign language to be taught is not only affecting current children but, it will affect adults lives. An adult starting to learn sign language from nothing is going to be hard.

Although deaf awareness has not officially been delivered to staff, it is actually a good point that it should not just be deaf awareness training presented to employees. There should be training for blind and autistic customers too. Customer service should be all about the customer – and learning to be exposed to different people.

I think it is interesting that people want to be knowledgeable in deaf awareness for work purposes. What about socially? Would you not want to be friends with a deaf person because you do not know how to communicate? Would you not be willing to try and socialise because it is not going to help you gain employee of the month? Just some questions I’m thinking about and would welcome any feedback and comments in relation to what has been said in this post.

Thank you to those who let me interview them, it was a really interesting couple of hours getting to hear your stories in relation to deafness and deaf awareness. Sorry I could not post any more – this article is already longer than my undergraduate dissertation.


Emma Colton –

Caution: Handle With Care.

I appreciate that what I’m going to be talking about in this post could be seen as controversial. I am just writing as things come into my life, and sharing thoughts that I have. I know my views will not be shared by all (hearing and deaf) or be relatable to everyone. These views are based on a recent conversation I had with a deaf person.

A brand new Iranian ice – cream shop has just opened in my local town. It is absolutely delicious with such rich flavours and quirky combinations. Ellie (my deaf friend) and I were talking to the owners about their story and how they began to acquire their new thriving and exciting business. Despite the interesting life story and how they are branching out into Selfridges (I told you they were fancy) – I totally zoned out from some of the conversation and went into my own little world, day dreaming about ice – cream and wondering how many tasters I could haggle. Ellie, who had been watching me interpret a lot of the conversation as well as lip reading the owner, had missed a particular word that was said. Ellie then asked me what the word was and I had to apologise and tell her that I’d not been listening and missed the conversation.

I felt really guilty and upset that I had ‘let Ellie down’. Rightly or wrongly, as a hearing person who can sign, I feel like I have a big responsibility to give deaf people constant access to what is going on. I am accessing the information so why should anyone have to go without if the ability to give access is there? I felt bad that I should have been more on the ball interpreting for Ellie. I felt bad that I had been selfish thinking about myself and my belly and not considering whether Ellie was following. I felt bad that maybe Ellie had wanted to engage in more conversation but didn’t because I was ‘busy’.

I kept apologising to her and it brought up a conversation which got us thinking, is my interpreting (or the interpreting of a hearing person) and my desire to make sure a deaf person has complete and full access, really as helpful as I think it is?! Ellie is a 25 year old woman, she does not NEED me in order to live her everyday life and it should be her choice whether I interpret for her or not. I cannot just assume that she will be interested in the discussion and she may want to even switch off to what is going on around us, but I am forcing her to listen.

Ellie has expressed slight annoyance at when people ‘over-interpret’. Naturally, her friends and family all want to support her and give her access, but quite often, she feels it is unnecessary as she is already understanding the person speaking. If she did not understand, she would want to have the opportunity to ask for clarification instead of already being interpreted at.

Of course, this is not the case for everybody as there is not one ‘type’ of deaf person. There are different levels of hearing and different forms of communication, but I suddenly thought how my being so keen to interpret and give Ellie access may be preventing her from being the independent person she is. Ellie said that she naturally becomes lazy and dependent on hearing people even though she is fully capable of communicating independently.

I noticed how the owner of the ice – cream shop was using me as a way to talk to Ellie. If Ellie had been with another deaf friend or by herself – then the owner would have had no choice but to communicate with her instead of relying on the hearing person. This always irritates me, so I’m sure for deaf people it is even more frustrating.

I have seen this happen in restaurants too. The waiters will ask me what Ellie wants instead of directly asking her. If I wasn’t there, then they would have to be deaf aware, gesture and communicate in a way that is accessible to her. This is quite literally a hearing person ignoring the deaf person involved and expecting someone like me (a hearing person who can sign) for communication. This could be a form of Audism that we may not realise is happening. Audism is when a hearing person feels superior and more important than a deaf person or someone who signs and that life as a deaf person is a bad/harder one.

I had learnt about this term at University in one of my deaf studies modules. At the time, I could not believe that this was a thing that people actually believed in. Now, being in the deaf community and seeing the prejudice and difficulties deaf people go through – I can totally see how some hearing people feel it is not their responsibility to adjust their register and tone for a deaf person, but they feel it is for the deaf person to adjust to a ‘hearing’ world. Again, this is obviously not all hearing people, but it definitely does exist.

