Welcome to The Hear Me Out! [CC] Podcast, an audio show (with transcripts included) where we listen to stories from fascinating individuals in and around the deaf community and from your host, yours truly, Ahmed Khalifa.
In this episode, I talk to Liam O’Dell – one of the main deaf journalist in the UK who shares thoughtful and insightful pieces on major publications such as Metro, The Independent and the popular deaf blog ‘The Limping Chicken’.
Liam shares his background story on how he got into it, why he feels it’s important to talk about deafness in publications, what are the general reactions from hearing and deaf and hard of hearing people alike and more.
You can listen to the podcast interview below, or you can read the transripts by scrolling down:
- Liam on Twitter
- Liam on Facebook
- Liam on Instagram
- Liam’s personal website
- Liam’s author profile on Limping Chicken
- The Independent article entitled: ‘Yes, I’m deaf. But doesn’t always mean I can’t hear what you’re saying about me’
- Metro article entitled: ‘Avengers Engame spoilers take on a whole new meaning when you’re deaf’
Announcer: This is The Hear Me Out! [CC] Podcast, a place to hear stories from the deaf and hard of hearing people and from your host, Ahmed Khalifa.
Ahmed: …really appreciate it. It’s really awesome to have you here. I’ve been wanting to talk to you for a while, get a different angle that you have to offer and just something that I feel that you’ve got stuff to share with a lot of people, and that’s why I thought, “Glad I got Liam on board, and I think it would be a good time for a chat,” so thanks for your time.
Liam: No, thanks for inviting me on. It’s great. I’m excited.
Ahmed: Good stuff. Well, there’s a lot of things to talk about what you do and all these things, but if you don’t mind, before we get into the specialty of what you’re doing, can you tell me about your deafness background and your upbringing throughout that stage?
Just tell me a bit about that to set the scene.
Liam: Sure. People often ask me if it’s the case of was I born deaf or was I later diagnosed, did I acquire deafness/hearing loss further down the line.
For me, I’ve always been unsure, but it was about 13, 15 where I had my audiology appointment where.
For those who don’t know, you get the headphones on, you get a button, and you press the button when you hear a beep.
It was as a result of that meeting that they said, “Look, I think you might benefit from having hearing aids.”
It was a bit of a shock because, obviously, this is a podcast, but I’ll describe my physical appearance. I have a lot of stuff on my face. I have glasses. I have a fair few spots here and there and lots of things going on, so it was a bit of a shock to the system, this idea that I was going to have to wear something on my person that’s new, that’s a little bit, I won’t say alien, but a little bit unusual for me.
That kind of came as a bit of a shock.
But, yeah, ever since it’s been a slow journey in my confidence. At the moment, it was probably fairly low, and I even had curly hair around the hearing aids to hide them up a little bit because I was a little bit self-conscious.
But then as the years went on, the confidence grew. I met a lot of people in the deaf community. I was a member of the National Deaf Children Society, which is a UK charity. I was a member of their youth advisory boards, met a lot of deaf young people there.
Things like that slowly built my confidence to the extent that I got more opportunities, got more involved in the community, which is where I’m at now with the journalism that I do around disability and deafness, with the advocacy and campaigning, and I’ve kind of slowly worked my way up there in terms of the opportunities and the confidence really.
Ahmed: It’s interesting, as you say, because I feel like I have had this whole diagnosis, I think I was six years old, and I had to wear hearing aids, never liked it. I’ve always been stubborn it, and it’s something that I grew up with.
But you didn’t really grow up with it as such. You had it kind of a late diagnosis, so your experience is interesting. But I find it amazing that you still managed to get through the self-conscious stage, and then you got over that stage and then just got on with it.
And I was kind of a late-comer. I really only accepted it maybe the last few years or five years or something like that. I was like you. I didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t want to show it off. I wanted to hide it.
