Critical Review of Thomas Giddens’ documentary: “Does Deaf Football have a Future?”

I have been eagerly anticipating the release of a new documentary “Does Deaf Football Have a Future?” because it is the first time in a while that a programme about Deaf sport was being made in the UK where I had no involvement or insight. I wanted to compare this documentary with my analysis and perspective of the way in which media promotes the Deaflympic Movement and Deaf sport.

 

The documentary has been made at BSL Zone who support the next generation of d/Deaf filmmakers through their Zoom 2014 scheme aimed at d/Deaf scriptwriters and directors who have some experience but have never had their work broadcast on television. This is Thomas Giddens first ever attempt at documentary filmmaking where he explores ideas about the future of Deaf football. The film is now available online.

 

There are an infinite number of ways to analyse a subject and in Same Spirit Different Team I highlight the important of how the media representation of sport shapes and informs public attitudes to disability sport. Journalists have the power to inform or not to inform and they construct reality from their particular perspectives. I was looking forward to finding out how far Giddens would take his responsibility of wielding power to inform us about the future of Deaf football.

 

Without giving too much away; I recommend that you watch this enjoyable and well-made documentary as I think it gives people a broad perspective of Giddens potential as a documentary maker. This debuting director was limited to 15 minutes of airtime and I think he did well to;

  • Use old newsreels and contemporary footage, to give us an historical perspective from the experience of the current GB manager Philip Gardiner.
  • Advocate the current politics and philosophies about deaf football
  • Briefly explore the importance of role models and inclusive football
  • Give us all a hint into what the senior management at GB Deaf Football believes needs to be done in the future

 

Exposure to mass media plays a significant role in reinforcing existing norms and attitudes that might serve to change public attitudes. Family and peer opinions can be strong, but these too are mass media influenced. Journalists have the power to inform or not inform and they construct reality form their particular perspectives.

 

I hope this experience has inspired Giddens to continue making sports documentaries because the more coverage we have of the Deaflympics and Deaf sport, the more information we have to share with the public and society to increase exposure and encourage debate and discussion.

 

Whatever coverage is realised, it does influence attitudes towards the Deaflympics brand; and so it is important that national federations like UK Deaf Sport and their IOC representative the International Committee of Sport for the deaf (ICSD) interacts with the media as much as it possibly can; to present a positive and attractive brand to future athletes, target audiences, corporate supporters and others who are essential to the sustainability of Deaf sport.

 

The Zoom film scheme is designed to support the next generation of d/Deaf filmmakers. Included five days training, mentorship, script development, production and communication support. Find out more by logging into the BSL Zone.

A Tribute to Professor Margaret Talbot OBE PhD, FRSA

Today at 7:55am, Deaf sport lost one of its greatest supporters, Professor Margaret Talbot.

Margaret Talbot

I am greatly indebted to Margaret, as I, like countless others, can count her as one of my loyal friends and a great professional mentor. She never wanted anything in return, always happy to share her thoughts and offer insight when things were going well or falling apart. I treated her counsel with care because her time and support was something special and valuable, not to be abused.

I first met Margaret when I was 19 years old, working at Friends for Young Deaf people in the early 1980s, she took a great interest in our sport and development work with young deaf and hearing people – at that time, we were pioneering Deaf people’s involvement in the CCPR Community Sports Leaders Award and it was through her inspiration as CEO of the Association of Physical Education UK that contributed towards my decision to get into PE teaching.

Later, when she was CEO at the Central Council for Physical Recreation, she encouraged me to speak publicly at meetings and conferences about Deaf sport and challenge her peers and political decision makers to think about how National Governing Bodies of sport and education could be more inclusive and equitable.

When I came to write “Same Spirit Different Team – The Politicisation of the Deaflympics. Margaret was there to offer guidance, even offering the time to read drafts and suggest changes. It did not matter that she held high office in the world of sport and acted as consultant to the United Nations, she never forgot those of us at the chalk-face, in the classrooms, on the sports fields; we were her equals, no matter what.

I hold a deep sense of gratitude to Professor Talbot and cherish every word she wrote in her Foreword for my book. Those of us, who had the privilege to know her, will remember her as someone who knew how to challenge ignorance and bigotry in a way that allowed people not to lose face, a rare talent indeed.

Happy Travels my Friend.

Are the Deaflympics really necessary ?

A common question I often get asked : “Are the Deaflympics really necessary?”

The straight answer is “Absolutely.”  However, people seek justification for that assertion – they want to understand it in ways that they can relate to.

