When planning a festival (she says like she does it regularly) there are some obvious things you need – somewhere to hold it, people to perform, marketing to make sure there’s an audience, that kind of thing. What is often ignored, forgotten or rejected as too expensive, is making the event properly accessible.
Solstice Shorts is going to be quite a small festival. It will last just under eight hours, and the rooms we are using (apart from West Greenwich Library) hold a maximum of 40 people (although we are using two!)
So having a significant part of the budget allocated to allowing Deaf people to enjoy and participate is quite challenging.
I first started thinking about accessibility for Deaf people when I was working for a council housing department back in the early 1980’s. I had a brief placement in housing benefits, and met a member of staff who was constantly on call interpreting sign language. it wasn’t her job, she just happened to come from a Deaf family, so she could do it. I signed up for a course immediately, but being young and flighty (and a long cold dark bus ride away from the course) dropped out.
I came back to it when I was studying Neurolingustic Programming, which relies heavily on metaphors based on the senses in use of language, and no one could tell me what the implication were if not all your senses were available to you. So I did a BSL (British Sign Language) level 1 course, and learnt a huge, huge amount about communication in general.
Level 1 is pretty unsophisticated but you can bumble through a conversation spelling words you don’t know the sign for, and making up approximations so you can be corrected (I well remember discussing apartheid with an amalgam of signs – black-white-separate – it served it’s purpose!). One of the useful tools I found for increasing and practicing my vocabulary was signed music. Channel 4 had a music programme that went out at about four in the morning and everything was signed. Popular music being a bit repetitive in its lyrics made sure I got the signs right eventually! Along the way I became beguiled by the beauty and expressiveness of sign language, and its power in story telling. Oh, and my elementary knowledge helped me get a job working with Deaf and disabled entrepreneurs (initially on the phone – Skype proved handy). I quickly found my signing wholly inadequate to the task, even after 1:1 coaching on business terms, but I had fun trying, and everyone was very patient with me.
So you could say it’s on my radar. It helps that I have contacts in BSL interpreting services, and that I have had protracted, wide-ranging discussions (through interpreters, life’s too short for me to make up everything and be told how to sign what I was trying to say) with a wide range of Deaf people about all sorts of things (depreciation, and what harmony is, for example!). So, for me, it goes without saying that Solstice Shorts will be signed: stories, workshops, and the music.
Only funding makes this possible. I’d love for every event we do to be signed, but that isn’t doable without outside funding.
If you want to support our efforts to make Solstice Shorts accessible, you can back our crowdfunding campaign.