Bea the Bee

Theatre and deaf awareness and diversity oh my!

Edinburgh Fringe Reviews: 20/08/16

As part of my Apprenticeship with Solar Bear (a company that makes and promotes accessible theatre, you can find them on their website, Twitter or Facebook page!), I went to see three different accessible performances at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to review them. I hope you will enjoy reading these reviews! Any questions or inquiry can be directed to my work email at bea@solarbear.org.uk.

SHOW ONE // PEOPLE OF THE EYE

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The Deaf and Hearing Ensemble delivered a visually powerful piece directed by Jennifer Bates in British Sign Language (BSL), spoken language and captions via a projector. The play explores the truths of people being affected by deafness and and celebrates the richness and joy of sign language.

I related to this piece so much, especially through Erin Siobhan Hutching’s authentic writing that was based on real events that are performed beautifully by the charismatic duo of Erin with Emily Howlett.

I related heavily to the sisters during the funeral scene and to being told “your voice is stupid” with both comedy and sadness. I know what it’s like to be told that your voice is weird, or not being able to get the information that you want to get because I am deaf. This is all the more poignant because of the real life experiences that the actors bring to their performance and the powerful visual symbolisms they used to represent some parts of the performance.

The play had a “power” over me as a deaf person, as there was small snippets of the show that perhaps only a deaf person or a person involved in the deaf community will understand, which is a reversal of what I am used to. I think perhaps more could have been done to extend this to provoke other audience members into thinking more about accessibility and inclusivity relating to how deaf people feel the majority of times when accessing theatre. There are parts however, where the performers engages with the audience, and teach them a few words in BSL with hilarious results.

I rather liked the use of the projector. I felt this creative use of captions and visuals helped me as an audience member to engage better with the performance. The future of accessible theatre relies on performances such as this. The possibilities make me very excited.

This is the second time I’ve seen this, the first time when it was still developing at the Forest Fringe’s BSL Access Day in 2015, with Erin and Sophie Stone and I still very much enjoyed this performance. I would highly recommend this show.

Running until 27th August (except Wednesdays) at 1pm at Summerhall. Book tickets here.

SHOW TWO // ADLER & GIBB

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The first thing that came to my head was, despite the high quality of the BSL interpreter Gill Wood, I should have seen this captioned. There is notably a lot of talking and very little action in a topic that I know nothing about, my eyes were really strained and with English as my first language I felt I still had to back translate the BSL into English in my head. This made it quite difficult to follow.

What made it harder for me, being a visual person, was very little happens on the stage. This made it more difficult for me to review this piece. I was told that this is a satirical piece about method acting, and yet I couldn’t pick this out.

A nameless student delivered the accounts of Janet Adler, which was an interesting choice. However, even though she delivered the lectures with zealous devotion like a dedicated student, whenever she sat behind the interpreter she fidgeted a lot which was quite distracting especially for me as a deaf person. It is possible that the actor didn’t realise that this creates visual noise making it harder to focus on what is being said.

A young girl walking around in headphones directed by another person to supply the props was a very interesting concept, and one that I enjoyed watching. Gina Moxley’s presence on the stage as the widower Margaret Gibb was powerful and emotional, and I was drawn to her.

Running on August 16th-21st and 23rd-27th at 5.15pm at Summerhall. Book tickets here.

SHOW THREE // JOAN

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I will have to be honest; I admittedly had low expectation for this performance. I knew it was some sort of a drag king performance (which typically isn’t my cup of tea), but what I did not expect was a funny and heartfelt performance that includes elements of theatre, cabaret and drag king performance that explores powerful and relevant theme of gender, gender expression and oppression.

It is intelligently and thought-provoking written and directed by Lucy J Skilbeck, and hilariously performed by Lucy Jane Parkinson. Parkinson also connects with the audience emotionally, seamlessly transitioning from comedy to hopelessness.

The script does need a bit of work, especially with little background knowledge of Joan of Arc (luckily I did some quick research before entering), but this cunning and lyrical script has the potential to become something more.

Lucy’s engagement with the audience cabaret-style was some of the funniest I’ve seen in a while, with one side of the audience becoming galloping horses with delightfully amusing results.

While initially embarrassed by having to hold the phone up and getting glares from audience members to use Talking Birds’ innovative Difference Engine (a new captioning technology for mobile phones or tablet) it surprisingly worked incredibly well. This show would work very well with a BSL interpreter for deaf people who prefer BSL, and I think it would work really well in a small setting even if it is only for one night. Below is an image of what the captions look likes on Difference Engine on my mobile phone, although in beta stage, it was nearly always in sync and I could move it around whenever the performer moved around on stage. Traditional captioning would work better in a big proscenium stage, however this worked better for a small arena stage like as used in Joan.

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Her drag persona entertained so much through songs, and I was able to enjoy it more thanks to the Difference Engine as the new line of the song came up before that line is sung so for once I was able to feel connected through songs in theatre.

I was rather glad that this show completely exceeded my expectations. This is another show I would recommend!

(It must be noted that the Difference Engine won’t make this show accessible to all deaf people, as there are some who would only be able to understand this show through BSL interpreters.)

Running until 29th August at 7.20pm at Big Belly, Underbelly Cowgate. Book tickets here.

