We’ve recently taken the opportunity to talk to deaf YouTuber and journalist Liam O’Dell about his experiences as a deaf person throughout his daily life and career.
A big thank you to Liam for his help and answers. Check out his YouTube channel here, which is focused on video captioning etiquette, and deaf culture in general.
What common difficulties and benefits do you face with deafness?
First off, there are still issues around deaf awareness. I still have the odd conversation whereby they aren’t making conversations as accessible as they could – and should – be.
I think two other problems which spring to mind are the inaccessibility of train announcements made over a poor quality tannoy system – especially when they contain information about delays – and my hearing aids picking up background noise in pubs, restaurants and concert venues. I also have tinnitus, which is a loud ringing in the ear. It’s permanent and can be incredibly distracting and frustrating most of the time.
As for the benefits, as I mention in a later answer, the biggest one has to be the community and the other deaf people I’ve met through having a shared experience of deafness. There’s also the benefits of learning British Sign Language, which as a language itself has so many benefits and uses.
During the current pandemic, deaf people have been facing communication barriers with the use of ‘opaque' face coverings, which muffle voices and make lipreading impossible. I know work is being done on sourcing and providing clear masks, but it’s still early days. As well as this, there’s issues with a lack of access to Government information, with the UK Government still not providing an in-person British Sign Language interpreter for their coronavirus press briefings (the BBC is providing one for them, when it really is the Government’s responsibility to meet its duties under equality legislation).
Has your deafness helped you with your career as a YouTuber or journalist?
I think it certainly has, yes. From a YouTube perspective, it certainly strengthened my passion for captioned content on the platform. Then, in terms of my work in journalism, I have my deafness to thank for my job at The Limping Chicken, which is a deaf news website. I’ve reported on so many amazing things and people already, and I remain forever grateful for the opportunity.
What are your favorite aspects of deaf culture?
I would say it’s the language, and the creativity. British Sign Language is such a beautiful, visual language, and a lot of deaf artists have used it in their work to produce amazing material. Deaf theatre, Visual Vernacular and deaf vloggers are some of the most prominent examples, but it’s brilliant seeing the full breadth of creativity within the deaf community.
Do you think deafness is adequately represented on YouTube or throughout the media as a whole?
I certainly think that deaf representation on YouTube is getting there, with deaf creators such as Rikki Poynter, Jessica Kellgren-Fozard and Jazzy Whipps gaining large audiences on the platform. However, in terms of wider media, while I think we are getting there with TV programmes, I think there is still some way to go in terms of more representation in this particular industry, as well as making sure that it is accurate. As I say in response to another question, though, we’re seeing a lot of deaf actors taking over the UK theatre scene, and that representation has been absolutely fantastic to see.
What is something you wish the hearing population was more aware of when it comes to deafness?
I’d say the art of patience. With the current state of the world, and the way in which we currently consume media, everything moves at an incredibly fast pace, and I think we see that in some of our conversations too. In my case, at least, I still have instances where people express frustration that they have to repeat themselves if I didn’t hear them the first time. If not that, then they’ll say ’never mind’ or ‘it doesn’t matter’, instead of having the courtesy of allowing a deaf person to be a part of the conversation. I think society needs to be better at this.
What do you think could be done to bring deaf and hearing people closer?
Good question. I think it would be greater deaf awareness from the hearing community, which means having a basic understanding of ways in which to break down communication barriers and make an environment more accessible for deaf people. So, for example, people should find quiet, well-lit rooms for conversations, use gestures when they can, and perhaps more importantly, learn sign language.
I believe it’s these communication barriers which are keeping the hearing and deaf communities separate, and I think a greater commitment from hearing people to tackle these issues will bring the two communities closer together.