Then something along the line clicked, and I thought, “You know what? Be proud of it. Accept it. Engage with other people,” and I think that’s a big one, being around other people, that helps a lot.
It’s pretty cool that you’ve been involved with all these charities, you’re writing about it, and I’m guessing these have all helped with a way to manage those feelings, those alien feelings that you said about wearing hearing aids.
I’m guessing that helped you a lot.
Liam: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. So I think what was particularly interesting because when you get a diagnosis like this, or any kind of diagnosis, any kind of diagnosis of a condition, disability, whatever, you kind of get given this word, this new thing that doesn’t really have a meaning to you.
Like, sure, it gives you a sense of understanding like, “Oh, okay, this is what’s … This is the answer,” but there’s so much more than just that initial answer that you get from a medical expert that says, “Yes, you have this.”
You then need to know, “Okay, well, is there a community that’s based around this? What kind of support is available? How will this affect me in relation to this and that?”
And so I think what it was is it was kind of this desire to find out as much about it as I could, and the way that you do that is, as you say, to reach out to other people, find out about their experiences, the kind of challenges, the successes that they’ve had and things that you can learn from them.
So definitely the kind of reaching out to other people and building those connections, because as I say, when I was on that youth board of NDCS, National Deaf Children Society, that was probably my first real encounter with other deaf, young people.
Because I mean, sure, there were a few people in school that maybe had hearing loss and needed support here and there, but the people that would use sign language and had cochlear implants, had all these other needs and requirements, I hadn’t met them before until I went to places like that and found those people.
Ahmed: It makes a lot of sense, and that’s why I wanted to talk to a lot of people, talk to yourself, just to get people that there are so many different people from all spectrums of life who have some kind of way of managing their hearing aids, cochlear implants, their sign language, their upbringing, whatever it is.
That’s another reason why I want to talk to you is just to get your perspective because that’s the thing. If you get the experience and learn from other people’s experience, they can help you as well.
I think it’s quite nice that way just to connect with other people, even if you don’t meet them face-to-face, just check out the article, check out the podcast, check out the videos, all these things. I know you’ve done a few videos as well where you’re interviewing other people, so I think it’s a great thing.
But, obviously, you’re more known for being a deaf journalist, as you call it. You talk about deafness and disability, and you talk about politics and asexuality and social media, all these things, but it’s a lot of things, but obviously, I connect more with the topic about deafness.
Before we get into that topic, how would you describe your journalism style?
Liam: Factual, predominantly.
So at the moment, I write for the Limping Chicken, which is a deaf news website, probably one of the leading ones. I think it’s the popular, world-wide deaf blog or deaf news website.
For them, it’s predominantly quite formal, quite to the point, and that’s both where I’m writing about news stories that are happening within the community but also when I’m writing opinion pieces as well. I tend to be quite matter of fact, quite, “Look, this is the situation. This is what needs to change.”
So that’s how I’ve always written it.
I’ve been quite fortunate lately that I’ve explored new writing styles, so there’s been a few interviews, like us say, that I’ve done here and there. I spoke to someone, I can’t remember the sport, I want to say tennis. Actually, yes, it was tennis where I spoke to someone who was a deaf, young tennis player, so that’s a little bit more conversation rather than matter of fact.
For the sake of an interview, I wouldn’t go straight in with the formalities. But, yeah, so I tend to be quite formal, but then, obviously, with any story, you have to judge the tone.
Ahmed: I find it interesting, though, that the one that you said about being more a matter of fact and straight to the point because two article in particular that I read of yours where on The Metro, where you talked about the cinema experience, and especially the one about Endgame, talking about going to see the Avengers, but you can’t see the Avengers.
So everyone else is going to see it, and then you’re going to wait days, weeks, months later until you get to see it because I had that experience where I had to wait maybe about six months later until I found the right time to watch it with captions. It just frustrated me.
So the article that you wrote on that, it made a lot of sense.
Then you did another one recently on The Independent. You talked about, okay, just because you’re deaf doesn’t mean that you can’t hear in that angle.
