By VIEW editor Brian Pelan

I first met Dr Bronagh Byrne at Queen’s University Belfast a number of years ago. I had actually turned up on the wrong day at our scheduled meeting, but she graciously consented to meeting me.

During our conversation, I noticed something about the way she was speaking and asked her about it. Bronagh told me she was deaf and was lip-reading. It was my first ever experience of this. I still find it a remarkable communication skill.

We got on really well, and it was agreed that we would try to do an issue about deaf people in Northern Ireland. For a number of reasons it never worked, but I never give up the hope that we could, one day, make it a reality.

Fast forward to now, and VIEW magazine has produced an entire edition which is devoted to looking at deaf people. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to a number of people, including Bronagh, who, thankfully, agreed to be the guest editor, VIEWdigital co-founder Una Murphy, the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland, and Brian Symington, a long-time supporter of equality rights for deaf people. I have also learnt a number of valuable lessons and insights from our three-month long look at issues which affect deaf people in Northern Ireland.

• Sign language is the first language for many deaf people, not English. It is a rich and diverse method of communication.

• Many barriers have been put in the way of deaf people being allowed to play a full, equal, and active part in society. These barriers include discrimination, poor educational development practice, lack of access to the job market, and stigmatisation in how they are often treated.

• They should never be defined solely by their deafness. Among deaf people there is a rich, diversity of opinions on a massive range of topics which concern them – for example, lip-reading versus sign language; to wear cochlear implants or not; and the choice of being taught in a deaf school or deciding to opt for a more mainstream education.

• The pandemic was a terrifying experience for many deaf people. Masks, that were not transparent, meant that deaf people, who often depend on facial gestures, including lip-reading, felt excluded from what was going on around them. They often had to fight for the right to be heard.

• A Sign Language Act for British Sign Language (BSL) and Irish Sign Language (ISL) users should be urgently enacted. Deaf people need the legislation to ensure that they have full access to full justice and equality rights. They deserve no less.

One of my most enjoyable encounters was my meeting with deaf architect Richard Dougherty. At the end of our interview in Belfast (on pages 10 and 11) we wandered into the quad at Queen’s University. Richard referred to it as a ‘deaf space’ because of the absence of noise. I understood right away what he was saying. We sat still for a brief moment in the warm afternoon sunshine and enjoyed the silence together.

I hope you enjoy reading this issue of VIEW magazine. Please share it with your friends and colleagues. Meanwhile, I’ve got to contact Bronagh Byrne to remind her of a promise she made to me if we ever got to produce an issue of VIEW about deaf people. She vowed to teach me all the swear words using sign language. I look forward to learning them.


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