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Friday, 9 September 2016

How to be a Reflective Practitioner without the Self-Criticism….

It is particularly timely, as this week I have found myself battling my demons in a big way. 

Yes, In spite (or maybe because) of all the self-development work I do, I am a work in progress and I continually strive to be the best self I can be.  This week has been exceptionally challenging on that front because I have been indulging in some self-criticism and worry.  I find myself continually analysing myself, my thoughts and my actions and second guessing my judgement.

Now, being reflective is the key to personal development and growth, so while I am a big advocate of this, I also know how hard this can be to do while avoiding being self-critical at the same time.  I was born a perfectionist, highly independent (even as a young child I would never ask for, or accept, help or support) and some would say, a control freak.  Over the years I have learned to mellow this but old habits die hard.

I have spent years worrying, beating myself up over even the smallest of mistakes and slips of the tongue, feeling guilty and just generally believing I’m not good enough or worthy of having great things happen to me, or achieving great things. 

Without delving too deeply into my psyche (as we really don’t have time for that here!), here are five ways I currently (and will continue to) employ to help me be less self-critical and more thankful for everything I have, while still working on achieving my full potential.

1.       Challenge my thinking errors and be balanced in my thinking

This really takes practice.  We often use language that is skewed or crooked.  In psychology terms these are often called ‘thinking errors’.  Most of us, if not all, will have thinking errors from time to time.  Thinking errors are basically a way of thinking that are not evidence based or based in rational thought.  It is important to remember that we shouldn’t be critical of ourselves for having thinking errors, our brains have the ability to filter and delete information as we don’t have the capacity to see everything that goes on around us. This is why there are two worlds, the real world, and our perception of the real world.

There are different types of thinking errors, but all will lead to feelings and behaviour that may not serve us in the long run.  As humans, we have the ability to catastrophise, or to put it another way, make mountains out of molehills.  I often used to catch myself saying I had a terrible day because one thing went wrong at work, or I was 10 minutes late having been stuck in traffic.  For some reason, my brain wants to filter out the several great things that may have happened and focus on the one thing that didn’t go according to plan. 

Now, when I catch myself saying I have had a terrible day, I do several things.  Firstly, I ask myself what happened for me to think that the day was terrible and on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being the worst day ever) where does this rank.  If I am late for a meeting, it’s annoying and I don’t really like it, but it’s not really my worst day. This way I can balance my thinking to be more helpful in this situation, which means I am less self-critical.

In fact, as I am writing this, the news is on and they are reporting about the plane that has vanished en route to Cairo.  Wow that has put my day (and week) into perspective.

In addition, I look for evidence for and against what I am thinking.  Asking yourself “Is that true” is a really excellent way of beginning to challenge unhelpful thoughts.

There are lots of other types of this type of thinking and in general our day to day language is littered with our skewed thinking or beliefs. Here are a few you may (or may not) recognise in yourself:

·         Labelling (I’m fat, stupid or ugly)

·         All or nothing thinking (“I can/I can’t”)

·         Making unfair comparisons (It’s not fair, my friend can eat whatever she wants and never gains weight – by the way my friend spends 15 hours a week doing kick boxing, she is 10 years younger than me and has two small children.  Hmmmm)

·         Mind-Reading  (“I just know that so and so is saying this about me, or thinks this of me”)

·         Predicting the future (I won’t apply for my dream job as I won’t get it”)

What’s important here is not the fact that you need to know every single type of thinking error, more that you are able to challenge your thoughts whenever you are feeling a way that might be disproportionate to the situation, or if you can’t understand why you are feeling this way.  This way you can be reflective about situations and less self-critical.

2.       Stop Apologising for Everything

I don’t know about you, but I am often apologising to someone about something, even if it’s not my fault. Someone walks into me, I apologise. 

Always saying you are sorry leads to feelings of guilt and low self-worth.  That’s not to say you shouldn’t apologise if you have made a mistake, cause someone harm or upset, or indeed, if you walk into another person.  It’s more about almost being apologetic for talking, breathing or even existing.

Start thinking about when it is appropriate to say sorry and when you are saying it out of a sense of duty or something else.