In addition to this, believe it or not there is an actual group of people who have Surdophobia. Surdophobia is the hostility, intolerance or fear of Deaf people, deaf culture and the Deaf Community. Imagine being someone who people actually fear engaging with. If there was more deaf awareness in businesses and education, then this could largely be avoided and handled in a better way, instead of employees passing the deaf person onto a colleague because they do not know how to handle the situation.

I am certainly not saying that all deaf people should be independent in a way that they would be lip reading people all day every day and having to go outside alone as a way of becoming independent. Lip reading is tiring and very difficult. There is currently a shortage of interpreters and they are absolutely needed for doctor appointments, professional meetings, conferences and for TV, but is it possible for someone to over step in terms of interpreting? Where is the line?

It is Ellie’s choice what conversations she wants to have access to and I shouldn’t be forcing them upon her. Ellie said ‘You’re not my interpreter, you’re my friend it is not your responsibility to look after me in this way’. It made me question what are my duties as her friend? This whole concept is something I had never thought about before and yet it links to morals and ethics, law (equality) and the social aspects of daily life.

Emma Colton –

Great Expectations

When I get hooked on something, it is hard for me to stop thinking about it. I got really obsessed with the OJ Simpson case after watching The People Vs OJ Simpson last year and now I’ve moved onto The Assassination of Gianni Versace (watch it on BBC iPlayer it is so good.)

With that in mind, I also cannot stop thinking about ‘A Silent Child’. I think about the low expectations the family had for the deaf child in their life compared to the high expectations I have for the deaf children that are in mine.

I wanted to therefore write about a number of different ways that the deaf children I teach/ I know are amazing and can achieve anything that their hearing peers can, and in some cases do even better in. These are some examples…


When it comes to reading, deaf children are usually behind their mainstream peers due to language delay. As a hearing child, whether you realise it or not you are always accessing language. This is through just having the radio or TV on, being spoken to or hearing a conversation around you – a hearing child is constantly absorbing new words. A deaf child will only access (signed) language when they are watching it or being communicated with directly and therefore initially start their younger years with less vocabulary.

Despite this, the really impressive thing, is that when the language has caught up and deaf children are reading books, they have to do the challenging part of signing their books in the right context. For example ‘Emma called Ellie to tell her about her weekend’. This sentence can be easily read by a hearing child and nobody will ask that child for the context or meaning. For a deaf child, they would have to make sure they signed the right word in order for it to show that they have understood the sentence. Does it mean called as in a name, is it called as a synonym for shouting or is it called from a mobile phone?

called 1call 2call 3

Each form of ‘called’ has a different sign depending on the context, yet a hearing child can just read the word and move on. Both sets of children can read the word – yet deaf children have to prove they understand the meaning before they move on.


The deaf children I work with and teach were born to perform! They are natural actors and actresses as they use their body, face and hands everyday to tell a story and express themselves.

It is said that deaf people are very blunt – and say things how it is. This definitely shows in the facial expressions the children pull in response to different scenarios. They pull faces that I don’t think my face has the ability to achieve. This would come in very handy for method acting.

Acting is a great opportunity for work with deaf children and adults. There are different forms of acting such as mime and mask work which rely on the body and gestures to express how a character is feeling. This allows acting to be an accessible career for both deaf and hearing people.

There are already many Deaf accessible theatre companies such as ‘Deafinitely Theatre’ and ‘The DH Ensemble’. They are one step ahead at seeing the potential in Deaf actors and having high expectations for them.

Good with languages:

Hearing people -who are not involved in the deaf would would probably not realise but, BSL has its own grammatical structure and therefore the word order is different. ‘Where do you live’ in English is signed as ‘You live where?’. The hearing world does not write English in BSL order and so because of this, we need to teach deaf children English. This means that for deaf children who have BSL as their first language, they have to adjust to writing in a different word order compared to the way they would sign. Not only this, but some children I work with come from Eastern Europe and their families sign in their native language at home. This would mean that a child as young as five could be juggling 3 different languages as well as making friends, learning how to share and just generally getting through the day.