It resonated with me a lot, and I think it’s resonated with a lot of people. But why do you think it’s important for you to talk about deafness in your writing on this bigger publications?
Liam: Yeah, I think in terms of the community, we know deafness ourselves. As a community, we’re quite proud of that. We’re aware of it. It’s kind of bringing that knowledge to the hearing world because we still see a lot of misconceptions and stereotypes throughout the community, sorry, throughout society.
I think that it’s not just the people. It’s also the businesses as well, which is why I talked about sub-title cinema because cinemas, unfortunately, are not doing enough at the moment to really improve their subtitles offering.
But then there’s also some misconceptions that people hold, which is why I wrote that one for The Independent about the kind of misconception that deaf people can’t listen because that’s irrespective of hearing. We can’t hear, but we can listen because they’re two very different skills.
Listening is about the kind of understanding and the processing and the cognition. We have that. We just have that inability or a challenge with regards to that initial stage of hearing what someone is saying. They’re two completely separate.
So I think it’s really kind of good with publications like The Metro and Independent and being fortunate enough to write for them that I’m kind of penetrating a mainstream audience with those publications and presenting to them an alternative view and presenting them the view from someone that’s in that community.
I could go into a whole different argument and whole different conversation about how representative the media is in terms of its makeup of people that are BAME, LGBTQ+, have a disability.
Diversifying the media is a big issue, and a lot of the stories that make the press are reported on those that doesn’t necessarily … Well, I say that. They might do, but it’s the angle at least that they take can be quite out of touch.
You see a few articles. I’ve seen predominantly in the Daily Mail about the cure narrative of, “Oh, praise be. Scientists have found this implant or found this technology that can magically cure deafness.”
I think I’ve written a few here or there. If not, I certainly will in the future where I kind of wade into that and say, “Look, technology is great. It’s a good tool for deaf people. Sure. Hearing aids have helped me do so much, but the important thing to stress about that is that it’s an aid. It’s not a cure. It’s an aid, a support, a piece of support equipment if you want to call it that.”
So, yeah, as I say, it’s just kind of going in and taking down those misconceptions, challenging them when they write so they don’t become more ingrained in society.
Ahmed: It’s so true about the aids part. I mean, I keep telling people, “It’s not a cure. It’s an aid,” the hearing aid, and I think that will always need to be said again and again.
As you say, it’s not in the mainstream world. It’s not something that is generally quite known that hearing aids are there for support. Cochlear implants are there for support. It’s not to make as exactly the same as a hearing person. There’s no way that’s going to happen.
I think to make it a good point that if you’re writing articles on the Limping Chicken, obviously you are writing on a publication that is predominantly around the topic of deafness, and people know that and they expect that when they arrive on a website.
But, obviously, when you write on these other publications, then it’s a different kind of topic. I’m guessing, I don’t know the numbers, I’m guessing the majority of readers will be hearing, I’m just going to assume that.
But that made me curious as well whether do you think, or have you received any comments, feedback and all these things about your articles? What were the perceptions from the hearing people when they read your articles?
Liam: Yeah, that’s a good question. I’ve seen a few here and there that suggest that there’s still some more work to be done. You get the odd comment like, “Pardon? What?” I think I had one.
So I just published one, I think it was meant to be tongue in cheek, but how they responded to my article for the iNews paper and that iView section about making sure that political candidates make their video content accessible. It’s captioned.
Someone, I think, said, “Does it really matter?” Kind of implied that, “Oh, they’re not going to hear it anyway.”
It’s like, “All right, okay, rather ironically, I have heard that one before.”
You get a few tongue in cheek comments, but what’s quite nice with those platforms is that often charities are picked up, which is really, really nice to see.
I think recently Action on Hearing Loss, Scope, Sense, they’ve all chipped in and said how great this article was. I think it’s quite nice that as well as an individual, you’ve got the charities behind you as well really backing you.
