Deaf geographies, and other worlds.

The voices of experts…

MdM has just posted this link to the European Commission on Multilingualism ‘Europe: a continent of many sign languages’ page. Listed are those countries who have SL embedded in their constitution. So…

  • Austria (recognition achieved in 2005)
  • Czech Republic (recognition achieved in 1988)
  • Finland (recognition achieved in 1995)
  • Portugal (recognition achieved in 1997)
  • Slovakia (recognition achieved in 1995)

Also listed are those who have made some kind of formal recognition of SL: Wallonia, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Latvia, Norway, Slovenia, Sweden and the United Kingdom

The UK can’t recognise SL constitutionally because it doesn’t have a constitution… but it also didn’t recognise SL because despite the fact that it declares SL (or in this case BSL) to be a full, natural language… it still regards it as one only used by people who can’t access spoken English. This is pretty evident given the way that it’s legislated through the DDA and considered to be ‘resolved’ by the provision of interpreters.

How did they reach that conclusion? Well, they were advised…by ‘experts’.

In a related situation, I remember sitting in a meeting (not associated with SL but with the Embryology Bill) between the Deaf community and a government representative, seething with frustration. Not only did he simply parrot the assumed knowledge of a series of experts who appeared to know nothing about Deaf culture, Deafhood, Deaf community and/or anything (bizarrely) to do with current thinking in Medical Ethics, Human diversity theory but, when challenged to explain why he relied on those experts and their irrelevant ‘knowledge’ he sidestepped the question.

What was really clear, was that either he simply didn’t accept the 100-strong Deaf audience present as authoritative in questions related to the Deaf community (!), or – perhaps because he wasn’t actually an expert and so he could only represent the views of those who had informed him – he wouldn’t commit to say anything that hadn’t been explicitly scripted for him.

The problem is that those who informed him did not include either members of the Deaf community, or members of the academic community able to update him on questions of medical ethics.

There’s a sick, sick, sick refusal by those in place to actually achieve changes to the situation of the Deaf community, to firstly acknowledge that the Deaf community has any kind of valid authority to speak… and then, secondly, to actually attempt to find out what they’re saying.

Perhaps Deaf Studies should ape the Black Studies and the Native American Studies fraternities who teach units in ‘white politics and policy’… achieving things in a world of imperfect politics appears to be less a question of academic validity, and more a question of working out how to establish oneself as an expert voice… able to actually inform those in authority.


This entry was posted on May 28, 2010 by in Musings.
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