How to make theatre more deaf accessible

I’m doing this as a part of my apprenticeship with Solar Bear, please check them out on their website, Twitter or Facebook page! Solar Bear is a wonderful company that makes and promote accessible theatre.

I thought I’d do this because I have got a few emails and comments asking on tips on how to make theatre more accessible. Of course, not all deaf people think the same so this is all entirely my opinion which I think make theatre performances more accessible for deaf people. If you have any other tips I forgot about or a particular area you want to know more about or to get advices from me, you could comment on this or email me at bea@solarbear.org.uk

Include deaf people in your process!

I cannot stress enough on this point, because I rarely see deaf people in any process of making theatre more accessible. My old workshop leader said to me that it’s funny how far we have come yet at the same time it’s very little.

Having said this, you should definitely still get advices from interpreters (as well as the deaf people) because they can offer advices from an interpreting point of view, but deaf people are from the point of view as audience!

Advertise that the show is accessible in the first place!

It continues to eludes me that after all the work some companies put on to provide accessible shows and then NOT market that. I’ve missed out so many BSL interpreter/captioned shows because they’re not obvious or it’s not clearly listed. Or in rare cases, it’s not listed as accessible. Or it’s not marketed on the right social platform, i.e. Facebook. If you don’t market this, then it’s really no point having an accessible show in the first place if the people who needs it don’t come at all because they didn’t know about it then it would be a waste of money.

My advice? Put a wee interpreter/caption sign next to it on the listing of dates (but also mention in the main text at the bottom that there is accessible shows available). Some websites I’ve seen do list it but I’d have to click on each dates just to see which date is accessible. If there is a Facebook event, include it in the information box, it really is simple as that. Another advice? Have interpreted shows on a Friday or a Saturday evening.

There’s  website called Access Scottish Theatre, in which they list some theatre shows which has captions or BSL interpreters or audio description shows.

Citizen Theatre have done BSL videos, such as this (although I’d advise putting links on their Facebook page to get more deaf people), as well as National Theatre of Scotland on their Facebook page.

Ensure you pick the right BSL (British Sign Language) interpreters

Make sure they have the right experience, qualification and interest in performance skills so it is accessible to deaf BSL users, and to make them exciting to watch. Because there are normally quite a few characters, a experienced interpreter will be able to interpret in a way that we can separate characters and give emotions to them.

Of course, there’s the issue of not being enough interpreters trained for the stage so we need to have more quality training for on stage interpreting. There have been a few interpreting for performances conferences and training session, but there needs to be more collaborations between theatre companies, interpreters and deaf people. Start the conversation about this. Speak to Solar Bear. Speak to interpreters. Speak to deaf people.

Where should you put interpreter on stage?

This was the burning question that I mostly got asked, after the blog post Deaf Accessibility in Theatre, and that question was “Where do I put the interpreter on stage for best ?” There is no right general answer for that, because every production is different. It depends on many elements, from how the layout of the seat, the set design, the stage layout, the performance itself, the lighting, how many actors are on stage and so on. How do you find this out? Ask deaf people. Interpreters will offer useful advices but deaf BSL users NEED them and it takes a lot of focus to concentrate on interpreters, so can point it out any problems.

There is one piece of advice however, and that is do not put them so far away at the side of the stage! How would you like it if there was a BSL only show and the subtitles was right at the ceiling? Yeah, not comfortable and you’ll miss a lot of the action on stage.

Think early about accessibility

I believe that to get good accessibility, it has to be in early stages of the process. The earlier you think about it, the earlier it is to integrate interpreters, the earlier to think about animated captions, the earlier to think about interpreter’s clothing and so on.

While I do appreciate that sometimes accessibility is not possible because it ultimately comes down to funding, however if one starts thinking about it early on, one can put it in the funding application and increase the chances of being able to provide accessible shows.

If you can’t find a way to integrate BSL interpreters somehow, even for a small portion of the play, are you really creative? Or are you determined that they will somehow alter the whole play when it will not? It really isn’t that difficult, and I’ve done it many times.

Dress up your interpreter!

Put yourself in the deaf person’s position. Let’s say you went to see a show entirely in sign language, dressing the interpreter in all black is akin to a very boring, monotonous person voicing over that said show. I’m sure everyone had that one teacher who only used a monotonous tone that would send everyone to sleep. Make them look liken a part of the show, and you’ll include deaf people more. People who don’t use them will find this a lot less distracting when it looks like interpreters are part of the shows.

Have the right light on the interpreters! And keep it on!

There were times where the lighting was so poor that I just ended up ignoring the interpreters, and that include only lighting up one side of the interpreter (this gives me a real headache!), having such weak lighting that it’s hard to see them, having the wrong type of lighting and so on.

Again, ask deaf people if you’re unsure. Simply checking them isn’t enough. It’s when we actually concentrate that makes the difference.

Not all deaf people have the same accessibility requirements

I have harped on and on about interpreted shows, although not every deaf people can sign. I, for one, actually prefer captioned performances. English is my first language, and I always watch TV programmes and films with subtitles, thus I understand more through captioned performances. Another advantage of captions is if it’s a musical, I know the exact words which I prefer, as BSL is a language on its own right and is not a literal translation of English.

Make sure the show has at least one captioned night, make sure the induction loop are up to date if your venue has it, if possible provide deaf/disabled awareness training for staffs and so on.