Even on a family and friends level, they’ve all been incredibly supportive. The majority of them are hearing, so they often find these articles quite useful for them as well to find out a bit more about me as a friend, as a family member, as a colleague, whatever.
It’s been an interesting mix, but I want to say on the most part it’s been supportive, I think, and that there’s … It just starts a conversation, and I think when that happens, most of the time, even if it’s very small, there is still that sense of people wanting to listen to find out more.
I think that’s great about me is that I like to start those conversations, and then I’m quite good at facilitating them afterwards to then get them to a point where I know a stereotype has been challenged or something’s switched in their minds. They’ve suddenly just clicked. I think that’s what’s quite nice about it, I think.
Ahmed: That’s always a good thing when you have a piece of content that makes people think differently. I think that’s quite powerful, and I think I’ve had that experience where people have been sending me messages privately or comments on a website or social media, and people are thinking, “Oh, yeah, that’s a good point.”
And it’s such a nice feeling when you have something that you put together, and it made people just prick up their ears and just look at that and think like, “Oh, that’s a good point. I never thought of it that way. I’m going to share it with other people,” and as you say, start that conversation.
I think that’s the whole point about what we have maybe quite similar in terms of what we have in common is that we create the content to make people open up conversations, start talking about it, reduce the stigma, just break down the barriers.
And obviously, you’re going to have the minority that says, “Pardon.” I mean, “Do you need braille?” I’ve had that before. It’s just like … I mean, I feel like it’s never going to end, which is a shame. I can laugh about it, but at same time, it’s like, “Right, it’s getting old right now.”
But I think it’s great that you’ve put together content that is on the hearing platform, I’m going to say, as a hearing platform that people are then going to start discussion about that.
It’s great that you have the backing of these bigger charities and all these things. It sounds positive, but what about then on the other hand, do you feel like you get negative comments from the deaf community?
Because, obviously, it’s kind of a tough topic sometimes when we’re talking about those who are known as the capital D deaf or who are culturally deaf, all these things. There have been times in my case where I’ve had those comments, and it’s not because I’m trying to attack them.
It’s just something that they disagreed, which is fine. I’m happy to have a debate. Do you have that problem with your writing? Do you have these kind of debates with people who are considered to be in the deaf community?
Liam: Yes. I think there’s been a few comments here and there, or a few times here and there where I’ve had to be really considerate of the potential controversy that might come within that community.
I want to say that I have, for the most part, played it safe, and that’s not because I don’t think I don’t have the confidence to really go in on those controversial issues. I’ve done some big investigations into things here and there.
I think it’s because, well, for the most part, as a mildly deaf person, my involvement in the Deaf community, while it is quite good, I don’t necessarily have that strong sense of identity as a capital D deaf person, sorry, as a low D person to someone that is capital D deaf.
But then again, I have been involved in conversations, maybe not in articles, but I think I was in one on Twitter recently about whether or not we needed to just get rid of this whole capital D deaf, low D deaf thing because it’s a very … Some people say it’s quite a divisive thing.
In my case, I would say it’s probably a little bit divisive, but I’d say it’s more confusing for me in the sense that from what I’ve gathered in terms of the two definitions, lowercase D deaf is in relation to the medical side of things, like you are medically deaf, whilst big D deaf is about that cultural deafness.
For me, I’m kind of stuck in the middle. As I’ve talked about, I’ve had that kind of medical diagnosis. I’ve had that very medical process, but at the same time, shortly after that I’ve dived straight into the community and made all these connections.
Obviously, I have to, to an extent, as a journalist. That’s why I’ve always been a bit in the middle about those things. I’m trying to remember, and I think I have written an article in past about that whole debate.
I didn’t hold back because this is something that just occurred to me when you were asking that question, which is that you talk about starting this conversation, and I work on the Shout Out campaign whilst I think of it, which is that Scope had a campaign a few years back, and I think they might still run it called End the Awkward, which is about this idea that disability and the concept of disability still is maybe taboo and an awkward subject to talk about.