Recently, I came across a short video of Helen Willis and her life as a student at university. Helen wears a cochlear implant and the video explains the pros and cons of day to day living. Before you read the rest of this post, you need to watch the film, (there are subtitles and there is some sign language) It is only about 9 minutes long so please bear with me and come  back to this page once you have finished watching here.

Welcome back. Now, I suspect that some of you will have already decided how some scenes in that video give clear reasons why the Deaflympics are really necessary for the benefit of Deaf people. However, if you are still unsure, allow me to elaborate.

The IOC, in its wisdom, believe that the Deaflympics segregate Deaf people from society. On the contrary, the Deaflympics are necessary to provide opportunities to a balanced world of “silence and synthetic sound”. Although there have been advances in Cochlear Implant technology that now overcomes some of the limits in Helens implant, there is still a need for assistive technology and other resources to enable a Deaf person to function independently. Implants are not a cure and flashing doorbells, electronic note-takers, sign language and the company of other deaf people is still required.

The Deaflympics are necessary because the IOC and sport has not yet solved the barriers that prevail in sport. It is said that the ‘rules of the game’ do not need to be adapted for deaf people – but the environment does. Opportunities to improve communication for Deaf athletes and others in the sports environment remain uncharted, untapped and under-resourced. The assistive technology already in use at the Deaflympics is still not a regular feature in the sports competitions run under International Federation rules. Sports officials are also still ignorant to the simple changes that can be made to enable Deaf athletes to respond when play is stopped. Thus, the Deaflympics are necessary in order to teach the IOC and sport what is required to become inclusive.

The Deaflympics are necessarily  important for society because the development of an elite athlete is similar to the career development of every employee of working age and there are two areas that need attention in order to progress, succeed and get promoted. The first area is the development and practice of skills and activity of the job itself, this has to be done in the most efficient and effective way possible. The second area is the continuing professional development, socializing and networking that enables the worker/athlete to take on more information, insights and confidence to develop their skills and activity area further.

Helen’s experience as a student in an elite academic environment mirror the same difficulties facing Deaf athletes who work hard to function in the elite sporting environment. Like Helen, their brains have to work overtime to fill in the gaps so they can understand the complex information that their coaches are conveying. So much brain-power is used, just keeping up with the coaches and other support staff that assistive technology and resources or changes in behavior and working practices are required.

The sports environment is still very much like the pub scenario described by Helen. She is amongst fellow elite students but she feels useless, all she can do is watch people lips move because it is impossible to understand every word despite being skilled at lip-reading. The ability to contribute is an important measure of a persons worth to others.

The Deaflympic pathway is necessary because it is an untapped source of Olympic talent that has only been utilised by a very small minority ( Terence Parkin, Dean Barton-Smith ) to balance out or springboard up to the next level of elitism. Unfortunately, governments and national governing bodies are blinkered by the Olympic/Paralympic monopoly as the only pathway for disabled athletes. By doing this, they have marginalised elite deaf athletes to the back of the queue when it comes to access to the funding and resources required to succeed. I have covered the impact of this monopoly extensively in the book; Same Spirit Different Team.

The Deaflympics are really necessary because sport and physical activity are beneficial to people’s personal health, well-being and academic/economic efficiency. The same is obviously true for Deaf people, well, it was at one time, when educational systems based on Deaf schools fostered the adoption of active healthy lifestyles engineered through the school – community links that prevailed. Nowadays, that has all but disappeared. Deaf sport has been fragmented and in some localities obliterated into extinction.

The workplace is a stressful environment for everyone and it is possible find ‘release’ in sport and physical activity or other forms of recreation that takes our noses off the grind-stone and allow us to relax and recharge. But not so for Deaf people, the bolt-holes everyone takes for granted are still stressful environments for Deaf people and Helen’s involvement in Dancesport is a good illustration that sport is the ‘happy place’ we can all escape to and ‘forget our cares and lose ourselves’.

Like Helen, all Deaf people seek out the benefits of sport within the mainstream environment, in the local clubs and facilities that are close to hand. But as we saw in the video, the acoustic environment of sport does not lend itself well to effective listening and communication. The interviewer in the video asks Helen “When do you hear? – When do you hear about the results?”. Helen answers “I think I am going to be very happy with it. I’ll be very happy with whatever they say”. Realizing that Helen had not understood the question, the interviewer patiently tries again “Do you know when you hear?” and Helen was able to answer the original question, thus contributing effectively.