It’s always nice to have a pre show talk where deaf BSL users can meet either the actors, directors, anyone from the creative team etc, and we learn the character’s sign name and sometimes a brief overview of the story which makes it much easier to follow the play.

Again, it’s important to include deaf people to understand their requirements.

Put the captions in a good place or even better, integrate it!

I’ve seen a few theatre productions where the projected captions onto sofas, table cloths, walls etc, and the other major advantage of using a projector is that the text colour and font can be changed, thus making it easier to follow the play when each character have their own colour and font. Just make sure that the colour is compatible and has easy to read font with their background.

Be creative! Experiment with it!

I feel that more often than not, being creative with providing accessibility will also improve the show, as it did to Wendy Hoose, which I reviewed before on here. Some successful shows have got even more funny because of the way they incorporated audio description, subtitles and/or interpreters.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with interpreters/captioning. If you tried it and it didn’t work, that’s totally fine. Failure is not necessarily a bad thing. It may yet lead to greater things!

Keep an open mind

You would be doing deaf people a disservice by refusing accessibility on the ground that it might compromise artistic view of the play. You won’t. Unless you made it that way. Honestly, it doesn’t take much, as you can see from above.

Get feedback!

Don’t be afraid to gather feedback from deaf people, interpreters and audience members in general.

Other resources

The following links are resources from other websites on how to improve accessibility and it’s not just for deaf people!

They are just four out of the many resources available online! Have a look on Google and see what you get! If there is a fantastic resource online and you’d like me to add to this list, please email me.

I’m going to be blunt. If you have the money, time and the resources to use accessibility features but you don’t do it, it’s quite frankly not acceptable. You are excluding disabled people from accessing the theatre world.

There are so many deaf people who are involved in the theatre world who can help out, and I am one of those person who are ready to help any company provide better accessibility.

If you have any questions, please email me at bea@solarbear.org.uk

Thank you for reading this! Bea x

Grannies should rule the world!

It’s going to be a short blog post, but I have to tell this amazing story about this wonderful woman…

I was riding on the motorbike aimlessly in Krabi, Thailand (the country of my birth) by myself (I had just got a sunburn so I couldn’t do outdoor rock climbing with my mum and sister) just to see where it takes me, but despite the fact that I already drank two bottles of water I needed more because the scorching Thai sun was too much so I spotted a wee stall in front of a house in a remote place for some water. I ended up chatting to this ultra friendly Thai-Muslim woman for a good while drinking a very refreshing bottle of water, before she invited me in to feed me despite the fact she’s fasting. I told her I couldn’t, she really insisted so I went in with her.

She fed me the most glorious leftover food, and started telling me about her family, her dad was Thai and her mother moved to Thailand after facing troubles in her homeland of Afghanistan like 90 years ago, and her many children and grandchildren. She can speak 4 languages – Afghan, Thai, Malay and English. Pretty impressive, no? She told me how she loves living in the Islamic part of Krabi, and I could see why. The people who lives in there are so warm, welcoming and full of amazing smiles. And full of amazing food, I have to say! I love Thai-Muslim foods.

She then asked me so many questions about Scotland, my Thai family, my deafness, getting my Masters degree, my job, theatre, volunteering, teaching young people, the rise of racism in England after Brexit and so on.

She asked me if I have a difficult life because I am deaf. In Thailand, there are people, especially the older generation, who believes that I must have done something terrible in my past life to be deaf in this life; karma. So I explained to her that while there are some things in my life that are difficult, my life isn’t difficult. While I have been discriminated, harassed and insulted because of my gender, race, sexuality and disability, I am still privileged in a way that I have a good family, shelter, food, education, healthcare, clean toilet, interpreter service, benefits when I was unemployed and a cochlear implant under the NHS (National Health Service). I explained that my barrier comes from society rather than my disability. She understood and agreed, and told me that I have changed her view on deaf people, and that she will try to pass on that knowledge.

She eventually asked me the dreaded question that I knew was coming – “Do you have a boyfriend?” I went no, and she asked if I wanted one and I said no. She looked at me strangely and then asked, “Do you have a girlfriend?” I tell you, that was the last thing I expected to hear from a 70 odd years old Muslim granny. I said no, then she asked if I wanted a girlfriend. I told her yes, one day. I then asked her if she was okay with this and she was like “Don’t be silly! You look like you’re a good person at heart, why should I care? You have a job, a home, good family and good friends. You look like you have a good life. Who am I to deny you that?” She went on to say that Allah never said anything negative about homosexuality and he promotes love and happiness, and that is what being Muslim means to her. I actually got so teary at the end. I admit, a part of me felt very ashamed that I stereotyped her because of her religion mixed with her age when it came to my sexuality. This experience has taught me much.

She then gave me direction to this amazing food market, but before leaving I offered to draw her, which she loved and happily pinned it up on the wall straight away. She then said at the end “Allah brought you here to speak to me. I am very happy we both spoke, thank you. Go and do good in your life”. She gave me the warmest hug and smile.

Here is it, a queer half Thai deaf young woman really connecting with a half Thai Muslim granny, and it was fucking amazing. I just wish I had a selfie of her, alas my phone ran out of battery. This forever will be etched into my mind, however.

Racism can go fuck themselves thank you very much. I cannot ever understand it, especially since being mixed race. It makes me sad, and I find it ridiculous that skin colour and religion can divide humanity. Religion doesn’t make people bad, some people use it as an excuse to do bad things. Religious and non-religious people  both can be good or bad. Humans can be good or bad. Coldly, it’s the way of life.

