Over a decade ago Paul Redfern published an article in the Deaf Worlds Journal entitled ‘Deaf professionals – a growing stream’. This article explored several issues facing deaf professionals at the time, including the emergence of deaf professionals in several disciplines. It has now been some time since this article was written. Have things improved, or stayed the same? Do deaf professionals now face different issues? What are the possible challenges facing deaf professionals in the future?

Paul has had a varied career, from being a qualified social worker, director of Deafworks to being the head of community development at the BDA. He is currently Director of Richmond Advice and Information on Disability.

Tuesday 22nd November 2005 – Paul Redfern’s Article

A Growing Stream Talk given by Paul Redfern

This article is a transcript of the first of three papers in this issue presented at the ‘Progress through Equality’ Conference organised by the British Society of Mental Health and Deafness in Manchester, September 1994. To download a presentation that accompanies the talk, please click here (requires Microsoft PowerPoint).

First of all, why should I come and tell you about D/deaf professionals and mental health issues ? The answer is that I’m quite clear as a Deaf person, I’m on the margins of the hearing community, no matter how hard I try to be involved. And it is painful. And I have worked in the field of deafness as a youth leader, a social worker, a training officer in social services, a tutor of BSL, a trainer of deaf awareness and now I spend most of my time writing about deaf issues. So you can guess from that, I’ve been around for some time. Twenty years, in fact, as a Deaf professional working in the field of deafness.

So here I am ! I’m not going to concentrate on the differences between hearing and D/deaf professionals although my talk does touch upon this. What I’d like to do is to use my observations of the last twenty years and to try and draw some perceptions as to what is happening on a global scale. First of all, there has been an amazing influx of D/deaf people into the professional world. When I started, and don’t I sound like an old bore (you know the sort of thing, “When I was your age”), I think at that time, I was one of less than five D/deaf social workers in the whole of the UK. Practically no D/deaf teachers then either, no teachers of BSL, no TV presenters, no D/deaf classroom assistants, no D/deaf people in mental health, no D/deaf people in research. Shall I carry on ? I think the point is made. I was one of a very rare breed. A genuine Deaf professional in a sea of hearing professionals and a lonely place it was too! Now what do we have? D/deaf people teaching BSL up and down the country, working in Universities, working in schools, mental health and so on. We have a Deaf director at the RNID and the NDCS, a Deaf head teacher (if you had asked me twenty years ago, I would have thought it was a dream). The title of my talk is A Growing Stream. So from being a drop with me in it, we now have a respectable stream, especially in the last five years. So from being amazing, I’ve now become ordinary. From having trouble to find five D/deaf people in the whole of the UK working with other D/deaf people, if I were to sit down with a friend and try and think of all the D/deaf professionals we know between us, we would easily get one hundred. It’s been an amazing transformation and it’s not finished yet. A look at our programme shows how fast we have come but also how far we still have to go. I can identify 12 D/deaf people out of 66 speakers on the programme. Compare that with the National Council of Social Workers with the Deaf in 1975 and in their conference, out of 28 speakers, three were D/deaf. So we have more D/deaf people involved but we are still in the minority. So things have changed and I’m delighted that we have come this far.

I’m a firm believer that D/deaf people should work with other D/deaf people and the influx of D/deaf people into the professional world is, for me, very welcome. It doesn’t mean that we get rid of all hearing people. We should have roughly equal numbers in many places and maybe in some, we should be in the majority and in others, we will be in the minority. The unacceptable situation for me is that we are in the minority in too many places.

Who or what are D/deaf people and are they all part of the Deaf community?

From my perspective, the Deaf community is now a Deaf club core and a D/deaf professional network with some overlap. In this network, there are those who were leaders in their Deaf clubs, secretary or Chair, or whatever, partially deaf, deafened in childhood, or educated in hearing schools. Many don’t go to Deaf clubs.

For me, there are two identifiable groups, those who were members of the Deaf club and those who don’t go.