I think what’s great about what you’re doing, what I’m doing, as content creators is that we are putting content out there that starts a conversation, but also in quite a, I don’t want to say forceful, but quite a direct manner because I think what’s happening is that if hearing people or if non-disabled people are too anxious or too unsure about initiating those conversations and starting them to begin with, then we ourselves have to be quite direct and forwards, to the point in starting the conversations ourselves, and kind of creating that environment that’s not too hostile.
Of course, we can’t really just go be too blunt, but we need to be quite direct in starting those conversations if they’re not going to start them themselves if that makes sense.
Ahmed: That does make sense, and I think you made a very good specifically about being in that middle bit. I’ve talked about that before in the past about not deaf enough but not hearing enough. It’s that awkward middle bit, in the middle. We’re similar in that.
Liam: Yeah, I use deafness predominantly. I’m mildly deaf, but then some people don’t necessarily know about that kind of structure of mild, moderate, severe, profound. So sometimes I have to say hard of hearing.
The thing is with hard of hearing is that that’s kind of been well known because of its association with those that have hearing loss and they be older age range.
But then that also then doesn’t quite match up because I’m not in that demographic, so it all gets a bit confusing. I think, in a way, that kind of can be seen as a good thing in a sense that people have the freedom and the liberty to pick and choose whatever labels to do with deafness they want to use.
I think there’s still some way to go in terms of reminding people that hearing impaired is not the best word to used. I still get the odd few here and there that use that terms.
But I think it’s quite nice in the sense that because hearing loss is so individualistic and because there are so many different words available, you can use deaf, hearing loss. I said that we can use many.
I’ve can only think of those two off the top of my head, but there’s a whole range of labels within these communities that people can choose from.
Ahmed: And I don’t blame people for feeling for confused. Sometimes even I feel confused about small details, capital D, in the middle. Is it deaf or hard of hearing? Is it hearing impaired or is it all these things? Is it hearing loss … which some people still have a thing about not saying you have a hearing loss.
I think for me, I said it before, I don’t feel like I have a hearing loss because I’ve never had it in the first place, so I haven’t lost anything. It’s like that’s my argument, but then other people don’t like it because it is closely associated with hearing impairment.
Like, okay, I understand. I understand that perspective, but then what about then for your case, then? If you’re going to call yourself mildly deaf, you’re in that middle bit, and you have a connection, technically, with the hearing world and the deaf world. Do you think that has given you an advantage or a disadvantage when you are doing your journalism work?
Liam: How do you mean? Do you mean have I … Sorry, can you repeat that question again? Sorry, I’m just trying to make sense of it.
Ahmed: Do you think being in the middle bit is an advantage or a disadvantage for you to do your journalism?
Because sometimes I feel like if you have a connection between the two worlds, you have a perspective from the two worlds, and you get deeper into both. You can get an understanding.
But if you are only in the one world, which is fine, you have a very, very deep insight into that world, but then you’re not really aware of the other world. You don’t have a connection with that world. How does it work with you? Do you think it’s advantage for you or a disadvantage?
Liam: That’s a really good question. I’m sorry I didn’t understand it the first time around.
Ahmed: That’s fine. No, it’s okay.
Liam: It’s a good question. I think it is both an advantage and a disadvantage, and I think that it depends on how you feel as a person in the sense that in my case I like that idea of belonging. I kind of like that sense of having a community to which I can turn to if I have any questions or I want to find out more about things.
So being stuck in the middle between the deaf and the hearing worlds can feel a bit isolating in that you can kind of dip and dive into both communities rather than being strongly tied to one of them. So that is the kind of disadvantage.
But on the flip side, what’s quite nice, I suppose, is that I can kind of go towards the deaf community and really get a sense of the issue they face. I say that as though I’m not a member.