Love knows no bound. Hate can be easier, but please be good to others. Be good to yourself. And grannies should totally rule the world! (My Chinese-Malaysian granny is pretty damn fucking awesome herself!)

How not to be a dick to deaf people (PART 2)

Before I start, this is part 2 so if you haven’t read part 1, it can be found here!

If you read the first one, in the first point I spoke about my experiences of mispronouncing words and I thought I’d give you one more from one of my best friend Danielle (love ya!), who is also a cochlear implant user.

When Danielle was a wee wean, her dad asked her what she wanted from the shops. She proudly said that she wanted “black cunt juice!” I’m sure this is the last thing that her dad expected her to say, he realised that she meant another juice entirely. “No, it’s blackCURRANT juice!” “It’s black cunt!” “BlackCURRANT!” “Black CUNT!”

Danielle is a racist in the making. Just kidding. Obviously. Love you really, Danielle. It’s a story I tell to everyone I meet whenever I tell them about Danielle. Sorry. Lol.

First of all, I’m going to add more silly questions that I have been asked before, or that my deaf friends have been asked (continuing from number 5 on Part One)…

“How can you work?”

The same way you work, quite miraculously! How can this be? I have a brain, I have a body, I can communicate… It’s quite amazing, isn’t it? It’s no like my deafness has a mind of its own, telling me that I canny work or anything.

“If you pray to God, your will hear again”

If you pray to God, you may get your common sense back.

Maybe. Probably not.

How do you live without music?”

Well, I don’t know how you live listening to Justin Bieber either, so really I’m in the same position as you! 🙂

(I refuse to listen to his latest music as it has been converting my friends, shockingly)

“How do you do it? I would die!”

I was genuinely stunned when I was told this. I didn’t think in any form or shape that I was suffering just because I’m deaf. In fact, most of the suffering relating to my deafness comes from other people, like treating me like a second class citizen, discriminating me, denying me my access and so on.

“Why do you speak funny?”

Because I am singing the song of your people; general ignorance.

“How do deaf people have sex? Like, do you leave the lights off or on?”

I assume you live in a dark room because of your ignorance?

“You’re deaf? You can’t be because you’re reading a book!”

Wow, here I am reading a book! It’s a miracle! I mean, who needs eyes to read?

Now, moving on to the rest of the list…

8. Don’t patronise us.

Really, you shouldn’t be patronising ANYONE.

I went to the passport office in Glasgow and at the security gate, I missed what the security guard said to me as she wasn’t facing me so I asked her to repeat to me but to face me this time as I’m deaf and she started signing SO. DAMN. SLOWLY. I just spoke, so maybe it’s logical to think I can communicate orally, yes? Kudos to her for making an effort I will say, but I specifically asked her to speak because I communicated better that way with this guard and she disregard that fact. (Please look in PART 1, section 3 where I talk about asking how to communicate with specific deaf people)

AND THEN she took my hand, to the reception. That was literally not even 5 seconds walk. I didn’t realise I was a 5 years old kid. Could I have a lollipop too? Pretty pleaaaase?

But the bottom line is, don’t make us feel small or stupid. We had enough to fill a few lifetime, please. You may be trying to be nice but there is other ways of being nice without patronising us.

9. Use your common sense. Please. (And don’t confuse deafness with another disability)

Naturally you can be deaf and have other disabilities, but just don’t confuse deafness for other disability, as shown in the example below…

My sister went to India to volunteer a few years back, and she was coming home. In the airport, when telling the staff she was deaf as she couldn’t hear their strong accents, they told her to wait and then they came back with a… wait for it… A WHEELCHAIR. What part of your brain makes you think, oh, cannae hear, let’s bring out a wheelchair! Since your legs are OBVIOUSLY working!

Or even the time I met my ex’s posh parents in a posh restaurant for the first time, I was understandably very nervous and then along came a waiter with the menu and I asked a question about a food item on the menu that I couldn’t understand (the menu was basically half French) and he spoke too quickly so I asked him to repeat again because I’m deaf, he told me to wait and brought me a menu…

In Braille. Oh yes, let me go ahead and read it with my working eyes. “It does sound lovely. This feels like chicken. This is chicken, right???” I mean I just read the menu, asked him a question about a food item on the menu, and he decided to come back with a menu designed for blind people???

Although they make for funny stories to share at parties…

This story isn’t really a funny one, but I thought it was important to tell this. I went on a last minute causal date and I went to this nice wee place in the West End (of Glasgow) and we seemed to hit it off. About 30 minutes in, the music was getting louder and louder and I told her to repeat myself, and she jokily said, “are you deaf?” I was puzzled at this as I already told her I was deaf, and I said yes. She was taken aback and awkwardly told me she didn’t want to date me because of how I can hear on the phone (and other lame ass excuses like not wanting a deaf girlfriend). I politely told her that we have been chatting for 30 minutes with ease, I can hear on the phone after getting used to a person’s voice, that she didn’t deserve me, it was only a causal date and then I told her to go fuck herself. I left promptly, forcing her to pay for my very expensive cocktails.

Karma, bitch!

10. If you’re speaking to a deaf person via an sign language interpreter, look at the deaf person that you’re talking to!