The important point to consider here is that this was a one off situation in the relatively short relationship between the interviewer and Helen that lasted for the duration that the film was made. But this occurs more often in the daily relationship between Deaf and hard of hearing people and their hearing friends, colleagues and family members. This scenario repeats itself time and time again, people lose patience and draw away and stop communicating with deaf athletes because it becomes burdensome. I once came across a declaration made by a hearing person that you can invite your Deaf friend to a party once, but only once because the situation with communication was too awkward.

In the film, Helen’s parents are supporting her at the dance competition. Whether or not this is a usual occurrence is irrelevant but their presence serves to answer another point about the support structures that elite athletes need and how this can be found in the Deaflympics. There was someone in the sporting environment that was able to communicate more effectively with Helen as a competitor and provide her with the stress-free interactions that enable the athlete to stay calm and composed under pressure.

If we do eventually succeed in persuading the IOC and sport to recognise and support the Deaflympic pathway correctly, the majority of athletes in the Summer and Winter Deaflympic will still not reach the pinnacle of the Olympics, but they will at best have been given the opportunity to reach their potential. This is true in the case of Rajeev Bagga, five-time Deaflympic badminton gold medalist. Bagga never reached the Olympics, but he did compete in the Commonwealth Games and other world –ranking events. Now retired from the Deaflympics, he still competes internationally in mainstream Masters badminton for England and is now sharing his knowledge and experience with Deaf and hearing people as a badminton coach through opportunities that have been created by Sport England recognizing the key strategic importance of UK Deaf Sport, the British representative of the Deaflympic movement and its network of sports opportunities offered by third sector deaf organisations and their partnerships with national governing bodies and other providers of physical activity. We are only just starting to get there.

We can argue that some political decisions that were made in the late 1980s and early 1990s by the leadership of the Olympic, Deaflympic and Paralympic movements have denied Bagga the opportunity to compete at the Olympics. The International Committee of Sport for the Deaf and Deaf sport needs to learn from this and move forwards. Deaf sport needs to teach society that the Deaflympics are necessary and have much to offer non-deaf people in return.

If you want to know what those benefits are right now or need further information on the politics that have shaped Deaf sport into what it has become today, read Same Spirit Different Team, the latest book on the Deaflympic games.

Thank you to Helen for sharing her experiences with us.

 

PE and Deaf children

Hello Readers,

Your Sign Language version here.

Lord Moynihan, outgoing Chair of  British Olympic Association is worried that poor quality PE lessons, lack of space on timetables means that a failure to provide “a ladder of opportunity” for children will lead to an increasingly wide gap to standards between state and independent schools.

Two Big Ears is concerned that this means a ‘double whammy’ of lost opportunity for deaf children in schools.

Moynihan says that primary school children are being taught PE by teachers who lack the expertise to deliver the subject because most primary teachers receive just six hours of training in sport at university or college. Two Big Ears would add that that means there is very little training to make teachers aware of the needs of deaf children in their classes. Two Big Ears suggests that schools should do more to link up with local community providers to help them deliver appropriate activity. Teachers of the Deaf are usually English and language specialist and very rarely have any skills or training towards PE or after-school sport, working with the local community will be of benefit to them.

Moynihan wants to see a greater range of activity such as dance to inspire children turned off by traditional team games. Deaf children would be further marginalised by this. We need to see an emphasis on accessible activities that are inclusive and are activities that children can continue with at home with siblings, friends and family. The fundamentals of physical exercise should be nurtured.

Lord Moynihan said the nation is failing to “identify and provide a ladder of opportunity and performance pathways for outstandingly talented kids in the state sector”

Deaf children at primary and secondary mainstream schools are marginalised from after-school clubs and activities because many of them are bussed or taxied to school and the transport service providers are not flexible enough to accommodate this. The problem lies with Local Education Authority budgets not enabling such resources to be used more flexibly. Deaf children who have talent will be missing out.

Schools need to welcome the support of specialist organisations in the community who can come in and work with staff and pupils to enable them to become aware of the sporting pathways and opportunities that exist NEARER to home instead of at school. This information also needs to reach parents of deaf children so that they can help in this process.

Over 90% of deaf children are educated in their ‘local’ mainstream school and will not be aware of sporting pathways available to them. Visits to every school at least once a year by organisations such as UK Deaf Sport or one of its many National Deaf Sports Organisations would help to bridge the gaps in knowledge, not just for deaf children but for all.

