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Edinburgh Deaf Festival 2023

RNID’s very own Stacey shares about her time at the second Edinburgh Deaf Festival (11-20 August 2023) and the community she found there as a deaf person.

Picture of a woman with brown curly hair smiling outdoors.

“This year was the first year that I have been back to Edinburgh since before the pandemic, so I thought I’d make the most of it and visit during the second Edinburgh Deaf Festival. 

A little bit about me – I have been deaf since birth, diagnosed when I was 4, but grown up in a hearing family, attending mainstream schools with support and equipment and not learning sign language. There was only one other deaf person (that I know of) when I was at secondary school. I relied entirely on lip reading and my chunky radio aid linked, to my hearing aids, to understand speech. My mum tried to get us enrolled on a family British Sign Language (BSL) course, but they were too expensive, and we couldn’t afford them. 

Starting to sign

When I was 18, I moved from the outskirts of Sheffield to Cardiff for university and, after attending a volunteering fayre, started volunteering with RNID on their information stalls and campaigns. This is where I started to meet other deaf people and learn more about sign language. It wasn’t until I left university and started working that I started learning BSL. After passing my Level 1, I felt confident to start signing with other deaf people, so began going to deaf clubs and joined different events in the deaf community to meet new people. In the last eight years, I have worked my way all the way up to Level 6 and now use BSL regularly to communicate with friends and work colleagues. 

Growing up, I used to love going to the cinema and theatre, but I always struggled to understand what was happening. I relied entirely on the visual aspect of film and theatre and the occasional chance to lip read what someone was saying. I still love going but I cannot manage without captions or BSL interpreters. So, I jumped at the chance to attend a week full of performances and events that were done entirely in BSL, with voiceover provided for any hearing attendees and captions for deaf people who didn’t use BSL. 

For the first time, I was surrounded entirely by BSL users from different walks of life. A truly different experience and one that I will remember for a long time. 

Developing my knowledge and identity

For the last 6 years, I have been developing my knowledge of BSL, deaf culture and deaf identity – including finding my own deaf identity. I was lucky enough to meet a great group of deaf people, who welcomed me into the local deaf clubs and were patient with me, as I practiced my BSL and learnt about different parts of their culture. Many people shared their experiences of education, work and social lives with me and made me more aware of the barriers that people with profound deafness have. 

In a normal week, I spend time with deaf friends around three times a week. I don’t have any deaf colleagues in my immediate team, so I rely on lip reading and speech-to-text reporters for catch-ups and meetings.

Going to Edinburgh

An outdoors poster saying "Edinburgh Deaf Festival"

When in Edinburgh, I was surrounded by deaf people every day and it was such a different experience. It was so nice to see deaf people all packed into a room chatting away before the show, and then continuing the conversation afterwards. It has always been said that deaf people are the last to leave, and almost everyone stuck around, so I knew that was true! 

I was fully emerged in the culture for the first time. For one week, I really embraced and accepted my own deaf identity, knowing that there were people in the room who shared similar experiences. Everyone had a different story to tell, and no-one’s experience was the same. Being deaf doesn’t mean that you cannot hear anything, it is a spectrum. There were people in Edinburgh with similar levels of deafness to myself. This is something that I have struggled with in my local deaf community, because there aren’t many people with my level of deafness. 

At the festival, there was a complete range of performances and events that I was able to attend. This included stand-up comedy shows with John Smith, Gavin Lilley and Elf Lyons and Duffy, to dance, comedy, magic and drag shows. There were also BSL tours of the Edinburgh Castle and National Botanical Gardens, and – my absolute favourite – a good old fashioned pub quiz!  

My personal highlight was just getting to spend time with like-minded individuals and loving life in a different city for seven days. I really am glad that I made the decision to go to Edinburgh’s Deaf Festival and I am already looking forward to going back in 2024.” 

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