Unless of course if you’re deaf but don’t sign and need to lipread the interpreter. I suppose. It might be weird that when you’re talking, the deaf person will look at the interpreter but they are the people that you’re talking to. When we sign, we’ll be looking at you. I don’t blame people for not looking at the deaf people but it’s nice when you do!

11.Knowing sign alphabets or swear words in sign does not equal knowing sign language

Especially in night clubs. Sometimes they would find it amusing to come to us and go, I know sign language and they’d go “Wanker! Dickhead! Fuck! Hahahaha!”

Oooh, what banter, lads!!! Do you detect the obvious sarcasm in my voice, or are you too self-absorbed and drunk to?

(Side note: see that series of hand gesture you learnt in school that meant fuck off? You all know what I mean. BREAKING NEWS: It’s not the sign language for fuck off. You all have been deceived! Sorry to break it to you, guys.)

Also, drunk people + trying to finger spell and gesturing everything very slowly inaccurately assuming we could only sign = wanting to slowly be swallowed up by a ground. Or especially when people want to do the whole alphabet to see if they got it right. Very slowly. So it goes like this…

“A”
“Yes!”
“….B”
“Yes!”
“……..C”
“Yes!”
“Erm…….. is this D?”
“Yes!”
“Erm……………………. E!”
“Yes!”
“Is………. this………………. G?”
“It’s like this… That’s it, you got it!”
“Uhm….. F!”
“Yes”
….
“Hmm… I think I know this one……….Z!”
“Yes!”
“Oh yay, I can sign! Can I do it again?”

Let me go to the bathroom and dunk my head in the toilet, please. Knowing sign alphabet doesn’t mean you know sign language. Sometimes I don’t mind helping people, but there are nights where I may not have seen my friends for a long time and want to spend time with them, and this happens every time. Sorry, but I ain’t your teacher. If you want to learn sign language, you can contact me for BSL classes as there are different courses all over the UK, such as Deaf Perspective or look it up on Google/ask around on deaf groups on Facebook. There are various BSL videos teaching you simple signs. I do end up being patient and help people, but do let me enjoy my night outs!

12. STOP SHOUTING AT US!

Why are you even shouting at someone who is DEAF? Especially when they don’t have any hearing in their ears (i.e. no hearing aids or cochlear implant), it will only serve to make you look even more ridiculous than usual. Imagine someone shouting at you, but no noise come out? That’s it.

Although (sorry Roisin!) at one of the party with the old university gang in the seedy Garage, it was so loud and dark that I couldn’t make out what one of my close friends Roisin was saying and normally I could hear or lipread her… So I told her half jokily that “remember, I’m deaf!” and she looked at me confused and then proceeded to my ears and SHOUT SO LOUD IN IT I could feel the vibration in my ears and maybe go even more deaf if that was possible! This is what alcohol does to you, folks! Throws out your common sense out of the window!

One night I was in a pub with Danielle and Susie, and then a drunk man next to Danielle kept shouting into Danielle’s ears. Susie, who’s not deaf, had to tell us what he was saying, and it turns out he just literally went to her ear and went “Are you deaf?!?!” Like, if you thought she was deaf, why the hell are you shouting into her ears?

13. We’re not deliberately ignoring you… Honestly! Well. Most of the time.

Honestly, there was a time when an ex of mine talked away for at least 10 minutes and got irked when she realised I wasn’t listening and told me off. I had to explain to her that I wasn’t even aware that she was speaking to me! She apologised and joked that she felt like she was talking to a wall for ages and repeated herself, and always made sure that she got my attention before speaking to me.

It’s funny, all my training to ensure that I can make most of my hearing and notice things, sometimes it will just go over my head especially if I used a lot of energy listening to people. Just make sure to get our attention, then speak to us. Otherwise you may as well be talking to a wall.

14. We are not an inspiration, thank you.

Don’t call us inspiring or smart because some of us can speak, or are educated. Don’t call us inspiring for doing ordinary things, for doing things other people can do.

Actually, I will leave this with this TED talk of the wonderful Stella Young, “I’m not your inspiration, thank you very much“, because she explains it so much better than I could ever. This has subtitles.

BONUS: For Apple… Apple. When will you stop autocorrecting “deaf” to “dead”? As cool it would have been, we’re not the legion of the undead, thanks.

This probably won’t be the last blog of this type, and if you have any more tips or experiences to share, please do and I’ll put it on my blog. Thank you!

How not to be a dick to deaf people

(PART 1)

I thought I would put up my own sort of a very brief mini deaf awareness blog that may contain non-PG words (actually, it does). They are of course my opinion, and may not apply to all deaf people. I’ve thrown in a few of my experiences for better understanding, and maybe some giggles. We’ll see.

Note: if you did any of the below without ill intentions, but someone corrected you and you stopped doing it, then that’s fine… But if you keep doing it, then that’s another story.