If you are concerned about what you read and would like to contribute your ideas, time or support in any other way, please contact Bryan Whalley  bdwhalley@o2.co.uk  Chair of the UK Deaf Sport sub-committee on PE & School Sport for Deaf children. This committee meets three or four times a year to feed information up to the decision makers at the Youth Sports Trust and also acts as a hub of information for PE staff, teachers, classroom assistants and parents worried about deaf children’s lack of opportunity in PE.

Why are Deaflympians treated so differently ? Part 2

Written by Stuart Harrison

Yesterday Two Big Ears and I looked at how financial prioritization to Olympic and Paralympic sport in the UK has been detrimental to deaf sport whilst in other countries there has been a more equitable approach to recognising elite Deaflympians within sport pathways.

This post is probably the most difficult one for me to write because it will be controversial. I have shared my views privately over the years with colleagues whom I could trust whilst always looking for the opinion of others and evidence that would back up his perspective. This week he has been able to find evidence in an article in The Independent on Sunday by Peter Popham examining the work of Danielle Peers, a Paralympian who now coaches sport and is working on her PhD thesis in disability, sport and human rights at the University of Alberta.

I have long harboured the opinion that people’s perception of disability influences decision makers when thy decide that Paralympians are more deserving of support than Deaflympians because of the “19th century freak show phenomenon“. Deaflympians don’t look freaky.

Peers demonstrates that the Paralympics are ‘sold” to create more profitable versions of the “Games” . Marketing has “drawn on the specific structures, stories and techniques of freak show”.

This appeals to ‘gawking” tendency when promoters focus on tragedy and deformity instead of athletic achievements.

On the opening day of the Paralympics  I bought a national newspaper with the entire front and back cover displaying a photograph tightly zoomed in on bladed legs. I doubt that a similar image of Usain Bolt’s legs, would sell news.

I agree with Peers that the  Channel 4 ‘superhuman Paralympians’ video “showing a car flipping and a worried pregnant woman reinforced disability as tragic and horrible.” And I would like to add that no superhuman Learning Disabled athletes are in the video, they are outwardly ‘normal’ – so not marketable.

Deafness is a “hidden” disability and cannot compete for government funding or media coverage in the same way because people do not see Deaflympians as being any different to able-bodied athletes and therefore in 2009 did not challenge the Sports Minister Gerry Sutcliffe MP, when he argued that Deaf athletes are not discriminated against because they (are normal) and can compete in the Olympics like Antonio Ally. You cannot ‘focus’ on the bodies of Deaflympians as a “problem”.

The huge amount of negativity aimed at a BBC blog written yesterday featuring the views of the International Committee of Sport for the Deaf ICSD, illustrates public misconceptions very clearly

Popham concludes his article with “Disability like racism, is in the eye of the beholder. And while a handful of superb athletes are put on a pedestal, the grinding lives of the majority go on as before.”

Tomorrow’s third part will look at the philosophies behind the formation of the “Silent Games” in 1924 and the “Stoke Mandeville games” of 1948 and how “history” has been written in a way that influences people to treat Deaflympians differently.

You can read Peter Popham’s article about Danielle Peers here

Two Big Ears was working early this morning at BNI Hinckley, pleased to hear that some members have been following the blog. Thank you!

Corrective Surgery and Local Sports clubs

Apologies for the late arrival of this post, should have been up yesterday.
I imagine at some point that everyone with a “spare part” – Hearing aid, cochlear implant, prosthetic limb, glass eyes, wheelchairs, dentures etc has felt the urge to, or had to, undertake some form of DIY modification to make the offending article work; sit comfortably; stop hurting – whatever.
Yesterday I carried out some corrective surgery on Two Big Ears because I have a deformed right pinna due to a mild form of Treacher Collins Syndrome – the right side Big Ear will not stay in place.
Like all good pioneers, I am not going to reveal my medical secrets as it might be a breakthrough for deaf people and earn me untold riches from the NHS or private health. I am going to test it out for a while. But what I can tell you is that the procedure only requires a ballpoint pen and two elastic bands – go figure.
Yesterdays experiences got me thinking that getting children and young people into sport, local sport clubs. Is a bit like corrective surgery.
Joanne and I have been looking after her eight and ten year old grandsons this weekend. On the way over to see them yesterday, Joanne wondered If the two pairs of Two BIg Ears would freak them out and would we get permission from the eight-year-old to allow Two Big Ears to take him to his weekly Taekwondo lessons.
There was no freak out. eight-year-old loved Joanne’s Two Big Ears and tried them on for size. My Two Big Ears were “embarrassing” , nevertheless less I persuaded him to let me keep them on and promised to explain why I was wearing them in the car on the way to “kick someone in the head”.
Try to imagine the stunned expression on the faces of coaches, parents and athletes as we walked in to the gym. I really would like to know if that’s the same reaction disabled people still get today when they turn up announced at a local sports activity and hope to join in? Just think about it, what must that feel like for everyone.
Don’t get the wrong end of the story here, the guys at West Midlands Taekwondo are fantastic. I quickly got them out of their misery by announcing that I was with eight-year-old and I had £10 for his subs.

