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Signed Culture and accessing the arts.

This whole project has been a real learning experience for us, finding out how other people communicate and interact with the world. Sula Gleeson of Signed Culture, an organisation supporting and promoting BSL access to the arts in the UK, has done some live signing for us and we thought it would be interesting to get an expert's perspective.

Portrait photograph of Sula Gleeson

Question 1. Let's start by getting to know you - how did you become a professional BSL interpreter? What does that actually involve? 

Sula.  Well, I got into BSL (British Sign Language), liking it as a language first - learning how to do it, etc.  I was/am a qualified teacher first, so started with the idea of combining both things and got some supply work in schools (covering for teachers who are off sick, etc) but felt so guilty at trying to teach deaf kids with an abysmally poor grasp of their language, I soon stopped.  I was still keen enough to go back to college to learn more of the language and about the community who uses it.  So started a long long road to becoming a qualified interpreter.  It is said, on average it takes about 7 yrs to become fully qualified, and I think I fell fair and square into that average!

Question 2. I know all of this was very new to me when Sean and I initially talked about access support for the tour - for the benefit of others who may be coming to sign for the first time, are there sources of information or advice you'd recommend as a starting point? 

Sula. The most frustrating thing for me is always... either, people think they can get an interpreter at the last minute for a big ‘gig’, or they don’t advertise it.  I’m still stunned that I can turn up to interpret a play, and while waiting in the wings to go on, an actor will casually say something like, ‘oh, are you interpreting?  Have you seen the script? Seen the show?’ - I feel like responding with ‘ why, haven’t you??’  We spend hours pawing over the script, studying it, practicing it, working out how to do various bits of it, maybe consulting with others about it....   A friend of mine created a little guide for theatres, that had a check list to compare what actors need and what interpreters need when engaged to do a play/show - the only difference is, an actor prepares, researches and learns his own part, while an interpreter does that for ALL the parts!!

Also, a theatre or theatre company may book an interpreted show, and an interpreter, but then do nothing with that information!!  They make it impossible to find on their website, impossible to book the right seats for access on their website, don’t put the info in fliers, posters, press releases, etc.  They think that just by making the provision deaf people will come out of the woodwork and miraculously find the info, and miraculously turn up!!!

Question 3. I was surprised to discover that BSL is the fourth most commonly used language in the UK. What else might people not know about BSL? 

Sula. Oo, that's a great question.  That it was only recognised as a language in the UK in 2003, but it has no legal protection. There is, however, legislation requiring the provision of interpreters such as the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.    Also, Queen Alexandra was deaf, (she was the wife of King Edward VII, the successor to Queen Victoria).  Erm,.. there have been many successful deaf people over the years - and centuries, but often people's hearing status isn't recorded in their achievements!  There are a great number of amazing deaf people around now, in every corner of society!  Maybe people would be surprised to learn that I know: deaf magicians, dancers, choreographers, musicians, a professional wrestler, actors, directors, film makers, editors, screen writers, playwrights, authors, comedians, teachers, make-up artists, historians, academic doctors, psychologists, linguists, researchers, international athletes, lecturers, TV presenters, artists, sculptors, illustrators, photographers, designers, IT experts,...

The 1st question I'm usually asked, is 'what are the swear words in BSL?' 


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