3.       Learn to accept compliments (and constructive feedback!)

How are you at accepting compliments?  I used to be quite bad at this.  “Nice dress”, “what this old thing?”

If someone gives you a compliment treat it like a gift. Thank them and move on from it, yet let the compliment sink into your sub-conscious so that you start to believe it to be true.

Conversely, learn to love constructive feedback (if you don’t already).  I hate being criticised (back to my hugely independent streak and control-freakishness), yet I have learned to accept constructive feedback as helpful.  After all, if I was doing something wrong, I would rather be told about it early on than find out weeks, months or even years later.  When you get feedback see it as a learning opportunity and chance to improve.  True, constructive feedback is also a gift.

Equally, don’t accept unfair criticism.  If you think you have been unfairly criticised, ask for evidence to support the criticism and put your thoughts forward on the situation.

Importantly, remember all of this when you are talking to yourself critically, complimenting yourself or giving yourself feedback!

4.       Remember to seek progress, not perfection

Someone once said to me that when you seek perfection you immediately set yourself up for failure.  The truth is we can’t be perfect and by setting ourselves up to be we are critical when we get it wrong (which from time to time will happen).  Also by waiting for things to be perfect before you do them, you may never get anything done.  That’s not to say we shouldn’t be conscientious and take care in whatever we do.  It just means that if you do get something wrong, remember you are not perfect and ask yourself how you could do it differently next time.

5.       Be Grateful for what you have

I’m a great believer that universe might not always give us what we want, but it always gives us what we need.  I keep a gratitude diary to say thanks for all my blessings.  I write three gratitudes each morning and each night. 

It helps me to concentrate on the things that are really positive in my life and to diminish the effect of the negative things that might have happened.  This can be as simple as being grateful for a roof over my head, food in my belly and clean water to drink.  I hope you are lucky enough to also have these things. 

Hopefully some of these tools will help you develop and grow, as they help me.

Until next time…..

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Deafness As An Invisible Disability

Deafness is sometimes considered to be an invisible disability. This is probably due to the fact that most deaf people don’t walk around with a flashing LED display board stating “I’m Deaf!”. I say ‘most’ because I like to think there is someone actually doing this in the world. You cannot see deafness, and the implications of this are interesting.

As always, I hasten to add that in general, deaf people don’t see themselves as disabled but as part of a cultural and linguistic minority. Disability is a social construct that, in this case, believes hearing to be the norm, and anyone not conforming to this is disabled. 

Deafness being invisible can be a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because until people realise you’re deaf, they’ll treat you like any other person. You’re not a label, or different. You’re just another person on the street.

It can be a curse because until people realise you’re deaf, they’ll treat you like any other person. You didn’t move when someone said “excuse me”. Not because you’re rude, like they think you are. But because you’re deaf, and you just didn’t hear them.

And this can be the battle when it comes to hearing people who have never encountered deafness before. The battle of the assumptions (when they don’t know you’re deaf) and the stigma (when they do know you’re deaf).

For those who wear hearing aids or cochlear implants, these may be considered a visual indicator of your needs. A hearing person can see them and understand that they may need to adapt their behaviour.

It’s interesting to read online that a lot of deaf people are told “but you don’t look deaf!”. If anyone can tell me what ‘deaf’ looks like, then please do send me a drawing at alice@terptree.co.uk as I’m really interested in knowing. There’s bonus points if you include a unicorn in your drawing.

So what other disabilities are invisible? Let’s look at visual impairment – oh, the irony. I can, hand on heart, assure you that my eyesight is absolutely horrendous. I’m only 21, but I’ve been wearing glasses/contact lenses since I was 4. It was only at my most recent eye appointment that I was told my eyes have not gotten worse, and have decided to settle on being simply abysmal. I 100% depend on my glasses or contact lenses. Do contact lenses mean my disability is invisible, whilst glasses mean it is visible?

Fun side story: I once spent ten minutes on my sofa desperately feeling around for my glasses because I couldn’t see them. I was eventually rescued by my housemate who informed me that my glasses were on my lap. If I told you this was the first time that had happened, I’d be lying.

Without my glasses or contact lenses I am rendered completely useless. Driving and cooking would be out of the question as it would be too dangerous. Even answering the door would make me anxious as I wouldn’t be able to see who it was without getting so close I could count the freckles on their face. Truly, I’d be useless.

