I generally put my money where my mouth is, so went along to the first day of this year's BDA Congress in Southport yesterday to show my support etc. Unfortunately I can't go today, but hope this post gives readers some idea of what it was like. The theme focussed on education and our rights through language and cultural equality.
As someone who's been to about 10 BDA Conferences / Congresses throughout my life, I was saddened to see only about 70 people were there. However, this actually made the whole thing feel more intimate - when Dr Paddy Ladd got up on stage for his paper, he said it was a shame there were so few of us, but that meant each of us was "doubly important" - cool way of looking at it!
Indeed, I didn't realise at first, but there was a definite air of informality about the whole thing; there were NO suits, NO grand speeches with flashy PowerPoints and NO BDA staff rushing around with clipboards. In fact, I don't think I saw any BDA staff at all, except one. It seemed to be being run by volunteers, which kind of brought the BDA back to its roots, perhaps. The atmosphere was humble and almost apologetic; new BDA Chair, Francis Murphy was open and honest throughout, and kept apologising for the lack of publicity and countless other things.
I have to say I enjoyed the day I spent at the Congress - the BDA deserves to be praised for managing to pull it off despite the hard time they are going through right now.
David Muir - Doncaster School for the Deaf and a father
The first paper, Bilingual Education: Why it's the best option and how it can be improved, was by David Muir, who is a father of two Deaf girls and works at Doncaster School for the Deaf. David made it clear he was speaking in a personal capacity and his paper was generally good and informative and very PRO 'proper' bilingualism (not just pretend bilingualism where teachers can't sign fluently etc), but went on rather too long, I am afraid.
The main points David made were that the three main problems with Deaf education are that it leads to the high possibility of mental health problems, low achievement and low self esteem and self confidence. Notably, he said, Deaf people should control Deaf education. Finally! A hearing educator finally said that in public!
Dr Paddy Ladd
Next up was Dr Paddy Ladd, with a paper on Deaf Culture, Deafhood and Deaf Education. Watching Paddy made me feel more politically motivated than I have in a long time! It's just a shame there weren't more people there to watch him, because God knows, the UK Deaf community could do with a dose of political motivation at the moment. That and a kick up the arse!
Paddy talked about the disastrous effects of colonalism, and how Deaf people's identities would be stronger if young Deaf people's education introduced them to Deaf culture, thus developing their Deafhood at an earlier age than now. He discussed how Deaf educators are more likely to use Cultural Holism when teaching Deaf kids, treating them as whole people, and acknowledging how the Deaf and hearing worlds are different, explaining what it means, how to live and how they have a place in the world.
Paddy said we need to be stronger and work with our hearing allies without being mistrustful of them taking over. He also said we need more hearing allies - largely hearing parents (90% of us have them, anyway!) - the media is far more likely to listen to radical hearing parents than Deafies having a demo! We need more action, a BDA education campaign group, youth camps and youth leadership programmes, volunteers and so on. We need many things!
I hope the BDA listens to Paddy because he signed a lot of sense.
Professor Bencie Woll
After lunch, I missed the first part of Bencie Woll's paper on bilingualism - I also missed the title because it wasn't in the programme, but it seemed to be a linguistic perspective. Not really my cup of tea, I'm afraid, as I'm not really a linguistic person and Bencie was a bit academic, talking about the brain and stuff!
However, I was really pleased to see Bencie signing for herself, which is sadly a rare thing for hearing people do to... that was cool. In summary, she talked about how people in the Deaf community are bilingual even though they think they aren't, and gave some facts about language acquisition and the education of Deaf children, including how BSL actually helps English literacy, not the opposite, as the oralists claim. In conclusion, Bencie said that Deaf people should have the opportunity to be bilingual. Too right!
Last off, I went to Paddy's workshop on Deafhood (the other one was on linguistics) which was quite interesting, with people talking about how the DDA is actually rather crap - some people said they liked it but I am not one of them! - and discussing how the BDA could offer more support for parents of Deaf children.
BDA involvement with UKCoD
The only thing that pissed me off all day was when Francis mentioned that the BDA is thinking about re-joining the chocolate teapot of British deaf organisations, UKCoD. Yes, I know many people would agree with this, but again I am not one of them, and I stood up to tell Francis that. Apparently UKCoD is desperate to have more "Deaf" input - how very funny since they stole our BSL recognition campaign(!) - and have begged (??) the BDA to reconsider. However Francis said they will make sure they have more teeth this time round and I sincerely hope so because UKCoD has a big jawline. AGH.
Whatever. The BDA needs support at the moment and I hope that there are more than 70 people there today. Wish I could be one of them but I cannot. And I really wish more people would do more supportive things for the BDA rather than sit on their arses and slag them off! They need us now, probably more than ever before. As the late great Dorothy Miles said, and was quoted many times yesterday;
The BDA is you and me, and together we will fight for equality!
Coming very soon:
* An exclusive BSL statement from Francis Murphy, BDA Chair (shame on See Hear for not going up to film!!)
* An interview with the magnificient Dr Paddy Ladd, also brought to you on video.