A few weeks ago I attended the British Sign Language Festival in Guildford. This was an inclusive event organised by the deaf community.

Following on from the success of last year’s BSL Fest in Woking, Claire Cummings  and Kathleen Grehan and their team wanted to promote inclusion for the deaf community and show that they are people too, and have a lot to give to society.

In the run-up to the event I interviewed Claire and Kathleen via a BSL interpreter on Zoom. This was a new experience for me, with the interpreter signing to Claire and Kathleen and voicing their responses. 

I also did similar interviews on the day, making use of the interpreters, who were positioned around the cobbles of Guildford to aid communication.

BSL Fest itself was a real showcase of the deaf community, bringing them out of the shadows and into the spotlight. We had on the main stage Fletch, who is deaf and signs along to popular songs from artists like Ed Sheeran and Anne Marie. 

Fletch told me after that she is working with some of these artists at their concerts, which is a dream for her.  

We also had a deaf chef doing cooking demos, then in the evening there was a deaf drag artist show and a deaf disco with the vibrations turned up for people to feel. 

The day I spent in Guildford was inspiring and eye opening, hearing about the barriers the deaf community face from accessing buildings or getting help at car-parking barriers where there are intercoms, to having interpreters available at short notice for any unexpected medical appointments. 

There are so many barriers.

Claire told me she can attend only a small proportion of theatre shows as they are not signed or captioned, and when they are they are often at inconvenient times for her. 

What was really special is the mayor of Guildford, Cllr Masuk Miah, MP Angela Richardson and Cllr Carla Morson from Guildford Borough Council all took time to learn some BSL to incorporate in their opening speeches. That was a very special moment indeed.

I heard how at the end of the 19th century BSL was banned as they wanted people to communicate verbally. That ban all those years ago has had a massive impact for generations to the deaf community.  

Things have moved on and attitudes have changed and a real turning point was BSL becoming an official legal language last year, and hopefully we will see things becoming more accessible as a result.

To find out more about BSL Fest and plans for the next event in Manchester, search Facebook for BSL Celebration.

* You can listen to The Sunny Sessions on Surrey Hills Community Radio on Mondays and Thursdays at 11am and our monthly live show every first Monday (the next is today, November 6) at 9pm. The Sunny Sessions is also on Radio Woking on Wednesdays from 9am.

My Radio Woking shows are on Wednesdays from 7am to 9am and Sundays from 9am to midday.

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