So consider this: as stated above, without my glasses or contact lenses, I would be unable to go about my daily routine. But if you took away the hearing aids of someone who is deaf, they would still be able to continue with their daily routine, there might just be a few more challenges.

So why is someone who is deaf considered disabled, but not me?

I wish I had a definitive answer to this question, but I don’t. I only have musings I can share with you.

My first thought is that glasses and contact lenses are there to bring my eyesight to the correct standard, which they do. Whilst they don’t “fix” my eyes, they temporarily make them not-useless. In contrast, hearing aids and cochlear implants don’t “fix” deafness, they simply aid the person in receiving noise. Perhaps this is why I’m not disabled? Because my issue can, temporarily, be corrected.

My second thought is that visual impairment is simply more common than deafness. Whilst glasses have connotations to intelligence, there has long been the assumption that those who are deaf can’t learn to the same level as hearing people, and so the stigma and label of “disabled” has been used.

Two weeks ago I wrote a blog about the stigma of hearing aids, and I discussed how I think the media are perpetuating the stigmatisation of deafness by encouraging people to have “discreet” hearing aids. In contrast, the media advertise glasses as trends. People want the coolest styles, because glasses are now considered cool.

From this comes my last thought. When I was a child, glasses were most definitely NOT cool. Luckily, I wasn’t bullied for it too much. But many people my age did not want glasses. If they did get them, they didn’t wear them. Nowadays, people are punching the lenses out of 3D cinema glasses so they can pretend to have glasses (take THAT, random person who called me “four eyes”).

The progression of glasses going from not-cool to super-trendy fills me with hope that one-day hearing aids, cochlear implants, and deafness in general, will be considered so normal no-one gives it a second thought.

We can dream.

As always, thanks for reading. I hope you liked this blog! Email me with your thoughts or feedback at alice@terptree.co.uk

Until next week!

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Deaf Education

Hello, again. Last week we looked at a (brief) history of BSL. This week we’ll be covering a similar topic – Deaf Education.

To look at this topic, I’ve decided to utilise two videos, which I have attached for you to look at. They’re incredibly interesting to watch, and they look specifically at the history of Deaf education. This blog will be looking at three of the educators discussed in the videos.

The history of Deaf Education (Part 1) can be found here.

Part 2 is here.

As mentioned in last week’s blog, Thomas Braidwood established the first school for the deaf in Edinburgh in 1870. The school started out by teaching through the oral method, but eventually shifted to a more combined approach when Thomas picked up signs from the pupils.

Braidwood’s school was highly successful, but was only available to those who were rich, and could afford to send their children to his school.

Braidwood also refused to share his teaching methods with anyone else, and kept them a secret. Braidwood was pivotal in the creation of the combined method.

Samuel Heinicke was a German teacher of the deaf, and was hailed as the “father of the German method”. The German method was the start of the Oral movement in Deaf education. Heinicke was an army man, and so used strict methods of teaching his pupils to speak (for he felt that speech was the only way for intelligent thought to be created). Methods included using touch and taste to create different sounds. Pupils were given salt and vinegar to help them create different sounds, and would physically move and mould their mouths to different shapes.

Heinicke deeply disagreed with the work of Abbé de l’Épée.

Abbé de l’Épée was a French priest and teacher of the Deaf. He was inspired to teach the Deaf after meeting two deaf sisters who were unable to communicate. He taught using a manual (signed) method and in 1754 he established the Institution Nationale des sourds-muets de Paris (the National Deaf-Dumb Institute of Paris). Abbé de l’Épée personally funded the institution until his death in 1789, at which point the French government decided to fund the school, which is still running today.

Abbé de l’Épée taught both deaf pupils and other teachers of the deaf from around the world, aiding them in their teaching methods for those who are deaf.

This work was the foundation for American Sign Language (ASL).

Abbé de l’Épée and Heinicke disagreed greatly. Their written correspondence can be found in published works.

Looking at more modern Deaf education, we have previously discussed the impact of the Milan Conference in 1880 and the impact this had on education; the oppression of signed education.

