This theme for the 2020 International Day of Sign Languages, marked on September 23, is “Sign Languages are for Everyone”. To mark this special United Nations (UN) designated day, the World Federation of the Deaf (WDF) has launched a Global Leaders Challenge, asking government officials, members of Parliament, regional councillors and other leaders to submit videos of themselves using their national sign language.
‘iGlobal’ took part in the challenge with Jettender Ajimal, Senior Training Officer at BID Services in the West Midlands region of England, to get some first-hand training and pick up a whole new vocabulary as part of worldwide efforts to create greater awareness and solidarity with the deaf community. Not letting his sensory impairment restrict him in any way, the British Indian professional has been involved in a number of international competitions and emerged as a role model for the community. “I have been to India, and have spoken to people in India, using hand gestures and international finger spelling in order to communicate,” he says proudly.
As a Senior Training Officer, Ajimal teaches a range of classes from accredited BSL courses at levels 1, 2, and 3, including deaf awareness courses.
These British Sign Language (BSL) accredited courses are designed to teach learners to communicate with deaf people in BSL, starting with simple everyday language moving onto developing an advanced knowledge of the function and structure of BSL.
“My deaf awareness training is really for hearing people. We teach how to communicate with a deaf person with the barriers deaf people face, deaf culture, and history, including different communication methods and what you can do and technology and other areas,” explains Ajimal.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic and the government social interaction guidelines, the BID has had to switch over to virtual classes.
A first for Ajimal in his 18-year career at the BID Services, he reflects: “The majority of the classes had to be remote working, but recently few of my students have become fed up with Zoom and prefer face to face teaching. We have tried to set these up last week, where we have had a physical class and Zoom involved, so those who cannot join are still able to remotely. It has proven to be difficult, but we are getting there.
“It has been a challenge for me, but I enjoy different experiences. I have never done anything like this before, so I always try with a friend and see how we get on, and then I adjust it to my teaching. I am enjoying learning new things.”
Alongside teaching these courses, Ajimal has also previously been involved in providing 10-week BSL courses to schools in Birmingham, and every Wednesday morning he can be found teaching students at a deaf school in Birmingham.
The coronavirus lockdown has impacted the world. For the 12 million people in the UK who are deaf or have some kind of hearing loss, it poses not only new challenges but can affect their mental health, with loneliness and exclusion being a factor.
To help those who are experiencing loneliness and isolation, BID has launched its Covid-19 project – Befriending Service. The project is intended to support the deaf, hard of hearing, and deaf-blind people who are isolated in the West Midlands during the coronavirus pandemic.
Run by volunteer befrienders, the service provides emotional support, help to understand information about coronavirus, including what they can and cannot do, extra support due to having to shield or self-isolation. A shop or food parcel delivery is also on offer alongside an interpreting service, employment service, and information guideline service.
“We are also giving out a BSL taster session for a company that has not previously met deaf people. It will be a first through Zoom and I will have to make a few adaptations, but we are really looking forward to it,” shares Ajimal.
According to the charity Action on Hearing Loss, there are around 12 million people with hearing loss across the UK, that’s around one in six of us. And, its estimates indicate that there are at least 24,000 people who use BSL as their main language. Research shows that deafness increases the risk of loneliness and leads to other mental health issues.
BID Services aims to overcome the barriers through its deaf awareness courses, services, and offering bespoke BSL courses as part of its wider employment service for those with sensory impairments and physical disabilities.
The course is designed for the deaf or hard of hearing individuals who use an international sign language, like newly-arrived individuals who use their native sign language, and those with no formal communication. Without BSL, these individuals would not have access to services, training, or employment. Therefore, through teaching this unique and bespoke BSL course, the organisation is able to help them develop BSL skills and confidence so they too can access opportunities, reducing the isolation and exclusion they may experience.
Ajimal notes: “I believe deaf people can do anything just the same as a hearing person. The only thing which they do miss out on is obviously hearing out on the communication. Communication is key to make sure everything runs smoothly.
“If the client is profoundly deaf, they would need a BSL interpreter. If they do not have that access, they will be unable to communicate. Without this there is difficulty in understanding and communicating.”
Making use of the correct technology is vital. Services like minicom, otherwise known as textphone, are common and popular services used. The service includes a keyboard and display screen where the individual can type what they want to say, rather than speaking into a mouthpiece, and can then read the conversation on a display without needing to hear the other party.
“Any technology is a benefit for a deaf person. Technology is very powerful. A long time ago there were only a few working deaf people in employment, but I feel now having the technology and access to work, which provides interpreters, a lot more people are getting confident in getting the right roles.”
Ajimal emphases that signing up to a deaf awareness course is also the best thing one can do because: “Once you have that training you will learn so much about the community.”
Sharing an experience he faced when he was young, he recalls: “I was in McDonald’s, and when I mentioned I am deaf the workers ran off. I was trying to explain I am hungry and tried to order something, I can see them in the background looking at me and speaking about me.
“I made it really easy to understand that I just wanted a cheeseburger and made sure my lip pattern was slow, and I could see from their body language they were really scared to speak to me”.
“It’s really having that training of how to approach and communicate with a deaf person.”
Other worldwide efforts to ensure the needs of the community are being met also include innovation measures such as clear panel face masks, which allows for deaf and hard of hearing people to lip read.
by Preeti Bali
*Info: BID Services is a specialist charity that has supported Birmingham’s Deaf community for over 140 years. One of the largest interpreting and communications providers in the UK, it provides services primarily across the Midlands and north of England for people with sensory impairments that include deaf, hard of hearing, visually impaired, and deafblind.
Through its services and activities, the organisation aims to enable and empower those with sensory impairments to live their lives and achieve their goals.