Archives for March 2010

Wednesday 31st March BBC2 1pm

SH Line Producer | 17:44 UK time, Wednesday, 31 March 2010

This coming weekend over a million Christians across Britain will attend a church service to celebrate Easter.   However, the level of accessibility for deaf Christian churchgoers varies widely across the UK.  At Canterbury Cathedral those issues are being addressed on several levels.  The Cathedral has been providing integrated services and tours since 2007.  See Hear found out what's on offer at the Cathedral to welcome deaf and hard of hearing worshippers.  Our cameras were also given special permission to attend a signed Evensong.   Find out more about the cathedral:


A signed Easter Evensong will happen Saturday, 3rd April at 3.15pm.


BSL tours run three times a year, Easter Saturday, August (usually Bank Holiday) and 29th December.  If you want to go as part of a deaf group, tours can be organised on request via the Cathedral.  For details follow this link:



With Easter just around the corner Radha visited a chocolate factory to unwrap the history behind the giving of chocolate eggs while Memnos visited LongwillSchool in Birmingham to find out how the deaf children there celebrate Easter.


The first chocolate Easter eggs would've tasted pretty awful by today's standards and also been very expensive.  They weren't something you gave to the whole family.  It wasn't until the price of chocolate started falling that a mass market emerged.  From the 1950s there was an explosion in the market as packaging improved so fragile Easter eggs could be transported more easily.


Plus, there's the concluding part of our story tracing the development of British Sign Language.


By the 1960s ideas were changing, women and black people were demanding their rights and people started to challenge the authorities.  Deaf people started to fight for their language and politics returned to the deaf world.   For example, in 1971 the BDDA dropped 'Dumb' from its title to make it the British Deaf Association. 


It was 1974 that marked the 2nd biggest change in the history of sign language at Moray House in Scotland.  A research project by Dr Mary Brennan, linguist and principal investigator; zoologist Lilian Lawson, herself profoundly deaf from birth; and Martin Colville, born hearing to deaf parents, identified grammatical rules in BSL, which proved that it was a real language in its own right.


At that time there was no information about sign language.  Bill Stokoe and others had done some research in America as had some people in Sweden and Denmark, but sign language was still seen as gesture and not as a real language.  Mary Brennan believed that sign language must be a real language as deaf people could converse in it.  


Lilian Lawson contacted deaf clubs for the names of deaf people who'd grown up in deaf families as BSL would be their first language.  Then meeting them in groups at various deaf clubs in Scotland she gave them a subject to 'talk' about and filmed it for her research.  During the research she came across a number of signs that had no translatable equivalent in English.  There was a lot of debate between Lilian, Mary and Martin about how to translate these signs.  It was renamed British Sign Language to differentiate it from sign language in other countries around the world.  


This news had a real impact on the deaf community as deaf people started to train as Sign Language tutors.  In the 1980s the BDA in conjunction with DurhamUniversity set up the BSLTA course to train Deaf people to become sign-language tutors, which brought a new pride in the language.  The status of sign language started to grow and by 1978 ExeterSchool adopted Total Communication.  The BDA also campaigned for Total Communication - ironically the same method as used at Braidwood centuries before.  Sign language returned to the classroom along with the deaf teachers who had a new found confidence.


The last phase of sign language's history has been the battle for its legal recognition.  Deaf people took the campaign to the streets in 1999 with the first BSL march.  In 2003 the British government accepted that BSL is a language in its own right and should be recognised as such.    Sign language has evolved over the past 500 years, despite being oppressed and driven underground.  It has been kept alive through the deaf community. 




Wednesday 24th March BBC2 11am

SH Line Producer | 19:11 UK time, Wednesday, 24 March 2010

On today's show Radha took a day-trip to Cardiff to check out some new technology aimed at improving access for Deaf visitors to Cardiff Castle.  With history at their fingertips, BSL users can do a personal tour around the Castle at their own pace holding their own BSL console.  


Cardiff Castle is one of Wales' leading historical attractions.  During 2000 years of history, the Castle has been a Roman Garrison, a Norman stronghold and in Victorian times was transformed into a gothic fairytale fantasy.  Excavations inside the boundary walls suggest that the Roman legions arrived in the area as early as the first half of the reign of the Emperor Nero (A.D. 54-68).  The Normans concentrated their efforts into defensive works building a 'motte', or mound, 40 feet high, and surrounding it with a moat.  A timber stockade built on top gave shelter and protection to the wooden buildings which housed the lord, his household and his garrison.  In 1865 Lord Bute invited architect William Burges to present a report on the state of the Castle; it was the beginning of a great partnership that was to last for sixteen years, and the Castle was transformed into a Neo Gothic dream palace.   For more information follow the link below:


We took to the skies with one of the UK's few deaf pilots to find out about the obstacles he overcame in order to pursue his childhood dream.  John Donovan has been flying since he was a teenager.  There are challenges for all pilots but particularly for deaf pilots.  Communication in the cockpit, with control towers or other pilots via radio is very difficult if you can't hear what's being said.  This means flying in controlled airspace, e.g. large busy airports, can't be done as it relies heavily on radio communications.  Fortunately though small airfields don't always require pilots to use radios so deaf pilots like John can fly with no problems.   John can also make what's known as a blind call.  A blind transmission is where other people can hear but the pilot can't hear them.  Though if there was an emergency, because he couldn't radio for help, John would have to rely on his skill and experience to land safely.