Since 1880, many things have changed in the education of deaf children. Sign language can now be used, although Deaf schools are gradually being closed down with the aim of mainstreaming Deaf pupils.

The argument continues into whether this should happen, and it is a conflict that has been ongoing since the days of the three educators we have discussed.

Abbé de l’Épée, Heinicke, and Braidwood were successful in their own ways, utilising different methods to educate Deaf pupils, with different ideas of what was important in their education. They are the foundation of the history of Deaf education.

Thomas Braidwood didn’t get his own stamp though.

Let me know your thoughts about what we’ve looked at, and tell me what you think the future of Deaf education should look like! Email me at alice@terptree.co.uk as I love to hear from you!

Alice :)

Monday, 5 September 2016

Deaf Guy Cartoons

You may have seen a previous blog by ourselves about the incredible artwork Matt Daigle does for the Deaf community, if you have missed that you can see it by >> Clicking Here

Well back in 2014 for Deaf Awareness Week we collaborated with Matt to reinforce the importance of using trained and registered Sign Language Interpreters and Communication Professionals, something we are very passionate about here at terptree!

Deaf people deserve the same access to information as hearing people and we are seeking to empower deaf people through highly skilled and qualified Communication Professionals. This will see deaf people on par with their hearing peers and excel in their profession and achieve what they deserve and are capable of!

And of course Matt Daigle has been hard at work crafting numerous iconic and hilarious artwork, let’s take a look at our favourite ‘That Deaf Guy’ artwork (Whilst the content is created by an ASL user it still holds great value and significance for BSL users and all Deaf communities):

Can you imagine?! 🙈

We need to make sure the conversation is about the individual’s skills, talents, accomplishments etc. Being deaf should not be a factor! 👊

Nurture 🐣 Develop 🐥 And when it’s time for them to leave the nest, Set Them Free 🐦 to make meaningful strides within the Deaf community!

This just isn’t on, an accurate commentary for the beautiful game is vital! ⚽ 

Let us know some of your favourites and why, you can check out all his work here >> That Deaf Guy

And if you want to follow Matt Daigle, you can do so on Twitter, his handle is - @DeafCartoonist

Thursday, 1 September 2016

What Me Worried? How To Manage Your Worrying…

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about problem solving and I promised, at a later date, to bring you a email about how to manage worry.

Well, worry no more as you will be delighted to know that that date has arrived!!

So, when I am talking about worry in this email, I am talking about the type of worry you all experience from time to time that relates to general worry, as well as worry about a specific problem you may have. So for example I might worry that I will get a serious illness, but not actually have the specific problem of having that illness. This would be worrying unnecessarily about an event that may or may not happen – a “what if” situation.

Now the issue with worrying is that it is largely based on us making up stories in our head, and because our brain can’t tell the difference between a real and a highly imagined event, we have the same stress, anxiety or upset that we would have had if this event had actually occurred. In fact, when we are faced with a difficult situation or a horrible event happens in our life, normally our natural coping mechanisms kick in and we are able to do deal with the situation more ably than we do when we are worrying about something that may or may not happen.

I would like to share with you a story that illustrates this point..

Every day, without fail, I phone my mum (being the good daughter that I am). Both her and my dad are retired and have a fairly set routine. Unless they tell me they are going somewhere in particular, I can pretty much guarantee when they will be home and what the best time is to call (after 5pm normally). A few years ago on a warm spring evening, I rang them on my way home from work in London. I was sat on a train at the time. 5pm I rang and no answer. 5.15pm, still no answer. At this point, I wasn’t really too concerned. I guessed that they had been held up from going shopping. I kept trying..

5.30, 5.45, 6pm, still no answer. At this point I was getting off the train to pick my car up from the station car park and make the 30 minute drive home. Still no answer. By now I’m getting really worried. Where on earth were they?

I got back to my car and tried again. Still no answer. By now full panic had set in. I was absolutely convinced that my dad (who is not in the best of health to be fair) had been taken seriously ill and was in hospital. This was backed up by the fact that I couldn’t reach them on the landline or on either of their mobiles.

I got home in a state of turmoil. My head was pounding and I felt physically sick. I was having physical symptoms from a made up event. I rang as soon as I got in, around 6.45pm. Still no answer. 