Of course, I am involved in that community, so I’m talking to people, I’m finding out about access issues, about situations regards to education, to employment, to access to entertainment.
I’m getting all those concerns, and what’s quite nice is that I then have the contact within the hearing world to then disseminate that information outwards.
I am, in many ways, a messenger as a journalist, so I suppose what’s quite nice is that I’ve got that perfect set up as a reporter to reach out to the demographic to which I’m reporting about, about which I’m reporting, which is the deaf community, and then I also have those connections to the people that need to hear it, the hearing community.
I’m able to bridge the gap between the two of them. It sounds really quite a big task, or quite pretentious of me to say, but I do think it’s important that there is that opportunity.
Because I do think individual people like the disabled community online, on Twitter in particular, is massive, and they’re great at getting the word out.
But I think, and I’m not for one second completely unappreciative of the platform that I’m given, and I think that’s why it’s so important that I then reach out to the community, get those concerns and kind of shout about them because not many other people are.
I keep going back to that point about how diverse the media is. There’s not many people that are deaf and have a platform like I do that are really shouting the concerns that deaf people have.
With that being said, there are some other great campaigners within the deaf community. Deafie Blogger is one of them. Jessica Kellgren-Fozard is another one. There are some other people.
I’m not going to say I’m the only person that has this kind of link between these two communities and has the ability to campaign about it, not at all. As I say, there are countless deaf people who are doing great work, yourself included, but I think that’s been the main advantage.
And I do see as more of an advantage than a disadvantage that I’m able to dip in between those two communities as and when I see fit.
Ahmed: And I think, for me, it only recently, again, I came to that realisation, which is it is an advantage. You can bridge that gap between the two worlds. I used to see it as a negative thing because of what you said, the isolation part. You want to feel like a sense of belonging.
As human beings, it’s in our biology that you want to be part of a tribe. You want to be part of having that identity, and it makes a lot of sense. I used to feel like I need to belong somewhere. It doesn’t have to be in a hearing. If it’s in the deaf, fine, just make me feel like I belong somewhere.
Having said that, when you’re in that middle bit, and you can bridge that gap between the two worlds, you’re able to deliver a message in a different way. I’m not saying you have to be in one world to be able to deliver a certain message, it’s just that we’ve got a unique angle that we are able to deliver.
The people that you have mentioned, yeah, they’re doing great work, but it’s not about only one person doing the job. Of course, not. There are so many different people, who are also delivering that message, and everyone has their own style and angle.
One person views it in YouTube, one person views in I’m doing a podcast and writing here, as well, and also YouTube. And you using publications and people using blogs. It doesn’t matter how you do it, isn’t it? It’s about what is the best way you deliver your message and let’s get that message out there.
Liam: Absolutely, and I’ve made videos about this before, but it’s particularly interesting how I was aware of that fact when I first entered into campaigning, advocating for deafness, but when I only recently came out as asexual, which means I don’t have any sexual attraction to anyone.
That is really where I got that sense of imposter syndrome, in a sense that I was like, “Should I really be campaigning and advocating about my experiences as an asexual person when other people are already doing such a great job?”
And it was what you said, which is that a few people within the advocacy circles that I’m in basically just turned to me and said, “Well, your experience is incredibly different to these two people that you mentioned. First of all, they’re both female, and so already there is that difference, but then also you’ve got so many differences.”
That’s a great sentence. I was disabled as well, so, yeah, absolutely.
It’s the fact that what’s so great is deaf or the D disability, let alone deafness, is so wonderfully individualistic whilst also at the same time being a shared identity. I know that sounds really hard to get a head around, but it’s the fact that it affects us all in different ways.
We have different levels of hearing loss, but we are … or deafness, but it’s that fact that we are all united by having that same label, same identity that then brings us together. I suppose that’s quite the interesting thing is that we can advocate for ourselves as a community whilst also advocating for ourselves as an individual.
