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Colin writes on the BBC documentary 'Deaf Teens in a Hearing World' / 15 February 2012

portrait photo of a young woman, pictured in profile, with a smile on her face

Photo of Christianah, courtesy of Century Films

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I usually watch television documentaries on disability, expecting to be slumped in my chair groaning after two minutes, before making my excuses to the disability movement and switching off with a refusal to write yet another blog about the ignorance that abounds in the world of the media.

DAO recently had a surge of activity in response to our New Voices writer Charlie Swinbourne’s review of the BBC 3 documentary ‘Deaf Teens in a Hearing World’, screened earlier this month. It made a very refreshing change to see a television feature that made a real attempt to represent young deaf people in a way that gave some insight into their lives from their individual perspectives on deaf culture and hearing impairment, without pandering to the usual tragic but brave stereotypes.

It was clear from the numerous comments that appeared on DAOs forum as well as on other comment boards dedicated to discussing the programme that there was a consensus of approval for the clear aim of the documentary to educate the hearing world about a range of perspectives, whilst highlighting some of the outrageous discriminatory practices that young deaf people encounter.

The programme showed a ridiculous moment when deaf university student Sara is taken aback by her notetaker who signs that she has to leave the class early because of her “ill chicken.” In response there has been a hilarious flurry of activity on the internet about 'Chickengate’. If you’re intrigued sign up to the the #deafteens hashtag on twitter. Charlie Swinbourne has documented the rise and fall of the phenomenon on his blog, giving some valid reasons in the notetaker’s defence. [ie "she’s obviously an animal lover, after all".]

The real scandal that the documentary highlighted is shocking practice of deaf schools like Mary Hare who still continue to ban the use of BSL. One of the deaf teens – Christianah was shown continuing to flout the school rule insisting on the wearing of hearing aids. She was portrayed in a way that you could really identify with her discomfort, whether you were deaf or hearing. It is like the practice in blind schools (which has largely, thankfully disappeared) of not allowing visually impaired students to use canes or vision aids.

These kinds of practices are the embodiment of an insidious undercurrent that having an impairment, and not being ‘perfect’ is in some way shameful, rather than a fact of life, “to be expected and respected on its own terms rather than pitied, excluded or reacted to with hostility,” as Dr Colin Cameron says.

So hats off to new director Claire Braden. Charlie also posted an interview with her on his blog which you might like to read.

Meanwhile if you haven’t managed to watch the documentary yet, its viewing on BBC 3 i-player has been extended until 20 February.

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