I snapped at my husband and barked at the cat (pun intended!). 7pm, one last try before I started ringing their local hospitals or drove 60 miles into London to find them. Three rings and my mum answered, full of the joys of spring.

“Were have you been?” I all but screamed, “I’ve been worried sick”.

“What?” my mum replied, without a care in the world. “It’s a lovely evening, we’ve been sat on our balcony watching the sun go down over London, it’s a fantastic view”. I can’t dispute that fact, they are fortunate enough to live near the Oval Cricket Ground and you can see for miles over the Thames on a clear day from their balcony. Yet my mind hadn’t even gone there, I had immediately thought of the worst thing and made myself quite unwell in the process. And because the awful thing I had imagined had happened actually hadn’t happened, I had all these emotional and physical feelings with no where for them to go. 

I was also left with a very clear understanding of why I got screamed at in a similar fashion whenever I came home late as a child and rebellious teen. Oh how the roles were reversed in that situation!

It is important to recognise that worrying can be helpful if it spurs you onto take action about a problem. However, often worry can be paralyzing and we become pre-occupied with the worry rather than trying to find a solution.

Some people believe that worrying protects you from a bad thing happening, so it makes it even more difficult to break the worrying cycle. Worrying then becomes part of the problem, rather than the solution to the problem, whether that problem is real or perceived.

So if you are someone who worries, whether it is about a situation at work, financial worry, health, family or even because you have nothing to worry about, then read on for my top five techniques to managing your worry…

1. Postpone Worry

The truth of the matter is that telling ourselves not to worry is a fruitless exercise. By saying “don’t worry”, it actually makes us more likely to worry and makes it more important that we do so. Worrying also relieves our anxiety while we are doing it, because it distracts us from the thing we are worrying about. It doesn’t, however, stop anything bad from happening or solve any problems. 

Therefore, rather than becoming a completely “worry-free zone” it is more productive to have a set time of day to worry and postpone all of your worrying until that time of day. By creating a set time and place to worry you can ensure that the rest of the day becomes a “worry-free zone” and make you more productive. 

Never make this time just before bed and keep it to a reasonable length (say 20-30 minutes). Spend this time going over your worry list (plus doing the other techniques that follow). Allow yourself this time and at the end of it commit to postponing any more worry until the same time the next day.

2. Keep a Worry Diary

Every time you find yourself worrying, jot down the thought and what triggered it. Overtime you will start to see patterns of worry and will be able to put strategies in place to manage those situations. This is not a quick fix, but something that you need to commit to over time. To be clear, this is not the same as worrying, it is just documenting what you are worrying about. You can use this to formulate your “worry list” that you can use during your worry time and can then start to work on solutions if there is an actual problem, or to know what triggers you into unnecessary worry.

3. Learn to Accept Uncertainty

There are not many certainties in life, and we don’t know what will happen in the future. Thinking about all the things that could go wrong doesn’t make life any more predictable. In fact, it could be quite boring if we did know everything that was going to happen in life, either good or bad.

Sometimes we can view worrying as a way to control the future, or predict an outcome of something. However, if you can learn to accept uncertainty, this will cut down how much you worry as you begin to realise there is no way you can predict the outcome of an event (if I could do this I would surely have won the lottery by now!), so worrying becomes a fruitless exercise.

4. Challenge your Thinking

Often worry can be triggered by the thoughts you are having. So for example, if you are stuck in a traffic jam on your way to a job or important meeting, you may have thoughts like “I’m never going to get there in time”, or “They will think I am lazy if I am late”. No while these may be genuine concerns, the use of the words never and they will think that.. are examples of thinking that are not based in evidence. It may be that the traffic will clear and you will get there on time. 

The person concerned might not think you are lazy, they might in fact empathise with your journey and be very understanding. 

The use of this language is very natural and common, yet if you can start to challenge it you will find your worry (and indeed your stress levels) will lessen in those situations.

I used to have these thoughts myself if I was stuck in a traffic jam or on public transport. I would often arrive either on time, or maybe slightly late, in a complete state of upset and panic because of the worry I had caused myself about arriving late, or people thinking I was lazy. However, since learning to challenge my thinking, I am able to look at the evidence and be more balanced.