1. Appreciate that there are many different types of ‘deafness’, and not all deaf people are the same.

For example, I’m a cochlear implant user, and for me that means I have total hearing as much as a machine can give me, but just not the hearing ‘hearing’ people have, thus I can hear and speak relatively well. In my experience, it tends to mean that I mispronounce or mishear words. Often. Very often. Like when I went camping on a summer’s day in Arran, I went into my tent which I forgot to zip up and I screamed “OH MY GOD THERE’S SO MANY FUCKING MIDGETS EVERYWHERE!” to the amusement of my laughing mum and sister, which they proceeded to correct me that it was pronounced ‘midges’ not ‘midgets’. The people on the campsite must’ve thought I was a narrow minded offensive person. Or the time I kept calling Scottish people ‘sausage people’, or the fact that I said ‘cling fling’ instead of cling film for nearly my whole life. Thanks Mum, for never correcting me.

For some deaf people, some may not have any hearing at all and only sign. Some use both. Some only speaks. Surprise, like any other human being, there is a diversity among deaf people. Who would’ve thought?

2. For the love of God, please DO. NOT. SPEAK. LIKE. THIS. Don’t exaggerate your speech. I mean, HOW. WOULD. YOU. LIKE. ME. TO. SPEAK. TO. YOU. LIKE. THIS. BACK? I mean, if you did this to a deaf person who doesn’t have any hearing (as opposed to having hearing aids or cochlear implant) what bloody difference would it make??? There’s a thing called Common Sense…

Not only this is patronising, it will also distort your natural lip pattern, making it harder to lipread. Which brings around the next point about lipreading…

2. Lipreading on its own is mostly guesswork and trying to connect the dots, which is incredibly exhausting. I rely on both lipreading AND hearing. Normally I can’t do one or the other. Most of the time if I spend so much time with someone I can hear their voice without lipreading (i.e. over the phone) so I don’t rely on it as much but it still will tire me out.

I mean, so many words probably are too similar for me when it comes to lipreading, for example mistaking clock for cock. Very different. Yes. Different.

The same goes for lipreading sick… And dick. Again, very different. I think you get the pattern by now?

3. Don’t be afraid to ask the deaf person questions on how to communicate/work with them. They won’t bite. I hope. Most of us will help, but if there’s some that snaps at you for such questions (where you try to improve communication or understand their deafness and so on), then that’s their loss. Don’t be too hard on yourself.

Also, you may not know but British Sign Language (BSL) is a language on its own right, and not the same as English. BSL is not a word for word translation of Enlgish. BSL has its own grammatical rules, linguistic deeper than English, has its own regional variations (the sign for ‘arrangement’ in Scotland is the same as ‘fuck’ in England, a mistake I learnt the hard way), it uses many elements (handshape, facial expression etc) to express meaning and so on. So if you think communicating fully with just using pen and paper cuts it for all deaf people, it’s not necessarily true.

4. Don’t say “oh, never mind”or “it’s not important”  when a deaf person ask you to repeat what you were saying. It’s not nice. I had it so often and it often made me feel unimportant. Am I not important enough for you to make a bit of effort in repeating it, writing it down or even rephrasing it? I do make a lot of effort communicating with people, and when it’s not returned it can be disheartening. If I’d had a pound coin every time this happened in school, I’d be rich. Filthy rich. Alas, I am not, and it did knock my confidence down as a teen.

Although, there are few times where no matter what, I still can’t get you especially in a position when you can’t write or text and that’s okay. Like I was in the car with my ex-girlfriend who was driving, and she said something and I must’ve asked her to repeat maybe 10 times (and she did it without making me feel stupid), and it still went over my head, but we laughed and forgot about it. It was slightly awkward but please laugh about it! Don’t make me feel stupid!

5. However, there are questions or statements that you shouldn’t really ask. These are some examples of questions I have actually been asked, such as…

“How do deaf people drive?”

With our eyes? We’re deaf, not blind. I think eyes are a requirement in driving, not ears… Wrong body part.

“You’re deaf? So you can’t have children?”

First of all, I said I was deaf. I didn’t say that I have some condition that made giving birth impossible. Nor is deafness connected to the womb somehow. Just because we’re deaf doesn’t mean we defy the laws of biology.

“Really? You’re too pretty to be deaf!”

You’re too ugly to be hearing. Does that makes sense? No.

“I’m surprised because you don’t look deaf!”

What did you expect us to look like, that guy from Star Wars?

lobot

(After explaining how a cochlear implant works and having years of speech and language therapy)
“How is your speech so good?” or “Your speech is so good!”

This never made sense to me, especially after explaining it. It gives me hearing, not necessarily worse than a ‘hearing’ person, just very differently. And did I not just say I had speech and language therapy? So on that basis, I should be able to form coherent words… Right? But I *normally* don’t take offence because normally a person means well.

“But you don’t sound deaf!”

What is a deaf person supposed to sound like? “Hab SoSlI’ Quch!”? Oh wait, that’s Klingon. I might have accidentally insulted you. Oops.

“You’re deaf? I’m so sorry to hear that…”

Oh really? I’m sorry I’m standing here listening to you.

6. Don’t cover your mouth while talking. Also, don’t look away while you talk. Make sure your face isn’t dark (as in poor lighting). This seems like common sense but far too many people keep “forgetting” to do this. I have seen few guide on how not to be a dick to deaf people by other deaf people where sometimes bloggers will even go as far as to telling men to shave off if they have. Like. No. Beards are good. (I’m a self confessed beardsexual.) But really, you can’t just tell people what to do with their body. Maybe… Just try to trim around your mouth area so we can lip read you? Just a suggestion? But yeah, the main point is not to cover your mouth.

