Deaf Role Models
Every Deaf individual needs at least one thing: a Deaf role model.
I was lucky enough to grow up with a range of Deaf role models: Deaf adults who performed in Newport’s Dolman Theatre Deaf Pantomime, of which I was part of the children’s chorus for a couple of years and then joined the adult chorus for the final year the Deaf Pantomime was put on. However while it was good for me to see Deaf adults participating in such a large production and in the process showing Deaf youngsters that it’s possible to act and perform in a theatre, none of them left a huge impression on me.
It wasn’t until I was 20 that I was to meet my first Deaf role model, a trainer who delivered a peer befriending course I was involved in (through BSL). Here was a confident Deaf professional who knew what he was talking about. It had taken him years to find his Deaf identity, but when he finally did, he became a force to be reckoned with.
I learnt a lot from this guy and it was really through exposure to him that I started to accept my Deaf identity. Crucially, however, he taught me to be patient, and that I can’t force all deaf people to accept or even acknowledge their Deaf identity. It has to start from within.
Fast forward 2 years later and I had started my Legal Practice Course at Cardiff. I met a Deaf woman who had had a similar oral upbringing to me, and had been mainstreamed for most of her education. She was also interested in the field of law and actually gave me the job that was eventually to lead to my qualification as a solicitor and the establishment of the first Deaf law centre in the UK. A pretty powerful Deaf role model indeed!
While the earlier male Deaf role model had encouraged me to accept my Deaf identity and to be patient with others who hadn’t yet attained that level of self awareness, the female Deaf role model gave me the passion I still have within me to use my skills and experience to enforce and advance Deaf people’s rights in the UK.
She also introduced me to the Group for Solicitors with Disabilities (now the Lawyers with Disabilities Division), of which I became Chair in 2003, allowing me to establish contacts within the legal profession that I still have to this day.
We also set up Deaf Lawyers UK, a cause close to my heart; collaborated on the now defunct Deaf Blogs website; did some work on the recognition of BSL, and spent many hours trying to work out how to design and maintain websites.
Although we no longer keep in touch like we used to, there’s no denying the impact these individuals have had on my life, my understanding of Deaf culture and the passion I have for the work I do, and for that, I am eternally grateful to them both.
I believe, at the risk of sounding boastful, that I am now in a position to be a Deaf role model for younger Deaf generations, and this is why I am delighted to have been approached by three Deaf law students all seeking a career in the legal profession recently. I will do my very best to be as thought-provoking and inspiring as the two Deaf role models I was very fortunate to have.