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Deaf History Month- How Can Cumbria Do Better?

It’s National Deaf History Month, and here at Hollr we want to celebrate the achievements of deaf individuals, support the deaf community and raise awareness of all hearing impairments.

Deaf history month begins on March 13th and runs through until April 15th, the latter of the dates marking the first school for deaf students opening its doors on the same day in 1817.

Today, there are around 11 million people in the UK who live with some sort of hearing loss, ranging from partial to total inability to hear in one or both ears.

Cumbria is home to a number of charities and support groups for the hearing impaired, but when we reached out to our readers we discovered the disappointing statistic that only 9% of people who took part in the poll were aware of any positive spaces for deaf people in our local area.

Despite this, there are actually a number of clubs teaching BSL (British Sign Language)- the first preferred language of the deaf community in the UK- all over our county.

I sat down with Kat Langstaff, an active participant in the BSL Club run at Keswick School.

Here’s what they had to say: “I joined the club when it first started back in October 2021. It was started by two Year 11 girls who wanted to spread awareness about a common disability and help us in learning a brilliant life skill."

"We’re following the Level 1 BSL guide, an accredited course which the school has kindly funded for us to complete under the club. The majority of the coursework is done at home and we use the weekly sessions to go over anything that people may be finding difficult or to work on forming sentences, as a lot of the coursework is learning vocab."

"The club itself is very friendly and chilled out, and everyone seems keen to learn, so I think we’ve created a very positive community.”

“Over the time I’ve been learning BSL, I’ve gained a greater understanding of how deaf people communicate, not just through their hands but by lip-reading, expression, and body language too. One thing that brings it quite close to home is my experience with a guy through another club I attend who is partially deaf."

"Seeing these types of interactions definitely gave me more of a drive to learn sign language, after all I could meet someone who needs it at any point."

"Other than that, I just find it a fun and relaxing language to learn!”

I went on to ask Kat whether they thought there should be more clubs/groups available involving the teaching of BSL, and if they believed it should be necessary teaching in schools:

“I absolutely think there should be more resources for people wanting to learn BSL, especially in schools. I actually tried to learn it over lockdown, but the severe lack of online resources was very off-putting. I feel like more clubs/groups in school or even in the wider community would inspire more people to learn the language."

"Take our club for example, we have over a class worth of people already and new faces are appearing all the time which makes me think that, given the opportunity, more people will step forward to learn BSL."

"I definitely think a basic understanding of BSL should be taught in schools. It’s no different to learning any other language, so there’s no reason it can’t be taught. For example: most people I know are capable of saying ‘thank you’ in, say, Spanish or French, but barely anyone can say the same in BSL, despite it being widely spoken in the UK."

"We may never actually travel to Spain or France, but you never know when you might need to communicate with someone in this country who is deaf or hard of hearing.

"I think that treating BSL the same as any other language and having the same basic understanding of it would greatly benefit the population, not just so more people can understand BSL, but so there is a wider acceptance and understanding of deafness within communities.”

What are your opinions on the teaching of BSL becoming more widespread in Cumbria, and what do you think needs to be put in place locally to accommodate the hearing impaired? Let us know in the comments below!


Psst, we're out here fighting for change.

Have you ever wanted more from Cumbria? Let us know your thoughts so we can do more to make Cumbria a better place.

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