Ahmed: But then it’s also, at the same time, even if you have those different labels in the deafness world and in deaf community, the other thing that we have in similarity is that we have very similar challenges. You talked about the subtitles and captions in cinemas and YouTube and all these things. We all face the similar challenge of that.
I’ve talked about it: why is it every time I fly anywhere, the majority of the film on the in-flight entertainment, it’s rarely captioned? It’s only the foreign films which is subtitled, unless they speak English, and then there’s no subtitles.
It’s frustrating. It doesn’t matter if you are mildly deaf or you’re profoundly deaf. I think if you have that struggle, we share that struggle together. At the end of the day, we’re in it together, and we just bridge that gap, or you be in the deaf world or the hearing world, whatever it is, we just share that message together.
I think you made a good point. It’s all about experiencing that together, and even though you have your own different upbringing, it doesn’t mean that you are completely different in terms of the barriers that you face together.
Liam: I think that’s what appeals to … or I like to think it appeals to the hearing community is the fact that, and I’ve said this a few times in articles now, I’m trying to make more of a point of it, that accessibility is for one thing, not an inconvenience because … and for a second thing, it benefits everyone because people think it’s just an inconvenience.
You’re going out of your way to tailor to that specific community, but when I’ve advocated for captions on political content or captions on whatever aspect of content, whatever content that may be, it’s not just deaf people who’ve come to me saying, “You know what? We need captions, too.”
You have to think about people that speak a foreign language, from whom captions benefit, those with auditory processing disorder who also benefit from captions, and then also I think I had a message the other day from someone on Twitter who has ADHD, and they said … or it might have been autism. I’m not too sure.
One of the two … and even they said they benefit from captions. So to perceive accessibility as something we’re only tailoring to those specific community isn’t right at all.
I think in the concept of captions, as well, and I’ve said this before, but it’s a humorous take on things that illustrates the fantasy of that argument is that you get people that will complain about, “Oh, did we have to have the subtitles on? Oh, do we need to make it accessible?”
But then you think … Oh, especially when it comes to subtitle cinema, and you think, “Hang on for a second. You’ve seen Lord of the Rings, you’ve seen all of these programmes where they’ve got these mythical monsters speaking this mythical language”.
And I say to them, I say, “Look, whatever your name is, Margaret, Jeffery, whatever, you’re perfectly fine with captions on to understand Elvish, but as soon as for the 99.9% of the movie that isn’t captioned, suddenly that becomes a problem.”
It’s like, “I didn’t know you understood Elvish all of a sudden.”
That kind of ties into the point that it just benefits everyone to just have that minimum level of access for everybody.
Ahmed: I’ve talked about it before, the benefit of subtitles and captions and transcripts, as well, but to add to your point about who else benefits from it, if you think about it from your own experience when you have your mobile phone and how many times you watch videos in silence.
I’m sure we have all done that, definitely all done that. If you’re on a bus, you’re in a library, you’re walking around, all these things in an environment where you won’t be able to hear it anyway. Maybe you didn’t have your headphones.
Whatever it is, even you as a hearing person, you’d benefit from captions as well. There has been evidence on numbers and research that has proved that a lot of people benefit from captions and not just for deaf people.
Liam: This is precisely what I wrote the article about today, or I think yesterday, as well, about accessible political content. It’s that I think I found one article that said I think 85% of videos that are watched on Facebook are watched without sound.
You have to think as well, as you say, headphone users as well. I think what’s been so great about social media, Facebook, and Twitter, I think actually, predominantly, Facebook, is that it’s aware of that fact.
As a result, a lot of content creators on Facebook in particular, are aware that those first three seconds are important to get someone’s attention, and those first few seconds are likely to be viewed without sound. Therefore, it’s requires them to caption their content, which is great.
I’m quite glad that an algorithm as forced that upon creators. You get the odd few, which is incredibly frustrating, where they’ll caption to get those first three or five seconds of watch time before the captions suddenly disappear.
