DUNTON, U.K. - Back in 2007, I decided to run a lunchtime course teaching basic British Sign Language (BSL) in Warley. As you may know, BSL is the first language of many deaf and hearing impaired people in the U.K., so he thought that this would be a great opportunity for people to learn the basics and extend their range of communication.
I started to learn BSL when I discovered that I had Meniere's disease. This causes loss of balance and tinnitus in most sufferers, but can occasionally lead to hearing loss and deafness, as is the case for me. It was after I passed level 1 in BSL that I decided it would be a good idea to pass the knowledge on.
I expected to have 10 or 12 staff take up the offer. I was therefore stunned to get 36 replies in the first 20 minutes! There was a grand total of 96 people who wanted to learn basic Sign Language and classes started straight away. The response was so great that I had to run two classes a week, which were repeated in spring and another class in the summer.
The classes ran for eight weeks and taught basic Deaf Awareness, spelling, numbers, basic signs and what you need to know to start communicating with a signer.
It is good to know that so many people want to learn this new skill, whether they just want to add another string to their bow, or learn to communicate with a relative or friend with hearing problems – or just want to be able to reach out to a wider community.
One person in the first set of classes made use of her knowledge straight away. Her daughter’s 3-year-old friend is deaf and she has been able to communicate with her in what is likely to become her ‘first language.’ A positive result!
I even received a CLAD award in Cologne for ‘Building a Respectful & Inclusive Environment.’
Having Gone Further, I decided to go ‘even further’ by spending two days at the Police HQ in Chelmsford, Essex, teaching police officers and staff the basics of British Sign Language to help them communicate better with the local deaf community.
The sign language classes were organised after I invited the Equality & Diversity team from Essex Police to Warley Central Office's annual Diversity Village, and found that the police were planning to distribute 'Sign Language Cards' to assist officers when communicating with the hearing impaired. As I had already held several classes for beginners Sign Language, I offered to spend my community service days teaching the police. I held six classes, each of two hours, over two days. All the classes were not only fully booked, but were oversubscribed!
British Sign Language is the first language for most deaf and severely hearing impaired people in the U.K. I began learning it five years ago when he started to lose his hearing and it’s great pleasure to be able to teach others. Being able to reach into the community in this way really shows Ford's commitment to Diversity and it is good to see that the police are keen to improve their ability to communicate with all parts of society.
I look forward to the possibility of running further beginners Sign language courses where I now work in Dunton.