Great with technology:

I think it must be the generation we live in but children are fantastic with Ipads and computers. I had to wait until I started secondary school before I got my first mobile phone. It was indestructible and I deliberately tried to break it to get a new one – but it still managed to stay working (sorry if you are reading this mum and dad).

Now, children are just born into a world of technology and deaf children are extremely good at using these devices. It could be because it is so visual with a clearly laid out format with easy to recognise symbols and apps, but the deaf children I work with are managing to create slide shows on Keynote on Apple devices building in exciting and engaging animations. Going into animations or IT work is going to be an ever growing job market as the years go by and would be a great career path for many deaf people.


What better career path for a deaf person than to become a Teacher of the Deaf?! They would be able to empathise with other deaf people and appreciate the feelings and emotions of deaf children. They would be excellent communicators in the classroom too and know the best teaching style for a deaf child.

These examples do not even include how resilient the children are in a hearing world with barriers facing them everyday.

It doesn’t include how the Government won’t allow deaf children to do a GCSE in their first language, but they manage to achieve a qualification in their second language of English – let’s celebrate that these children are bilingual!

It does not include that despite many hours of speech and language therapy some deaf children are still not able to use their voice to its full potential, although I always manage to hear a cheeky laugh and giggle creep through.

It does not include that deaf children are just as funny, crazy, silly, clever, stubborn etc as their mainstream peers and just like any other child you would meet. It is because of this, that I love working and learning from the children at my current school, and hope that they continue to exceed my expectations.

Emma Colton –

The Silent Child: A Reality for some Deaf Children

The Silent Child, a 20 minute, Oscar winning Best Live Action short film, which tells the story of Libby (Maisie Sly) who was born deaf into a hearing family. The film shows the struggle that Libby faces (as do many deaf children) being the only deaf member within their family.

The family in the film are ‘wealthy’ shown by the mother (Sue) driving around in her brand new sparkling BMW and scenes of their very gorgeous home that they live in, in the country. From the outside, it looks like a tight and perfect family unit who spoil each other as money is not a problem. They all have breakfast together in the morning and the children are doted on when they call for their mother’s attention. It seems every bit like a normal family scenario.

However, to the family there is an anomaly which is Libby, the youngest child. The parents are at their last resort with her as they cannot communicate or connect with their deaf child. The parents therefore decide they need some help and guidance. This help comes in the form of specialist teacher Joanne, employed to educate and help Libby so she can be more confident starting school and to communicate with others.

I have thought hard about the way I would review this incredibly moving and emotional film – there are already many published reviews in newspapers and articles online. They all follow a similar style which have come from the voice of a professional film critic. I however, work with deaf children and I am involved in this environment every day. I therefore wanted to address the film through my perspective and my feelings towards the characters played in the film.

silent child logo


My thoughts on Libby:

Libby is a sweet girl who is isolated in the world. She is trapped in a family who do not understand her or how to help her, she has no friends at school and only has one person in her life who she trusts and loves.

She shows bad and defiant behaviour towards her mother as she cannot communicate with her. It must be very frustrating for Libby to see everyone communicating and speaking around her and the only thing that can give her entertainment is being sat in front of the TV – which I bet is all Libby gets up to in school holidays too. When Sue tries to take the remote away from her, Libby hits her and causes a scene.

Libby is very quickly catching onto British Sign Language and it is so nice to see her able to express what she wants and thinks. The family are shocked when they see Libby ask to look for treasure because they did not know she had that vocabulary or language.

In one of the last scenes in the film, Libby is in her classroom with her back to the teacher while a spelling test is happening. Libby having her back to the teacher means not only can she not hear but has absolutely no chance in even trying to lip read or watch body language. She can’t access the test and looks less capable than the rest of her class when this really is not the case.

Libby also is all by herself in the playground. She appears to have no friends and is again not only isolated at home – but now also at school. If the family let Libby have Sign Language as her main form of communication – she would have a Communication Support Worker at school who would be someone Libby could open up to and trust at school.

My thoughts on Joanne:

Joanne is an incredibly kind and positive person for Libby to have in her life. She is understanding and knowledgeable – the only one able to see how capable Libby truly is. In one scene, Joanne speaks to Libby’s Grandmother. The Grandmother asks if Libby will be able to have a job one day. Joanne replies with “I think she will be able to have a job in anything she likes”. The attitude of Joanne is spot on. It will be harder for a child like Libby, but with the right support she will be able to achieve any job she likes and go to University. Deafness is NOT a learning disability. Of course, there are deaf children who have additional needs and may have learning disabilities, but on it’s own there is no reason why a deaf child should not be able to achieve the same as hearing peers. Joanne knows this, and the spoken dialogue is powerful to the viewers watching.

