THIS week will be a reflective one for me as it is Deaf Awareness Week. The theme for this year is access to communication. Although I am hearing and have had that privilege my whole life, I have had a unique insight into the life of Deaf people over many decades now as I am a CODA – Child of a Deaf Adult.

As many are aware, My dad was born Deaf, and he uses sign language to communicate. This was something I picked up as a young child, taught to me by my dad. I would also spend many days around Deaf children, and other hearing children who had Deaf parents, and we all used British Sign Language (BSL) to communicate.

There was a notable difference in how well somebody could sign when it came to having two Deaf parents at home and maybe even Deaf siblings and those children like myself who had one Deaf parent: sign language is something that must be used and practised as much as possible, or if you don’t rely on it, it can slip away from memory.

Having used sign language, I can say it is also often like riding a bike – the muscle memory is there, you just need to get going again! Now when I meet Deaf people in everyday life, I think I may struggle to sign adequately if it’s been a while, but slowly through the conversation signs do come back to me.

The most wonderful thing about any Deaf person I have met that uses BSL to communicate is that they are incredibly patient with me, and when in discussion with them, they will say that they appreciate the effort to try signing.

This is because of the prejudice and ignorance that they face every day, some of which I have witnessed over many years interpreting for my dad. Some experiences are particularly frustrating and galling. Deaf people, like hearing people, should be addressed as an individual, and not through an interpreter. That is sadly seen too often and is dehumanising.

To bring awareness to Deaf people can mean so many things. I wouldn’t like to prioritise their needs and asks in any way at all, that is not for me to do, that is for them.

What I can do is let you know from a hearing person’s perspective what I have observed over the years, and how I have been asked to be a better ally to the Deaf community.

So, thinking of the theme for this year – access to communication – I have a few thoughts to share. Not all Deaf people will be completely Deaf, some will be hard of hearing. There are many ways in which Deaf people can communicate. This can include sign language, written words, spoken words with the support of hearing devices or not and other ways which are individual to each person.

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Much like how we as hearing people communicate in various ways, with various languages and dialects, so do Deaf people. My dad and I joke that I was brought up with Doric sign language – this is because regional variations in signs exist.

The most notable thing to understand is that when communicating to anyone who is Deaf as a hearing person, is that our language and communication, although it may be the most common way, isn’t the default “right” way.

We are both on a level playing field, both communications valid and equal; as much as the Deaf person is trying to change and modify their language for us, we should for them. There should be no power imbalance, and I know from experience that when that is established, the communication is also embedded in respect. My dad has to be more patient with me than I for him!

I advocate strongly for BSL to be taught in schools, as part of the curriculum. That would be the foundation for a truly inclusive education system and society for those who use BSL. It is up to us to change and to educate ourselves, not for Deaf people to do the fitting in.

It is their world as much as ours so why are we set up for hearing people, and for Deaf people’s communication to be additional, or an extra added in? Why should the financial costs for inclusive communication be an extra consideration?

True inclusion in a society is when we are already set up to have full communication needs met at the most fundamental level; costs included like any other language being taught.

For many years we have looked at inclusivity of all kinds as something to fit in – often the piece doesn’t fit into what we have already created in institutions.

This should tell us that we need to scrap the systems and start again with all the pieces included and build from there. Human rights, inclusion and the right to have communication needs met should be met from the very start.

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I look forward to welcoming Megan Laird, from Kennoway in Fife, who will be sharing her experiences of growing up as a Deaf young person during a forthcoming Time for Reflection in Parliament. She will explain why Deaf awareness is so important to her and what needs to be done to ensure all Deaf children and young people get the support they are entitled to.

It is vitally important that the Deaf community – the people with the lived experience – help shape any policy to ensure we get Scotland right for them too.

I look at our Parliament and all the advances we have made, and all the advances we are yet to make, and know that when we in Scotland create something, we try to leave no-one behind. We should start now on building our vision for an independent Scotland with everyone’s needs considered.

Start as we mean to go on!