We also continued our journey tracing the development of British Sign Language, picking up the story just as sign language has been banned from the classroom. 


Following the Conference of Milan (1880), a Royal Commission was set up by the British government to investigate which teaching method was the best, sign language or oralism.  The Commission travelled around Europe and Britain and met with deaf and hearing teachers.  After much research the commission decided in favour of the oral method - it should be made available to every child in Britain and sign language banished from the classroom.  As a direct result of the Royal Commission's decision, and in an attempt to defend the language and use of signing in education, The British Deaf and Dumb Assoc (BDDA) was set up in 1890.  School culture also changed at this time.  Deaf pupils were separated into those who might benefit from oralism and those who would not.  Teaching methods involved the teacher every day painstakingly demonstrating the sounds through vibrations and the child arduously copying them again and again.  For many the classroom became a daily struggle to understand and there's evidence to suggest that deaf literacy declined as a result.


Although sign language was frowned upon in schools, outside of education sign language thrived via deaf clubs and the missions set up in the 19th Century.  Thanks to them sign language continued to flourish.   The BDDA developed strong links through sports, and with new and easy transport links, a deaf network began to form as deaf people sought to spend time together.  It's though these deaf clubs that deaf culture went from strength to strength.


Next week Clark Denmark concludes his journey bringing the story of BSL right up to date with the campaign for BSL recognition.



Wednesday 17th March BBC2 1pm

SH Line Producer | 15:31 UK time, Wednesday, 17 March 2010

On today's programme we visit the RoyalAcademy for Deaf Education in Exeter. The school has long been synonymous with deaf cultural heritage and now, with plans in the pipeline for cutting-edge new premises, it's all set for to become a model for deaf schools of the future too. See Hear takes a look at the academy - past, present and future.


And, as the way deaf children are taught in schools has changed over the years so has the way British Sign Language has evolved. In the second of a four-part series we pick up the BSL story from the early 18th century onwards.


Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe, wrote a story with a deaf character: The History and the Life and Adventures of Mr Duncan Campbell and illustrated it with a 2 handed alphabet.  It was so modern that a person today could easily converse with a deaf person from the 1720s without any problem.


The mid 18th Century brought the Industrial Revolution and great change.  People flocked to towns from outlying rural areas to find work in the new large factories. This rapid expansion also brought deaf people from the rural areas, often for the first time, who started the first deaf communities. The dense urban population meant overcrowded conditions and disease epidemics, such as measles and mumps which can cause deafness, were rife.  This meant deaf communities in towns grew rapidly.  


As deaf communities grew there was a need for education. Thomas Braidwood founded the first school for the deaf in 1760 in Edinburgh.  The school's success became a model for many later schools across the UK.  These newer schools were established under Braidwood's influence as he trained his sons and nephews to spread his methods, and were kept a closely guarded family secret.  Braidwood used different communication methods to suit each individual child depending on their ability, either finger spelling, signing, lip reading or speech.


The use of sign language in schools spread, but during the Victorian era people started to criticise the flagging standards in deaf schools.  Teaching methods had remained the same for 100 years and now new teaching methods were wanted, amongst them oralism.  Oralism had been used since the 16th Century but the real push towards oralism began in 1858 in Manchester, when a Dutchman came over and gave a demonstration of lessons conducted entirely orally which impressed many and so the method spread.  Germany had developed an oral system, France a sign system and Britain was somewhere in the middle.  Pressure was growing until finally in 1880 sign language was put on trial in Milan at a Conference for teachers of the deaf and from then on everything changed.


The Milan Conference of 1880 was meant to be a discussion on many topics and all methods used to teach deaf children.  But oralists dominated - demonstrating the success of oralism with a group of deaf speaking children giving recitals and answering questions.  In those days travelling long distances was not easy so only a few people attended, with a few representatives from Germany, France, the UK and Italy.  Discussions at the conference concluded that oralism was the best teaching method because of the evidence provided e.g. Italian schools with deaf Italian children pronouncing Italian well.   For British and American children, English is harder to speak as so many words are difficult to pronounce, but the conference was impressed as the Italian children were fluent.  When it was voted upon at the end of the conference the hammer fell heavily - 10-1 in favour of oralism.  Oralism was in and sign was out. 


After the conference the media had a field day reporting that "deafness was abolished".  This was the Victorian era, a time of new ideas and advancements, a time of strict decorum and it was felt that sign language just didn't fit in.  Signing was banned from the classroom.