Joanne teaches Libby British Sign Language. It completely changes Libby as a person. She becomes vibrant, and you can see her empathetic and caring side come through. Her personality is really shining – something her family have not seen in the 6 years she has been alive. British Sign Language is so expressive and makes people a great communicator. I even find it easier to Sign and gesture how I am feeling easier than finding the right words to explain it.

It must be so frustrating for Joanne to be told to stop seeing Libby and teaching her sign language as the family want her to lip read. Joanne is the expert, she knows what will give Libby the best start and chance at succeeding in school and every day life. She is battling against parents who think they know best and are scared by something they do not understand compared to someone who would have trained for years to be able to help deaf children gain results.

I felt a connection to Joanne as her job is similar to those I work with and work I try to aspire to. We need more people training to become Teachers of the Deaf as many are about to retire and there are not many young TODs around. If they die out then Deaf schools will close and deaf children will be sent to mainstream schools and not have the best support that they need. Joanne is young and fresh – a great role model to both deaf children and aspiring teachers.

My thoughts on the Parents:

From the offset it is clear that the parents have very low expectations of Libby and her future – it is even explicitly said by Libby’s Stepfather. How unfair this is for poor Libby. She is not even given a chance by her own family.

The family expect Libby to access the world through lip reading and communicate in a way that is easier for them, instead of the family seeing that they need to change the way they communicate in order to fit into Libby’s world. The family are wealthy and could easily afford to go to sign language classes and do it together. This is a lucky position to be in as lots of hearing families say they cannot afford to learn Sign Language as it is expensive.

The mum shows that she is far too busy to be able to take lessons and so are the siblings as they have many after school activities to be attending. The lack of want to help their child is heartbreaking.

The parents are scared about Libby learning Sign Language because they do not understand it and do not want to be alienated by something they don’t understand. Instead of joining Libby in this journey – they put a stop to it. They tell Joanne she is to stop seeing Libby and stop teaching her Sign Language. They also use the fact her peers at school can’t sign as an excuse for her not being able to ‘fit in’ when at school.

I can understand that the mother may feel threatened by Joanne in some way as she has come into her home and is communicating with her daughter when this is something Sue cannot do. But she is selfish in not seeing that it is all to help Libby and aiding her to grow and develop. It is not about the mother and how she feels.



My thoughts on the siblings:

It is clear that they have their parents full attention. Their dreams and aspirations are considered and being met while Libby is completely ignored and left to herself.

The siblings do not seem to have any relationship with their younger sister. There is a scene where the family are having breakfast around the table and Libby signs ‘Orange Juice’. The brother picks up on this and thinks it is ‘cool’ that she has picked up some Sign Language. I find it so sad that it took this long for Libby’s brother to notice her – yet, he was able to see how Sign Language is benefiting his sister and her communication.

The siblings show that they are able to realise what a positive impact Joanne has on their sister, which is some what the opposite reaction of their mother who finds herself alienated by the fact Libby is learning a language she does not understand.


My thoughts on the Grandmother:

The Grandmother is of an older generation that see deaf people as helpless. She tells us of how Libby’s biological grandfather was deaf from birth also. She is judgmental and cruel mocking his profession as a cleaner.

Unfortunately, thoughts and feelings of an older generation are hard to change. As my generation become mothers and grandmothers, we will be more progressive and open-minded to realising that anyone can achieve any dream if they work for it. Her confusion into believing that Libby could even hold down a job made me so sad and angry.

Times are changing and there is so much out there (although still a long way to go) to make it easier for deaf people to have jobs such as an increase in Technology like electronic E-mailing and Facetime instead of phone calls and Access to Work including having money to book interpreters.

I would love to be able to change her mind and help her see that Libby’s disability is not going to mean she cannot succeed in life.

libby joanne

Overall, I absolutely loved the short film and really hope it can be developed into a mainstream film for the cinema. A worthy winner at the Oscars.


Catch it on BBC iPlayer now. 



Emma Colton –


Pictures from: