Friday, 3 April 2009

Library services for Deaf people

I recently had a meeting with Richard Stacey and Nick Havard about how libraries are meeting the needs of the Deaf community. This discussion arose from the Deaf awareness workshops that SINTO ran. We were interested not just in making libraries accessible to d/Deaf people but also in exploring how far libraries provide for the information and cultural needs of this community. The point here is that deafness is not just a disability. Many Deaf people (especially British Sign Language users) see themselves as s linguistic and cultural minority whose needs are not recognised by mainstream society.

This is illustrated by some recent issues. There has been controversy about Deaf parents who want to have deaf children (here). Genetic screening means that deafness could be screened out, but should Deaf parents be able to screen for deafness? And what about cures for deafness such as cochlear implants or recent developments in stem cell treatment for deafness at the University of Sheffield. Is this any different to attempting to to "cure" homosexuality or Barak Obama's story about skin bleaching in "Dreams of my father"?

This is not a rhetorical question. Perhaps it is different. The point I am making is that some Deaf people do see themselves as a cultural and linguistic group and libraries should provide for them on that basis.

One issue we discussed is whether there is a category of BSL "literature" that libraries should stock or provide access to? The Sign Bytes project makes the point that:

Deaf people who use BSL as a first or preferred language however are able to
access very little information in their own language. The reason for this has
not been any sort of malice on the part of hearing society, rather it has simply
been because there is no written form of BSL (or indeed of any other sign
Sign Bytes is providing access to information in BSL but these is a limited amount of BSL literature. One example is the series of videos produced by Deaf Educate .

I have a personal interest in this. My aunt Dorothy Miles was a sign language poet and playwrite. I am very aware that libraries have many competing demands on their resources especially in the area of social inclusion but I would like to see the Deaf community and their needs given a little more attention. I am hoping to organise a seminar to discuss this with the SINTO Social Inclusion group later this summer. If you are interested please contact me.

I have also produced a list of Deaf organisations and websites.


Carl said...

Equal Sign provide a translation service from English to BSL which can be provided in a variety of formats. These could be used on Websites, OPACs etc.

Alison Bryan said...

Best library I've ever been to is the San Francisco Public Library. There's a Deaf Services Centre on the ground floor. I stumbled on it by chance, and puts Deaf stuff in a very public place. Allows the mainstream to be more exposed to Deaf issues too.

If you take this forward, please let me know and I'll blog it.

Dorothy Miles is still fondly remembered, her poetry was amazing.