Making deaf children matter

Musings and blogs from a deaf campaigner

Bong! Exciting news from the BBC…

Posted by Ian Noon on May 8, 2008

When I was a young deaf child growing up (I won’t tell you what decade – I feel old enough as it is), very few programmes were subtitled and my family didn’t get a subtitled TV until I was in my teens. I would still try and watch TV but most of the time, I wouldn’t have a clue what was going on. Why was everyone so miserable in Eastenders, for example?

Why is she so miserable?

A complete mystery. Anyway, it meant that I would have to pester my family to ask them what was going on, that I didn’t know really what was happening in the news and that I couldn’t talk to my hearing friends in the playground about what was on the telly last night. In short, I felt a bit excluded from what was going on.

Fast forward to yesterday afternoon and I was listening to Mark Thompson, the Director General for the BBC, confirm at a House of Commons reception that there would be 100% subtitling on all of its 7 main channels! Amazing. And something that will make a huge difference to lots of deaf children growing up today.

The reception was organised by NDCS and the Royal National Institute for the Deaf to congratulate the BBC. And to call for more action! We’re an ungrateful bunch, aren’t we?

So what do we want? First of all, subtitles are really important and we want other broadcasters to up their game and move towards 100% subtitling. But at the same time, deaf children are a diverse bunch of people and subtitles alone won’t ensure that TV is genuinely accessible for deaf children. So we’re calling for:

* More signing on programmes for deaf children. Some programmes, like the Hollyoaks omnibus are signed which is fine. But deaf children want to see sign langauge coming from the presenters or characters in the programme – not from an interpreter in the tiny corner on the screen…

* More deaf role models on TV. Lots of deaf children never meet other deaf people. Who are they going to look up to? We have Ben on Eastenders but someone suggested to me the other day that he was a bit of a “geek”! Where are the whole range of positive deaf role models living normal lives and being a success on our screens?

* A greater awareness by TV producers of the needs of deaf children. For example, producers need to think about making their shows more visually orientated for young deaf children. NDCS has done a booklet with CBBC that will help their producers meet this challenge.

At the event, we brought along some deaf children from Mary Hare and Heathlands schools because we wanted MPs and the BBC to hear directly from deaf children themselves what needs to change. The children were absolutely fantastic. They were fearless, relentless and determined in going up to MPs to tell them exactly what they thought. They were definitely the stars of the day. In fact, they were so good, I began to get paranoid they were after my job of campaigns officer…

So, all in all, a great day out and a big step forward. Now all deaf children can see that everyone in Eastenders is miserable for no good reason!

PS If you want to support our campaign for accessible TV for deaf children, you can write to your MP. Our website makes it quick and easy for you to do this and you don’t even need to know who your MP is.

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