I THINK I must have been around seven, standing in a shop communicating with my dad using British Sign Language (BSL), when I was first aware of people watching us. As usual, I was trying to fleece him for cash to buy the latest edition of Twinkle or some tennis balls to bounce off a wall.

I heard an adult say, “Check that wee quine deein’ sign” – I hadn’t really understood that it was anything to be noted as I hadn’t paid attention to reactions outwith our conversations, to be honest. To me, it was just how I spoke to my dad and Deaf friends at the Deaf club.

I also knew that when I was with my dad I had to cover my mouth while colluding on some sibling antics with my brother as my dad is a skilled lip reader, a skill I have also picked up, although not as perfected. I have maybe kept that one under my hat, as it’s very handy in my job. Shh, don’t tell …

Friends would regularly comment on how amazing it was to see my dad and I communicate in BSL. In fact, often when I went to their homes for tea, it would be a topic of conversation with their families. I really hadn’t seen what the fuss was – to me he was just my dad, and on reflection I felt very protective of him. I didn’t want anyone talking about him or pointing out his “difference”, even if it was just a friendly chat about sign language.

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I was young and defensive because I had been in situations where my dad was treated like a child, patronised and “othered”, things a young person dreads for themselves, never mind seeing that happen to a parent. He was a grown man, capable of making his own decisions, and at the very least I wanted the people who spoke to him to look at him and not at me as the interpreter. After all, he wasn’t invisible, and never to be pitied. There’s never been anything missing about him and I still get quite defensive, as you can tell!

It has taken me a few maturing years to be more open about this and realise the benefits of sharing lived experience. Something which may have come sooner had I seen Deaf representation around me, at school, in media and within education, but because of this, the promotion of sign language is now a lifelong work for me.

It is important to note, all of what I do is informed by my dad or members of the Deaf community. Being a CODA – Child Of Deaf Adult – it does give me certain privileges, but ultimately it’s their language and culture being discussed. I’m just very lucky to be a part of it.

From today until Sunday, it is the International Week of Deaf People, with an overarching theme of “building inclusive communities for all”, with the International Day of Sign Languages on Friday with its own theme of “sign languages unite us”. From both themes we can see the aims engage with both inclusivity and connection.

Ultimately, any language is a route to connection, and the flow of it between individuals ensures inclusion – but when we think of language, what crosses our minds? Our spoken words, what country we are from, or what dialect we use? Often, sign language doesn’t enter our thoughts, unless we are sign language users, or close to someone who is, or perhaps work with users. Language is a basic human right; everyone should be able to be understood in one’s own first language.

I was honoured to host an international sign language event at Parliament, to promote this beautiful language, and I was so proud to have my dad there to meet such a diverse group of Deaf people, CODAs and sign language users from all over the world.

The path of the Deaf has been an incredibly hard one, and Deaf history in Scotland is something my dad has ensured I learn along with BSL. The context, history and culture of language is incredibly important and much like other minority languages, it has had its time of oppression. I only need to ask my dad of his school days where physical punishment was used for anyone using sign instead of speech, and where they had to wear hearing aids which were so big and bulky that they restricted children from running around.

I have been informed that the British Deaf Association – BDA – is often a place of rehab for many traumatised Deaf people, but they have a vision, one that is proactive, not reactive, and that sees real inclusion and visibility for the Deaf community. I remember my heart breaking when I was told of a Deaf child’s first ever meeting with a Deaf adult. They got very upset, crying and fearful – they thought they would grow up to be hearing or that Deaf people died young. They were extremely confused and overwhelmed. THIS is why we need diverse representation in all aspects of life.

I have been told that it’s an exciting and hopeful time for the Deaf community having somebody in the Scottish Parliament who understands. People need that representation, as it also gives hope. To swear my oath in BSL was an incredible moment in history, and I have been told that it sent a ripple

of pride and emotion through the Deaf community here and abroad. This only happened because of who my dad is. His life journey paved the way for that to happen. I credit him and his passion for equality and justice.

My dad is proud to be Deaf, and I would not change him for anything. He would say “I love you” by holding my hands while I danced on his feet, by giving in and buying me the Twinkle, by always being present. Actions do literally speak louder than words.