Let’s look at the first group. Those who have moved out of the Deaf clubs, or are still in the club but in a smaller role, either giving up or reducing their voluntary work because they are now teaching BSL or doing other professional work with hearing colleagues. They are now finding it increasingly difficult to maintain their old friendships. Sometimes it’s because the conversation at the Deaf club has become boring for those who are now working professionally. Sometimes, it’s difficult to relate to your old friends when you are wanting to talk about the latest ideas around teaching BSL or whatever. And the people who still enjoy their Deaf club find it difficult to relate to their old friends who are now professional workers and now are becoming “workaholics”. The consequence is that Deaf clubs have become weakened because of the loss of their leaders and the leaders have lost their support network. The other group of D/deaf people who have become professionals have different issues. I was and am one of them. I rarely go to Deaf clubs. But I have been involved with work with deafness for twenty years and have D/deaf friends. So I have support, but what about others? Where do they get their support from? This has mental health implications. Good mental health is about having a balance in life. Having adequate emotional sustenance from those close to you, from those who are friends and who are work colleagues. Having time off for relaxation and having some way of releasing the tensions of life are all important. If you are D/deaf and do not feel that you can get support from your hearing colleagues and many, I have to say, D/deaf people do not feel supported by their colleagues. And if you don’t get support from your old friends in the Deaf club, where do you get it from? Maybe in London or in the big cities, you can get some support from others, but there are still not enough D/deaf professionals for a wide choice.

I am not suggesting that for one minute we should go backwards to the old “cosy” Deaf club communities – that’s gone, and I suspect that there were very many able D/deaf people who were stuck with boring jobs and so poured their energies into the Deaf club all the time knowing that perhaps there was another world which they would never know and never have the chance to try out. And there were some who were out of the Deaf club, living lonely and isolated lives because in some way they had trangressed the code. No matter what some of the old fashioned Missioners might try to tell you, there were certainly casualties then, but we also have some now after a very short time of immense change and we will have more.

The mental health issue for me is that we need to acknowledge that there are casualties. It seems as if I’m talking about a sort of battle. We are. We are in a battle. A battle for equality. We have to fight the law, the Government, attitudes, discrimination and so on. Does this mean that all hearing people are our enemies? Not at all. Many are our allies, working for a world of equality for all people. But battles mean casualties and although there are changes, we are still in the minority in many places when we should have equal numbers or maybe be in the majority. We need to fight on.

There will be more casualties. When I talk about casualties, I am not talking about bullet wounds, bomb injuries, deaths from shooting or actual fighting. I am talking about those who are forced to give up. There are those working with no energy, just living their lives out, some in and out of hospitals with health problems. Some have become passe, and are mocked by other D/deaf people. Some will develop mental health problems and require treatment. Or maybe even suicide. Dorothy Miles was a casualty. Talented in so many ways, and so restricted by the world in which we live in so many ways, she did not become a casualty at the point of death, she had already been one for some years.

So how can we minimise the number of casualties? How can we ensure that D/deaf people are not marginalised or weakened to the point where they are unable to continue with their work or to have fulfilling lives ? And how can we make sure that those who do become casualties are able to heal again?

One small but very crucial step we can all take is to try and stop our tendency to moan about other people. “He’s not Deaf”, “She can’t sign properly”, “He’s an useless manager”, “She’s always talking rubbish”. That sort of thing. We’ve now got jokes about poppy fields, crab syndromes, and pull downs etc. So it’s widespread. I’m not suggesting that we all become saints and never moaning. Having a moan is important to get things off our chest, but we should be more careful about doing it in public.

One classic I saw at a BDA conference was King Jordan, Gallaudet’s first Deaf president who was deafened as a result of a motorbike accident but was not being accepted by the Deaf community as a Deaf person. He challenged the conference audience “How Deaf do you have to be, to be Deaf?” And as soon as he had sat down, someone in the audience signed to a friend, “He’s not Deaf”.

This tendency to moan about others can have serious consequences. We must never forget that in too many organisations, or establishments, D/deaf people whether they be Deaf, deafened, or mainstreamers or whatever are less likely to be given jobs and less likely to be given promotion. Let’s be honest. A lot of D/deaf people when they know someone has got a senior job, the first reaction is “they can’t do that job” or “Her/him”. A bit of jealousy there Ð fine. But why don’t we do it when a hearing person gets the same job? We are now. More and more of us are saying, “Why a hearing person?” That’s healthy. That shows we are on the road to a positive identity as a Deaf person as it means that we are rejecting the negative norms around deafness.

