Why are the Deaf not in the Paralympics?

Liz Jones has created a storm of responses to her article in yesterday’s Mail on SundayI’m Profoundly deaf, so why cant I be in the Paralympics?”  Readers were challenging her claims about being Profoundly deaf, or criticising her lack of research on the subject of deaf sport. Others wondering why deaf sport was not doing enough to get into the Paralympics and others had commented on the “invisibility” of Deafness.

Two Big Ears raises public awareness that by remaining “hidden”, deaf people continue to “Get a raw deal.”

For those who think Deaf sport should be doing more to work with the Paralympic movement. I can bring everyone up to speed with the relationship between ICSD (Deaflympics) and IPC (Paralympics).

The ICSD was admitted into the IOC in 1955 as an International Federation with Olympic Standing. The Olympic flag has flown alongside the Deaflympic flag since 1985.

By the 1990s it was becoming increasingly more expensive to host the Deaflympics and to participate in them. Therefore at the behest of its international membership, the ICSD approached the IPC to examine the possibility of joining the IPC to help reduce costs, but also to take advantage of the high public profile that the Paralympics were attracting. The IOC was also keen for this partnership to take place.

However, because of the communication requirements of Deaflympians, the prohibitive costs to the IPC of providing sign language interpreters and the inability of the Paralympic games to accommodate the growing number of Deaflympians, the ICSD took the decision to withdraw its membership from the IPC. Other reasons for withdrawing were that the ICSD could not support the elimination of  the number of sporting events that would be offered to deaf athletes.

In November 2004, the IPC and ICSD signed a memorandum of understanding in the hope of creating a collaborative landscape in international competition and a clear understanding of the roles and responsibilities as separate organisations. Through the MOU, ICSD and its members , including UK Deaf Sport encourages deaf athletes with additional disabilities to compete in IPC events and conversely multi-disabled athletes who are deaf to compete in Deaf World Championships. In addition, the agreement was also to mutually recognise each others autonomy as organisations and co-operating to address conflicts between affiliated organisations.

However, there is still some way to go before Paralympians like this week’s Equestrian bronze medalist Laurentia Tan, a deaf woman with Cerebral Palsy will feel fully included in the Paralympic Games. A couple of months ago, I exchanged emails with Laurentia and asked her to describe the Paralympics from a deaf persons perspective. Now, for the record,we are talking about someone who requires BSL interpreters.

Yes, I was an individual rider but now we have a team of para riders so there is a bigger number of people involved.  Since we now have a team of para riders, I have booked interpreters to accompany me to all international competitions and it has really made a positive difference to my experience.  However, my parents and I have had to pay interpreters’ fees, and I am trying to sort out sponsorship / funding for this.   

I also remember during the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games, when I joined the rest of the Singapore Team (i.e. swimmers, athletics, sailors and other Team officials) I found it really difficult to understand what was going on and had to rely on my parents and coach to help with communication.  

I have explained to my National Federation (Singapore) about needing a ‘team’ of interpreters so that they can work to cover the whole period required.  I also know how difficult it is to book interpreters so it is possible I will require a ‘team’ of interpreters.  However, I am aware that there are only so many places for accreditation and I was wondering if LOCOG will be able to assist in sorting out accreditation for the ‘team’ of interpreters to ensure that I have an interpreter with me for the required period.”

Unfortunately, when UK Deaf Sport got in contact with LOCOG (indirectly through intermediaries), they were told that this was not a GB issue and that LT needed to take it up with the Singapore Paralympic Association.

Now, at the time, I thought that was a fair enough reason to give. After all its bad enough that EDF Energy customers here in the UK were funding French athletes to win Olympic gold medals! Until one day, I was watching the Olympic Taekwondo on TV and there we could see, “british” volunteers massaging and applying ice packs to non-GB players during time out periods. Surely it was not too much for LOCOG to accommodate LaurentiaNational Lottery’s needs in the same way?

Looking back at the attempts by ICSD to merge into the IPC in the 1990s. Things were very different in those days. John Major was just about to fund sport via the National Lottery and the Paralympics were still relatively unknown. So, perhaps its time to have another meet at the table. Other major disability groups now have their own multi-event World Games which feed into the Paralympics. Perhaps this is now time for Deaflympians to try and do the same?

It has been suggested that ICSD try and negotiate for a small number of sports to be included in the Paralympics and then have the Deaflympics as a feeder event but because it was recognised as part of the Paralympic pathway and family it will make it easier to attract sponsorship etc and that Deaflympians can become part of the UK performance elite. perhaps it could also explore the inclusion of a hard of hearing classification alongside the 55dB threshold, that we discussed yesterday?

In 2005 UKDS lost its Deaflympic funding from the government in order for it to enable the country to prepare of the 2012 Paralympics. UKDS argued that GB Deaflympians were being discriminated against in favour of others. Iain Duncan Smith raised a debate in the House of Commons and the government of the day (Labour) argued that it was not discriminating against deaf people and used the example of Antonio Ally, a british deaf diver being able to compete at Olympic level and gain lottery support. We will discuss this further tomorrow.

Yesterday, whilst we were out, Two Big Ears II asked me if her shoes were suitable to wear out in public. I took one look at her feet and then pointed to her Two Big Ears. “You are quite comfortable to be seen in public wearing Two Big Ears and your worrying about your shoes?”. Joanne has become quite attached to her Two Big Ears. We met people in Fosse Park, Leicester today and handed out ten Introductions

Don’t forget to make a contribution to help the GB Deaflympic team

1 thought on “Why are the Deaf not in the Paralympics?

  1. We are advocates for communication access, volunteers in the CCAC. Our own priority is inclusion of quality captioning/subtitles/sttr, and of course, we support other choices too (Sign Languages). As you imply too, we (deaf, deafened and people with hearing loss) number so many millions now, and perhaps there’s a way to collaborate.
    We appreciate reading more about this today (having found your blog via Charlie’s twitter). Seems complex, both in terms of the constituencies concerned and involvled, all the costs, etc. We’ve posted it on our timeline on facebook also, with some comments. Regards, LS for the CCAC (http://ccacaptioning.org).


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