Jul 20 2012 By Joe McGuire
CROSSING the street on my way to Deaf Connection’s office the bleeping of the green man made me think.
You can easily spot a blind person on the street by their white cane or maybe their guide dog, but not so those with hearing difficulties.
Not for nothing is it called the hidden disability, and with an estimated one in six Scots suffering from hearing loss, chances are good you’ll see a deaf person every time you’re out and about.
Based in the old Gorbals library on Norfolk Street Deaf Connections works to raise awareness of the condition across the country.
And I have to admit that I personally needed some of that education.
I had never come across a deaf person before and wasn’t even aware of the fact that to differentiate between a deaf person who can speak and one who cannot is the height of rudeness.
Thankfully the receptionist set me straight as I waited in the lobby for our interviewee, Catriona Lafferty.
And when in short order I sat down with the health development worker my ignorance was further showcased-while a deaf person is signing should you be watching them or their interpreter, who in this case was Bruce Cameron.
Smiling Catriona informed me that it was really just whatever was natural, and so our conversation proved.
Through Bruce Catriona told me of her experiences growing up as a deaf person in what she calls “a hearing world”.
Up until the age of 11 she attended a specialist deaf school, honing her communication powers at the expense of a more traditional curriculum.
But in Primary six she made the choice to go to Barmulloch Primary and enter the education system with hearing children after her brother “took the mickey out of her”.
And since the deaf school had focussed on signing and lip-reading she was facing it without a knowledge of times tables or the English language.
She said: “It was difficult but it was my choice to go.
“I wanted to learn and do the same things as other children but deaf school education didn’t give me what I needed.”
When she didn’t understand things because of her deafness teachers humiliated Catriona by forcing her to stand on a chair.
She said: “I fought a few battles in school-I grew a thick skin.”
And even for her own three children the education system wasn’t without its hurdles.
When bad weather closed her kids' schools deafness meant the Lafferty’s missed radio announcements, leading to many treks through bad weather only to be greeted by a sole janitor.
Train announcements are another bugbear for Catriona as she explains: “You can be on a platform having seen all the details on the board, only to see everyone else start moving elsewhere-the boards may not have been updated but there’s clearly been an announcement.”
Little everyday things like that, or the flashing lights in the ceiling of Deaf Connections in case of fire, or the fact the political world is essentially closed to deaf people, just hadn’t occurred to me previously.
I guess I had assumed that deaf people would always have an interpreter with them-something Catriona assures me certainly isn’t the case.
Interestingly her children, who are all hearing, could all communicate with sign language before they could talk, and sometimes played the interpreter role.
At this Bruce chips in.
The child of deaf parents himself he makes the point that signing children can communicate before kids born to hearing children.
The 39 year-old said: “There’s a video of me at 18 months old signing to my dad to tell him there was a little bird outside.”
As a child Bruce often played interpreter for his mother, a fact he says did him no harm-but it did on occasion do his mother harm as he explains.
“One time at the doctor’s my mother received anaesthetic to have a lump removed from her finger.
“The doctor assured me that it would stop her feeling any pain and as a wee boy I took what he said as gospel.
“So when she started signing at me to say it was painful I didn’t say anything to the doctor-eventually it took her screaming to make him stop.”
On the subject of what else can be frustrating to the deaf community Catriona tells me people who can sign-but don’t try to chat.
She said: “I recall on a two week holiday with my husband on the very last day someone who’d been there all the time signed goodbye to us.
“It was nice of them to do but I wish they’d said hello earlier-it would have been nice to have someone to blether to.
“If you can sign it’s kind of like being part of a club, like wearing the same football top-you just start talking to random people.”
Although I left Deaf Connections with very little in the way of BSL I did leave with a greater awareness of what deaf people face every day.