So for example I might say to myself that I might be late, but I could phone ahead and warn someone with an estimate of when I hope to arrive. 

I also say to myself that the situation could not be helped and that even if someone did think I was lazy, that is up to them and I knew the truth of what had happened. I now find I arrive much calmer and able to carry out the rest of the day without too much stress!

5. Take Action

Often when we worry we are distracted by the problem at hand without actually asking ourselves if there is anything we can do about it. If you are finding yourself worrying, during your worry time you can complete the following exercise (use a pen and paper preferably):

· State your worry as comprehensively as you can

· Ask yourself if there is anything you can do about your worry.

· If yes, list the action that you can take (see my problem solving email for more tips on this)

· Start taking the action

· If no, then start to accept the uncertainty and challenge the thoughts you are having.

· You can also do some visualising to help you shrink the worry. To do this you need to visualise the worry you are having as a massive big picture in your mind. Gradually start shrinking the picture down and down and down until you can get it as small as you possibly can. You can repeat this exercise every day until you can imagine that worry as a small speck of dust you can just blow away.

Now admittedly, I was born a worrier, and I come from a long line of worriers. However, I have managed, through use of various techniques, some of which I have shared with you, to manage my habit of unnecessary worry and live a happier life.

Until next time..

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

How To Empower Young Deaf People

To deprive of power, authority, or influence: make weak, ineffectual, or unimportant


Disempowerment of deaf people happens on a daily basis. Whilst the improvement of deaf rights over the years means that deaf people can take action against those who openly discriminate against them, daily acts of disempowerment may be much subtler and completely unintentional.

Let me give you a scenario:

You are with a deaf person. A hearing person walks over and starts speaking to them, but they don’t realise. What do you do?

Most people would probably say to the hearing person “oh, they’re deaf”. A simple and obvious solution, but this could be disempowering. By doing this, you have answered on behalf of the deaf person you are with, taking away their right to communicate for themselves. This is a small example of a much larger problem.

When looking at disempowerment, it is important to also consider discrimination. There is a fine line between the two, as they both involve the negative treatment of deaf people on the basis that they are deaf.

In recent history, legislature relating to discrimination within the UK can be analysed through two key government acts. Firstly, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, and the Equality Act 2010 (which replaced the DDA). These acts were there to protect those with disabilities from discrimination within the workplace, educational settings, and general society.

As a result of these Acts, deaf people can now take action against those who are discriminating against them which is a good step towards the empowerment of deaf people, but they are far from perfect.

So how do we empower deaf people?

If we start to empower deaf people from a young age, the benefits will be phenomenal.
Firstly (let me just get my broken record out) don’t label! Let a deaf child interact in school the way a hearing child would. You simply need to accommodate for their needs by implementing the right support to help them achieve their potential. Know about different types of deafness, and different communication needs. Become an expert in ensuring their needs are fully met.

Secondly, have basic deaf awareness and knowledge of how to work with an interpreter. There has been research to show that using an interpreter without the proper skill level can lead to a deaf person feeling disempowered as they aren’t accessing information to the same level as a hearing person. So when looking at interpreters to support a deaf person, ensure that they are qualified and that they enjoy working together.

If you didn’t get along with someone particularly well you probably wouldn’t want to have to work with them for long periods of time. The same applies for the interpreter-client relationship.

Thirdly, let the deaf person communicate for themselves. It can be easy to answer a question for them if they’re not looking at who’s speaking, or to jump in when there’s a lack of understanding between a deaf person and a hearing person. You are not their mother. You can encourage a deaf person to ask for support if they would like it, but don’t assume they need it. Don’t force them to rely on you.

Fourthly, don’t treat a deaf person like a dog. By this, I’m not referring to the idea of putting a lead on them and going for a walk (though you probably shouldn’t do this either; it’s weird). I mean you shouldn’t enthusiastically praise a deaf person for doing/knowing something you didn’t think they would. Like you would do with a dog when it finally learns how to sit (this is what I was getting at with the dog thing). I can’t believe the amount of time I’ve heard the phrase “what!? Deaf people can DRIVE?!” shock, horror, a deaf person can do something a hearing person can. I need a minute to recover from that surprise.