Although it is hard when I travelled to Dubai, as I found it very difficult to communicate with women with headscarves that covers their mouth. I went to one for help in Dubai Airport, and she got so offended when I asked her to write down or even point at the map where the Emirates long transfer free dinner were and I tried to explain that I was deaf and I needed to lipread in order to hear people. Accents does make it harder. And I don’t know what the deaf awareness is like in Dubai, so I just told her I’d find someone else to her dismay. Sorry? I couldn’t just tell her to remove the headscarf because it’s disrespectful. If anyone got any advice on this matter, do let me know!

7. Try not to forget that deaf people are deaf. It’s very convenient when people forget that I’m deaf. Even I’m guilty of this and I’m freaking deaf myself. Especially my mum. Yes. For example, there was one time where I was waiting ages for dinner, and eventually I came out to the living room, and I asked where my dinner was. “I called you, and you never came!” “MUM. I’m deaf!” But due to the wonder of a microwave, I still had a warm dinner, albeit just a bit later. Or the fact to this day she still calls me out whenever she needs me and it proceeds something like this;

Mum: BEATRICE! (Yes, I keep forgetting that’s my name)
Me: What?
Mum: Beatrice, come here!
Me: Where are you?
Mum: Here!
Me: Where?
Mum: Here!
Me: Where is here?
Mum: IT’S HERE!
Me: WHERE IS HERE?
Mum: I’M HERE BEATRICE!

And so on it goes…

It’s mostly due to the fact that my hearing processor is only on one side so I can’t tell which direction sounds comes from. So if you call my name in the middle of the street you’d probably see my head turning around like a panicked owl trying to see who called me!

I hope you enjoyed this. Part 2 is coming! There will be future PG version on how to work with deaf people and so on for workplaces and education. Bea x

Deaf Accessibility in Theatre

I’m doing this as a part of my apprenticeship with Solar Bear, please check them out on their website, Twitter or Facebook page! Solar Bear is a wonderful company that makes and promote accessible theatre.

So. A big topic for me. I am a person with a huge passion for theatre, however being deaf means my accessibility to theatre is limited.

Which is why I’d like to talk about my experience as a deaf person accessing theatre, and I’m hoping this blog post will raise awareness of this issue.

According to a brief access guide Ensuring your venues and events are open to all, “the Social Model of Disability was developed by disabled people to identify, and take action against, discrimination. It’s a different way of looking at disability. Rather than the disabled person being ‘the problem’ and focusing on what someone can’t do because of their impairment (known as the ‘Medical Model’) the social model says that barriers are created by our society. These barriers may be physical, organisational or attitudinal. So it’s not illness or impairment that are the real problems, it’s discrimination and the barriers in society.

This made me realise that perhaps we have been looking into accessibility in only one way and that deafness is purely a medical issue but in reality (and in my experience) it’s probably more of a social issue, and that many ‘hearing’ people may not know due to lack of awareness. Hence, this blog post!

Let me tell you before I start talking about examples of interpreters on stage, this is not me having a go at them or the theatre companies. I’m trying my best to provide a platform in which where theatre companies knows where they’re going right and wrong in terms of providing accessibility for deaf people. I believe education, awareness and constructive feedback is the best way to improve accessibility. If you weren’t aware, now you are! And also the following interpreters in the show I will cite as examples are fantastic interpreters, but it is mostly from a production point of view.

Some theatre company thinks it’s enough just to put a BSL interpreter clad in all black and put them aside. Let me tell you why that feels more like a token or indeed just ticking off the accessibility box, and for me personally you may as well honestly just not use them at all…

More often than not, my neck feels like I went to a tennis match instead of a performance, where I constantly switch from the main stage and to the interpreter. It means that I have to consciously choose to focus on the act or get interpretation. I have been to shows where only half of the interpreters were visible, so it wasn’t exactly accessible… I went to see a great production of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe in Edinburgh Lyceum Theatre last month which I enjoyed, however not only half of the interpreter was behind a stage light, they were clad in black, was so far away from all the happenings on the stage, I was seated to the edge on the right side and the interpreter was too, so I just ended up ignoring the interpreter. Luckily, I am in love with the Narnia chronicles and know all the story by heart so I didn’t need to follow the interpreter, so for me it made no difference if there were an interpreter or not and it was a visually pleasing performance with amazing set designs and costume which added to my experience, which made me didn’t mind not needing the interpreter more.

Mainly because the interpreter was set aside on the stage and clad in black, they don’t feel like a part of the show, and can be distracting to people not using the BSL interpreters. So many people complained about how they are distracting, and so many times I want to say “Get a grip and move on, or just watch one without a BSL interpreter!” But this made me realise, if interpreters were in costume relevant to the show, and were integrated somehow on the show, less people would complain and it would especially improve the experience deaf BSL user. One stone, two birds, right? I saw Great Expectations in Dundee Rep, and I loved how they integrated the interpreter onto the set and dressed them all up, so they look like they are a part of the whole performance. Because of where I was seated and the position of the interpreter, it was easy to watch the interpreter and be able to see the actions on stage. I even spoke to one ‘hearing’ audience member afterwards and said that they hardly noticed the interpreters.