Normal service quickly resumed and I really enjoyed watching my first Taekwondo lesson, there were five little people with laser sharp focus, taking in every instruction from coach Mike Meese. Inspiring to watch a child being taught the basic foot movements and another carry out intricate arm blocks and punches. Only 10,000 hours away from their first world championship medal?

Of course, I made my daily contribution for the GB Deaflympics team I gave one of the mum’s and Mrs Meese a copy of the Introduction…
I would like your permission to allow me to share my inner thoughts as I watched that lesson, after all, that is the purpose of this blog.
There was a girl training with eight-year-old who had a physical disability – I wave hands in the air for her dad for including her in his sport. Many children born with disabilities are not given these precious life chances to enjoy sport. Her movements are restricted so she could not show the finese of of the others, but we could all see her for what she was and proud of what she was doing.
But this did make me wonder about the “hidden disability” of deafness. Instructions were given verbally in a mixture of Korean and English alongside a demonstration of the movement required. Had a deaf child turned up yesterday morning, the coaching methodology would have been insufficient to make sure that the child was able to follow what was going on. But I have my utmost faith in Mrs and Mrs Meese and the other members of WMTKD that they would make the necessary adaptation for the deaf child. They have my UK Deaf Sport business card, they can contact us as soon as a deaf person joins their club, we will be there to help them.
UK Deaf Sport is working in partnership with sports coach UK and the National Deaf Childrens Society we are currently developing a new workshop on communication skills for sports coaches which will be piloted later this year with a launch in the spring – if all goes well, I look forward to personally delivering the workshop to everyone at WMTKD.
First impressions really do count, imagine an astute parent of a deaf child turning up to yesterday’s lesson and making a personal assessment on its suitability for their child.
On the basis of what I saw yesterday, they would probably not return the following week. Parents of deaf children have a point of view quite different from mine, I am pre-lingually Deaf and a fully qualified PE teacher, sports coach, coach tutor so have my perspective on things. Parents are experts on their own children but not necessarily experts on inclusive sport for disabled children.
When eight-year-old and I got back home, Mum and Dad were almost ready to leave for their well deserved weekend break. Dad and I had a chat about the lesson and his hopes for both his boys. I learnt that Dad had taken 10-year-old to the local Sea Cadets but decided from his point of view that there was something not quite right about the group, it made him feel uncomfortable, so they are looking for something else to do. First impressions, rightly or wrongly are powerful – we, in sport have to get it right first time otherwise we risk losing newcomers.
There is a boxing club I know who have an excellent approach to first time visitors and I assume it is also replicated at all ABCs – I hope. Both parent and child are invited to observe their first session, if the child is straining at the leash to have a go, they can. When Joanne’s son showed an interest in the sport we took him along to the club to observe.
The volunteers at the club explained everything to us, showed us around the venue etc, made as all feel welcome. But, we never went back. Although the club explained that they had worked with another deaf child before, this did not persuade our 14 year old. He was concerned about the enormity of the communication issues facing him. It was his own personal impression of what he saw.
If I had not been there, Joanne would not have taken her son because there was nobody to communicate with them. If there had been another deaf person at the club, (volunteer, boxer, coach, or parent) – then there would have been a higher possibility of him returning to give it a go.
It’s human nature, we all want to be with people like ourselves. There has to be a common denominator that compels us to join a new club, but sometimes the sport itself is not enough.
Deaf people need someone that they can communicate with. The little girl I admired yesterday, her father is a player – Taekwondo is a family thing.
In the beginning, 8-year-old had to be told he was going to his lessons, it was not out of choice, even now, Mum and Dad have to make sure he’s ready to go and take him there. They do this because they want him to have the best chances in life, they believe that sport is a force for good.
Getting disabled children involved in a local sports club is a bit like corrective surgery, get it wrong and you are psycologically scarred, sometimes for life and the task becomes much harder.