I’m joking. Deaf people can do anything a hearing person can: except hear.

In summary, treat a deaf person like anyone else but with any necessary adjustment to communication, and you will both be empowered.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

A Short History Of BSL

Hello, and welcome to this week’s blog, where we will be discussing the history of BSL. Throughout this blog I have referenced different sources, so there will be a bibliography at the end in case you want to go and do some further research!

Let’s dive right in.

The first record of BSL being used is from the marriage certificate of Thomas Tillsye and Ursula Russel. The exact year of this is unclear, with different sources saying different years, however it is clear that this took place between 1575-1586. The account of this marriage says “Thomas, for the expression of his minde instead of words, of his own accorde used these signs” (UCL, n.d.).

But how did these signs come about?

“BSL was not invented as an artificial system, but is assumed to have developed spontaneously like spoken language… it seems reasonable to assume that BSL developed when deaf people came together in groups” (Deuchar, 1984, p. 28).

Here we can see the beginnings of both the language of BSL and the deaf community; showing that the two have always been inherently linked together.

We cannot discuss BSL history without mentioning Thomas Braidwood, who opened Braidwood’s Academy for the Deaf and Dumb (an acceptable term for those times) in 1760. This school educated deaf children through speech, lip-reading, and signs. It is suggested that earlier uses of sign language were similar to home-signs; so every deaf person communicated differently. However, this combined method meant that deaf students were learning through the same set of signs: helping to create the foundation of one language.

Now for the infamous event of deaf/BSL history: The 1880 Milan Conference. It was:

“An international conference of deaf educators, the Second International Congress on Education of the Deaf. At this conference, held September 6-11, 1880, a declaration was made that oral education was better than manual (sign) education” (Berke, 2014)

The two countries to oppose this declaration were Britain and The United States of America. They were overruled. BSL was banned.

The reign of Oralism began. Deaf children were taught to speak and lip-read exclusively. “the emergence of Oralism…threatened to damage, if not destroy, the whole community” (Ladd, 2003, p. 125).

Many fought for BSL to be re-established. One such organisation was the British Deaf Association, or BDA (established as the British Deaf and Dumb Assocation) 24th July 1890; 10 years after the Milan Conference.

“The BDDA was founded at a time of intense controversy about the use of Sign Language and finger-spelling in the education of deaf children, and about the exclusion of Deaf people from national decisions that affected their lives” (BDA, n.d.).

It was quickly realised that the Oral method was failing deaf children, and so the European Parliament proposed the recognition of sign language.

This was also the main aim of Doug Alker, who established the Federation of Deaf People (FDP) on 1997. They organised:

“National BSL recognition marches, their biggest bringing together nearly 10,000 marchers in Trafalgar Square in July 2000. News coverage of the marches raised the profile of BSL in the mainstream media.” (BDA, Campaigning for a better life, n.d.).

March 18th 2003. BSL is officially recognised as a language by the British Government. Success! The fight is over, right? Wrong! BSL still holds no rights in law.

Enter the Spit the Dummy campaign. They are aiming to achieve a BSL Act to ensure the rights of BSL users against discrimination.

It’s been a long journey. But with the new Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, planning to implement a BSL charter “to empower deaf people and remove discrimination” who knows what the next big step in BSL history will be…

I hope you’ve found this interesting and enjoyable! Let me know your thoughts at alice@terptree.co.uk

And here is the bibliography of sources for this blog:


BDA. (n.d.). BDA Origins. Retrieved December 20, 2015, from BDA: https://www.bda.org.uk/bda-origins

BDA. (n.d.). Campaigning for a better life. Retrieved December 20 , 2015, from BDA: https://www.bda.org.uk/campaigning-for-a-better-life

Berke, J. (2014, December 15). Deaf History - Milan 1880. Retrieved from About Health: http://deafness.about.com/cs/featurearticles/a/milan1880.htm

Deuchar, M. (1984). British Sign Language. New York: Routledge.

Ladd, P. (2003). Understanding Deaf Culture: In Search of Deafhood. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters Ltd.

UCL. (n.d.). Marriage Certificate of Thomas Tillsye. Retrieved January 2, 2016, from UCL: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/dcal/bslhistory/beginnings/marriage-certificate