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What International Week of Deaf People means to me: Abdi Gas

By
James Barber
Abdi Gas is the Membership and Events Programme Coordinator at Scope. He talks to us about what International Week of Deaf People means to him. 

Abdi Gas, who has worked at Scope for some time, talks about his life as a deaf person. How it gives him a different insight and perspective. And why improving digital accessibility for deaf people helps everyone.

Abdi in a blue suit and pink polkadot tie. There is a camera pointed at him.

What does International Week of Deaf People mean to you as a deaf person?

International Week of Deaf People (IWDP) means recognising the deaf community. In all its forms. People assume that deaf people can’t speak at all or that we all use signed language.

In reality, some deaf people can speak well, and many people with hearing loss don’t use signed language. Others grow up with a sign language like BSL as their first language. I see this as a beautiful representation of diversity.

So IWDP means celebrating the deaf experience. Our community’s contribution to society. It recognises diverse and beautiful communities. And the signed languages used throughout the world.

The most common misconception that non-deaf people have is that all deaf people use the same signed language. When asked ‘why?’, my answer is: for the same reason all non-deaf people don’t use the same spoken language.

Our national sign languages have developed through time. In different places and within different cultures. And they are so unique to each country or community. There are even unique sign accents in different regions of the UK.

Growing up as a deaf person, we are never taught about the ‘good side’ of being deaf. Or told about the amazing people in our community, past and present. We are always the ‘disabled’ child who cannot hear, the one who is always striving to reach the level of our peers. So events like IWDP help us have pride and connect with our global community.

What has been your experience of working at Scope as a deaf person?

My experience at Scope has been positive from the start. From the interview stage to accepting the position to my daily routine doing the job. It is always difficult entering a new place. Having to have the same conversations about access. And understanding the unspoken norms of an organisation.

I, thankfully, have had some fantastic managers who focus on me as a person, not my deafness. They made sure that I was comfortable and able to thrive in my role. I have never worked at such an amazing place.

Working at Scope makes it easy to assume that we are experts in access and inclusion. But at the end of the day, it is a workplace like any other where issues come up.

Sometimes our needs for access can be misunderstood. They are not usually about physical access but instead relate to communication. Providing interpreters, managing Access to Work, and how to work with interpreters. All of these can be areas of tension.

We have a saying called ‘Deaf Tax’. This is the time and effort we spend educating people, arranging, or fighting for our access needs. This is not often something that our non-deaf colleagues have to fight for.

Sometimes, as our access requirements are not thought about in advance, we lose the spontaneity that other staff enjoy. Like being able to attend a meeting on a whim, calling someone up to ask a quick question. Or attending an all-staff briefing at the last minute. It can make it hard to feel fully part of the organisation.

I am proud to work for Scope and the work that we do across the whole disability space.

What advantages and unique skills do you feel you can bring to your role at Scope as a deaf person?

In the deaf community, we talk about ‘Deaf Gain’. This refers to aspects of being deaf that we can be grateful for, or that even benefit others. Like we don’t usually get distracted in a noisy environment. Or because less people can communicate with us, we don’t get drawn into chit-chat when we should be working!

But this is maybe more of a ‘gain’ for our managers than us. Sometimes it would be nice to have more people to interact with in our own language.

Little known fact, deaf people have a wider field of vision than non-deaf people. And our spatial awareness and visual acuity are more sensitive. This is because we rely on our eyes to receive signed language and visual cues.

This is actually an advantage when doing tasks like proofreading or user testing. And we often approach a problem from a visual-spatial perspective which can provide another viewpoint.

I often find that things we, as deaf people ask for in terms of access benefit others too. Things like:

  • having notes in advance for our interpreters.
  • asking for scheduled breaks to rest our eyes and hands.
  • putting jargon or names in the chat box
  • asking for summary notes after a meeting
  • asking for the captions to be on or the transcription to be provided

These are all aspects of communication access and working with interpreters. But they actually set a standard of good practice that benefits all types of people and their needs.

Why is it important to celebrate the achievements of deaf people this week?

I think like most of these celebratory days and weeks, the main takeaway is that they shouldn’t just be for one day! Awareness, celebration, and acceptance all need to be present throughout the year.

Deaf people’s stories are often thought of through the lens of disability. But the story aligns closely with oppression and cultural and linguistic colonialism. Signed languages were banned throughout Europe for over 100 years in education. And deaf children were given corporal punishment if they dared to use sign language at school. Many people don’t know this history.

IWDP reminds people that deafness is more than just a disability. It has a culture and a history to be shared.

How can businesses make themselves more accessible to deaf people?

Making business and society more accessible for deaf people makes them more accessible to everyone! This generation accesses its information through social media. And studies have shown that people do not watch videos if they are not captioned. People consume content on the train, on buses or in crowds.

Businesses saying that things are ‘too much effort’ need to realise it has a negative impact. Captions are not just for deaf people. Accessible content includes everyone.

Many deaf and disabled people choose to work in the Third Sector. And for deaf and disabled people’s organisations. They are seen as welcoming and accepting environments.

Businesses can learn from these cultural practices. Such as making deaf awareness mandatory for the team the deaf person works in. Providing access requirements as standard. Not just when requested. And collaborating on good practice, rather than a general approach.

As a consumer, I don’t expect everyone to be able to sign. But I do expect basic awareness of communication differences. A willingness to adapt to:

  • writing on paper
  • using technology
  • contacting me through email rather than phone calls!

At Scope, I offered to run an Introduction to BSL, and this was warmly welcomed. Seeing that willingness to invest in my language and culture made me feel at home here. And businesses can do the same for their staff and customers. We don’t need you to be fluent, we have interpreters for that, but we do appreciate being dignified.

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