But back to my point about slagging off other D/deaf people, for whatever reason, too many hearing people who have positions of power still perceive D/deaf people as in some way inferior. They won’t publicly say so, too dangerous, but the way they behave and talk shows that attitude. They will use us to show their “right on” credentials, by saying that job is unsuitable for D/deaf people because D/deaf people said so. I have seen a lot of talk about “suitable” D/deaf people, but no talk about “suitable” hearing people. So, we have to support any D/deaf person in becoming a professional. We should encourage, persuade or maybe press the people in power to employ more of us, that’s the second point.

My third point is that we should praise more. We don’t praise enough. How many D/deaf people do we know who are really doing good work? Trying to change things, trying to improve things, trying to achieve equality for D/deaf people. But sometimes I see people moaning about other D/deaf people and saying they are not achieving anything. But it they are teaching hearing colleagues to sign, and to have a better attitude, sometimes that’s a real achievement. We forget sometimes that it takes all our energy just to stay in the same workplace as some hearing people. So no matter how small the achievement, or how great the achievement, or even more important, how flawed the achievement, let us praise the person. That includes hearing people who are our genuine allies. They are in a difficult position as well, so we need to be generous to them as well.

Fourth point, sometimes a D/deaf person is having problems – maybe a whispering campaign, or they have had a public row with someone, whatever. Far too often, what we see is a distancing from that person leaving them alone. We should be seen with them and publicly show our solidarity. This can be very difficult but it is essential if we are to ensure that we achieve our goal of equal rights and acceptance in this society.

So support for me means trying to reduce our tendency to “back-stab”, and learning to praise more – it doesn’t have to be public, praise in private with sincerity can be worth more than public utterances. Doing our best to make sure that more D/deaf people are employed, and showing our solidarity in public. And one final word, all this is very important when we are fighting for equality. But it is also important for another reason. We are a very small community so we are more vulnerable to those people with psychopathic tendencies. I know a few and I’m sure you know some as well. They may be hearing, they may be D/deaf. They may be professional or they may be important in the Deaf community, or in the Deaf club. When I say psychopathic tendencies, I do not mean the Hannibal Lectors of film fame, the murderous ones. I mean those who instill fear in others without compunction, who start whispering campaigns to unsettle the person, attack people in public, sometimes overtly and sometimes covertly so that when you are a victim, you are not sure what is happening, but feel very nervous and frightened. When you are on the receiving end, you are not sure what you have done wrong and anxiously examine your actions over the past few days or weeks. The end result is that you are left feeling worried and anxious and unable to work properly. I am not talking about “bad-naming”, or about “jealousy”, hurtful and upsetting they are when it happens. I am not talking about conflict with other people or about people who are angry with you and say hurtful things and then afterwards perhaps think that maybe they shouldn’t have done. I am talking about people who enjoy making unprincipled and powerfully concerted attacks solely to diminish you. They do not care what happens to you as long as they win. They cannot see the injustice of what they are doing as they do not have a sense of morality. People with psychopathic tendencies are often intelligent and charming but people often don’t challenge them and are careful not to incur their wrath when they are around. Such people wreak tremendous havoc in such a small community. They reduce people to tears and fear. They damage lives and blight them for years. I have seen it happen and it disgusts me.

For me, the best way is to try and support those who are on the receiving end and ensure that they can recover. Trying to confront people who have psychopathic tendencies is useless, they do not change, they lie low and then they come back with greater virulence. We cannot spend our lives fighting such people, it is impossible to win on an individual basis.

The way to win is to support each other and to calmly but very determinedly not allow such individuals power over your own lives. And we should try and make sure that they are not given employment or status where they have opportunities to exercise their power over others. So in conclusion, the mental health well-being of not only all of us as individuals, but also the Deaf community with its Deaf club core, and D/deaf professional network is dependent on us D/deaf people developing a strong supportive network, resisting those who would destroy for their own gain, and those who have no interest in equal rights for D/deaf people. And I firmly believe that good mental health cannot be achieved without equal rights, so this is a battle that we must not lose. And after twenty years of being a professional, I believe we will win. Definitely, we will win equal rights.


0 Responses to “Archive 2005”

  1. Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: