My name is Emma, and I have found myself part of a community that I never knew existed. It has a culture, a language and a variation of severity. Until I was 18, I had never met anyone who was a part of this particular group of people, and now I feel a part of it. This community is the deaf community and I have found my way here completely by accident.
It all began when I started looking for University courses for higher education. I wanted to go into acting. I have always been interested in Theatre and how you can express yourself through body language and gesture (something that I have later learnt is part of the foundations of British Sign Language).
I was struggling to choose my final University option for my UCAS form when I came across a Theatre Arts, Education and Deaf Studies degree at the University of Reading. This was discovered completely by chance and very last minute by my Mum. At the time, I was desperate to just find a degree so I could pay and send off my form, having no intention of actually going to Reading or studying for that degree.
I received an invitation for an interview/audition, and went in with an open mind that this could be the degree for me, despite wanting to do a degree at Drama School. I instantly fell in love with the course, the campus and the people. I performed my monologue and had an informal chat with the course director, going home desperately hoping they would offer me a place. So against all the odds, this was the degree I chose as my first choice, and worked extremely hard for my A levels in order to secure my place.
My course started in September 2012 and I was surrounded by such diversity. I was meeting people from all over the world with all different types of abilities. I had deaf peers, deaf lecturers and started to learn British Sign Language. My secondary school specialised in languages, yet I was terrible. I took German for GCSE and got a C, consequently convincing myself that I was awful at languages and that I would fail. However as the years went by, I was finding myself passing exams and by 2014, I had already completed my Level 2 in British Sign Language.
My degree also involved facilitating and creating drama workshops to perform in deaf and mainstream schools, both primary and secondary, and I loved it! I also took modules in deaf studies which included deaf issues, deaf education and deaf history. There were roughly only 14 students on my course and we all became very close, especially with our lecturers and course interpreters. We were like a family.
By the time my degree was coming to a close in 2015, I decided it was time to start looking for work. I started looking for work mainly in schools, both mainstream and deaf. I wanted to work somewhere that would use my experience, somewhere I could put my degree into practice.
I immediately got a job at a local deaf school, where I began working as a Learning Support Assistant for primary school aged children. I was learning so much and my signing was improving daily. It initially took me a while to become friendly with my colleagues. They were all part of such a solid unit, and here I was trying to make my way into their world. I had no previous relationship to deafness other than my degree. I don’t have deaf family members and I am not deaf myself. I gradually began to build friendships (some that are incredibly strong today) and I have never felt so lucky to be a part of such a vibrant and caring group of people. Both my hearing and deaf work friends are all super supportive and we are always there for one another.
I am now coming to the end of my second year at the school. I have found myself fully involved in the deaf community, far more than I had realised was possible. I am so proud to feel accepted and included. I am exposed to deaf comedy and now have an understanding of deaf identity. I am currently studying for my Level 3 in BSL and I have a deaf housemate who is the greatest person (and cleaner, as she is always tidying up after me) on the planet. I love meeting her friends and talking to them all in British Sign Language.
Recently, her and I had a negative experience at a local cinema where a ‘captioned performance’ of a film screening had no subtitles. The discrimination and unwillingness to help from the staff at the Odeon cinema left us both so disappointed and upset. I have taken the issue further by emailing the head office, but I am yet to be satisfied by the responses of the Odeon management. I hope that my actions can aid the deaf community in a positive way, and I look forward to seeing society and technology grow to help continue building equal opportunities and deaf awareness in the wider world.