Next time we continue our journey following the History of Sign Language and its struggle for survival as it went underground



Also, this coming weekend (17th - 19th March 2010), is Sport Relief Weekend when people all over the UK will be taking part in a wide variety of sporting events to raise cash to help transform the lives of people both here and across the world. We visit the Deaf Connections project in Glasgow to see how it has benefitted from Sport Relief funding in the past.

Wednesday 10th March BBC2 1pm

SH Line Producer | 15:13 UK time, Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Ten years ago Graham Moxon lost the hearing in his right ear as a result of a virus.  At the time it didn't impact on his life too radically.  But last summer overnight, Graham totally lost his hearing.  He shared his story with See Hear and told us how he'd adapted his life to accommodate his sudden deafness.  Our cameras were there at the pivotal moment when Graham discovered whether or not he was suitable for a cochlear implant, an operation on which he was pinning his hopes.  Graham started writing a blog to document his own story:


We find out how young jockey, Philip Prince, overcame the hurdles in his way to win his battle with the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) and become officially recognised as an amateur competitor.  Philip was born with a condition that caused him to have only one ear.  Sound could get in and though he had a hearing aid in his younger years he coped better without.  He then got into pony riding and racing.  Racing was something that he could do the same as anybody else.  After a promising career in pony racing Philip suffered a massive blow.  The BHA denied him a jockey's licence as they felt his poor hearing could make him unsafe in a race.  He appealed and after a long fight he made his debut as an amateur jockey in December 2009.


Also, there's another chance to explore the fascinating story of British Sign Language in the first of a four-part series with Clark Denmark.


Research into the history of British Sign Language is difficult as it has no written form.  Evidence of its early use was reported by hearing observers who came across signing and recorded their impressions.  The first factual evidence emerges in the 8th Century when scholarly monk the Venerable Bede left records.  It's thought that monks may have developed signing to communicate with each other having taken a vow of silence.  The signs were nothing like those used today. 


Fast forward to 1576 and the first ever written record showing evidence of sign language connected to deaf people is in the Leicester Parish Archives.  Deaf man Thomas Tilsye, used signs at his wedding to Ursula Russell.  Back then signing was accepted in law and by the church just like the spoken and written word.  The records show that Tilsye used gestures such as the tolling of the bell for 'til death us do part' in the wedding vows.


1595 is the next written evidence of signing.  Richard Carew details in a history of Cornwall how a deaf man Edward Bone, servant to an MP, signed to his boss and to his deaf friend John Kempe.  Carew writes that Bone communicated in different styles with each man.  This was the first description of natural deaf language. 


From roughly the 1640s most of the evidence of sign seems to be in the form of finger spelling.  A possible reason for this is that finger spelling is related to English which meant it was easier for hearing people to access and to record.  One of the most intriguing records is in a book from 1641 - "Mercury the Secret and Swift Messenger" - which has some of the earliest records of finger spelling.  But these records are not about deaf people but its use by spies during the English Civil War.  The military realised that finger spelling could be used by spies to communicate secret messages to each other.   One particularly ancient method described in the book is Arthrologie - the first form of finger spelling.   This guide for spies clearly showed the roots of the modern BSL alphabet using the same vowels as today.


Next week we continue our journey with the establishment of the first deaf schools and we see when Sign Language went on trial for its very existence.



Wednesday 3rd March 1pm BBC2

SH Line Producer | 12:07 UK time, Wednesday, 3 March 2010

On today's programme Memnos Costi is in Leeds to find out about a project that gives deaf and hard-of-hearing adults unique access behind-the-scenes of the Thackray museum of modern medicine.  The project offered the group the chance to produce short films about the exhibits. Some films were directly inspired by the collection; others were inspired by people's personal relationship with medicine and health.  You can see the results at the ThackrayMuseum on March 14th, but places are limited, so please contact the museum to book a place:


See Hear marks an historic sporting moment as the Rugby Football Union (RFU) welcomes the England Deaf team into the rugby fraternity.  Until recently they were only associate members but now they're fully integrated.  English deaf rugby started in 2003.  To qualify for the team the rules state that in addition to being able to play, you must have a minimum hearing loss of 50% across both ears.  With recognition from the RFU comes practical support such as kit and assistance for travel and accommodation costs when touring.  England deaf rugby also shares their knowledge and experience of deaf rugby with schools and teams throughout the country to ensure that coaches and teachers understand the needs of a deaf player.  For further information on England deaf rugby follow the link:


The England deaf rugby team took on Wales', for highlights of the game, follow this link: 


And we go to Devon to visit a deaf woman who has devoted her life to rescuing wildlife. Having moved to Devon for a fresh start Beth Tyler King decided to look after animals full time and set up Hartland Wildlife Rescue.  It's a considerable challenge, she's known to the local vets and two supermarkets help by collecting pet food donations.  Unlike her other charges when a maltreated deaf fox cub was brought to her she adopted some novel ways of communicating with her... 


If you'd like advice about caring for animals or to send donations then please email  Or if you find an injured animal call on 01237 441899/ or Mobile: 07815207281 - but only if you're in the North Devon area.



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