Another great example was Rapunzel (or shall I say, a pantomime with a much darker twist on the Disney film?) at the Citizens Theatre last month, even though the performance on the whole was just good, the use of interpreter made this a very worthwhile show to see, as the interpreters were more involved in the performance. The interpreters wore similar clothing to the musicians on stage. Early into the performance, while one interpreter was signing the dialogues, another was walking at the back of the stage signing the songs as it played at the same time. Some of the actors actually signed very few but important dialogues and even interacted with the interpreters, which added comic effect. Lastly, there was a major part of the story which I, and perhaps other deaf people, might not have understood if it wasn’t for the interpreters and the team working together. Both of the interpreters were on stage when Rapunzel meets a fake Prince Patrizio (the real one is, surprise, her love interest) in the woods controlled by her witch-mother Gothel, interpeter #1 signed what everyone was saying including the Prince, however interpreter #2 was signing for the witch to show that really, the witch is speaking through the Prince. Thus, when the Prince stopped “talking”, the witch carried on (only interpreter #2 carried on signing) therefore Rapunzel realised it wasn’t the real Prince she was talking to. I would have been lost when Rapunzel realises this and perhaps the ending wouldn’t have made sense to me if it wasn’t for those interpreters working together and with the Rapunzel team. So when it came to the usual sing along songs common in pantomimes, the majority of deaf people actually got involved in signing the songs, and this created such a fantastic atmosphere to be in.

One big no-no is not having the right light on the interpreters. I saw a fantastic and compelling performance of The Driver’s Seat by National Theatre of Scotland in Edinburgh Lyceum Theatre, however the interpreter was only lit on one side, making half of her bright and the other half dark, and that contrast was so bad it literally gave me a headache just trying to concentrate on the interpreter. Eyes, unlike ears, are an active muscle and thus it can become very tiring. Bonus points for not dressing the interpreter all in black and coming onto stage the same time as the actors.

My advice in improving accessibility for deaf people? Speak to deaf people. They’re the ones in the know. While interpreter’s advices are invaluable it still doesn’t compare with deaf people’s experience. Include them in the process and there are several ways to achieve that, for example getting a deaf advisor, having a focus group or even asking questions on social media. Maybe this will enable more creativity on performances as well, as a bonus.

There is also a bigger need for interpreters to have specific training in signing for theatre. Maybe accessibility should be thought out earlier in the creative process, but that’s another blog!

I will post a blog post in the near future where I will provide resources on how to improve accessibility, how to book interpreters, how to get deaf awareness training and so on.

If you would like to e-mail me about deaf accessibility in theatre or any other relevant topics, my e-mail address is bea@solarbear.org.uk

Thank you! Bea x

Wendy Hoose Review

During Edinburgh Fringe Festival, August 2015.

The exciting and outrageously hilarious sex comedy play was created by Johnny McKnight and directed by both McKnight and Robert Softley Gale for Bird of Paradise Theatre Company and Random Accomplice. The play features cocky Jake (James Young), who thinks he’s in for a one night stand with the attractive Laura (Amy Conachan) after sexting on a dating website. But things take an awkward turn when Jake finds out that Laura meant literally when she said she was really short – she has no legs. However, despite being labelled as a sex comedy, the play asks serious questions, such as the issue of sex and disabled people and it was refreshing to see this; why shouldn’t disabled people like sex? Laura was not willing to be confined to the stereotypes surrounding disabled people and sex, she was a human being with needs and desires, and this was very relatable.

What was unexpected was that much of the comedy in the play actually stems from the audio descriptor who takes on the character of a middle-aged, privately educated and prudish woman who ends up stepping over the boundaries of her job i.e. looking down and commenting throughout the play, for example, on the actions of both Laura and Jake.

The way the surtitles were done worked ridiculously well, as it was animated and full of emoticons, which added another layer to the play, as well as matching the tone of the scene. An improvement that could be made was the placement of the surtitles, as it was high up on the ceiling beam, which meant switching between the surtitles and the play itself was physically quite hard work, almost like watching a tennis match. The surtitles would have been better integrated into the set itself.

In addition, the BSL interpreter on the screen, although of very high quality in term of interpretation, didn’t work as it was pre-recorded and so didn’t match the timing for the majority of the live dialogue during the play. However, it was fun to see the interpreter taking a break to eat a Crème Egg at the same time the actors did, and it would be great to see more interactions like this in BSL accessible plays.

At its heart, Wendy Hoose is a beautifully written play about dating in the modern world where one of the characters just happens to be disabled. The quality of the acting, the surtitles and audio descriptor all contributed to make this a hilarious production and it would not have been nearly as successful without these accessible elements.

Introduction

Hello!

My name is Bea. I am profoundly deaf, with a cochlear implant. I identity myself as queer. 

I thought I would do a wee introduction post first. This blog will be mostly tied in with my apprentice at Solar Bear, which is a theatre company based in Glasgow. One of my aims within my apprentice (and in my life) is to improve accessibility in the creative arts industry, especially theatre. 

I will be posting reviews of theatre show (and from time to time, film screenings) especially from a deaf person’s viewpoint. I will also be posting about development in Solar Bear and opinions on development in the creative arts industries, accessibility for deaf people in the creative arts sector, deaf awareness issues, LGBTQIA+ visibility in theatre and films, and so on.

I thought it was useful to especially write about accessibility and to be able to provide feedback on how various companies etc provide accessibility so it gets better. 

There will be a mixture of written post and links to YouTube BSL video, or both.

I hope you all will enjoy my blog.

Bea x