They’re like, “Right, we’ve got their attention now. It’s all fine.” Yeah, it needs to stay constant, but I do think that that’s what’s great about Facebook.
Hopefully, other platforms follow suit in realising that those initial few seconds are watched without sound.
So for that initial period, we’re all on the same level playing field, and in that point, if you do caption, which you should do to get everyone’s attention in those first few moments, what’s to stop you from captioning the rest of the video? It’s not that hard, which kind of has been my…I’m trying not to get too passionate on this.
In fact, it has to be the same kind of level of passion in this podcast that doesn’t borderline slight anger and frustration. That does come about every so often, but every once in a while when things don’t necessarily work out.
Ahmed: I don’t blame you. I think I get passionate about the topic as well because, as you said, you just want to access whatever content that you are watching or reading or whatever it is, you want to be able to access it like everyone else. And of course we’re passionate about it.
We want to watch that movie.
We want to watch that video on Facebook or YouTube, all these things
Of course, it makes sense, but I think, again, it’s a part of what we are trying to do, not just us two but everyone else who is advocating for it, who is chatting about it, to make sure people are aware of these things because it benefits everyone and making that message heard to as many people as possible.
I think we will face these barriers along the way that people will say, “Nah, it doesn’t matter,” or, “This costs money,” or, “We don’t have resources,” or these excuses.
But I’m interested to know from your industry in the journalism world, what do you think needs to change in order for more people, especially in the mainstream hearing world, what do you think needs to change for the journalist out there and the media to get them to understand the topic of deafness, to get them to understand the barriers and challenges that deaf people face?
Do you think is there something that needs to change? Is about diversity? Is it about all these things? Is it about we need more articles about these content? What do you think that needs to change?
Liam: That’s a really good question, and I think we’ve talked a lot about the diversity of the media, so I can stress that again that I do think we need more disabled voices, not just deaf people.
We need more disabled voices involved in the media. Content needs to be captioned more. I don’t think I’ve seen that many videos online that also have British Sign Language interpreters involved as well.
You get the odd few. I think ITV News have done a few where they’ve actually done, I think, a weekly thing called Signed News, when they have an interpreter on the side of the screen, and they just give a rundown of all the bulletins from a specific day in the week, which is really good. We need to push for more of that.
But I think, as well, it goes back to that point about being aware that disability, but obviously in this case deafness, is not just one kind of … There’s not one version of deafness or one version of disability.
I think that’s kind of the slight … Well, it’s one of the considerations you have to take when it comes to representation in the media is that if you have one character, one person giving their experience of deafness or disability, you have to really make sure that you’re stressing whether that’s explicitly or for whatever way, you have to stress that that is just that one person’s experience of life with that condition.
Because the issues is that you kind of look at that, and you see that, and you think, “Oh, okay, this is how they work. This is how these people live their lives.”
And you focus on that one representation that’s the kind of bible, if it’s a book, the how-to or the one-size-fits-all approach to that certain disability, and it’s not.
So I think in terms of the media, for example, there’s a lot of focus on sign language and those that use sign language and those that benefit that, et cetera, et cetera, and that’s great.
By no means am I saying that that needs to stop. I think sometimes maybe the fascination with it needs to be just toned down, I think, because sometimes it becomes a bit sensationalist in a sense that, “Oh, wow. Look at this. Look at this.”
And it’s a beautiful language. Don’t get me wrong, but it kind of .. You’ve heard the term, I’m sure, “inspiration porn”, which for those who don’t know, it just refers to this fascination that some people might have, hearing people, non-disabled people have but, “Oh, this person’s such an inspiration. They’ve overcome adversity in their life.”
But also, I think, it can also be applied in a sense to British Sign Language, and “Oh, look how beautiful art is.” It kind of diminishes it a little bit. It kind of detracts from it.
So I do think as much as we need to focus on that, we also need to be aware that that is just one … That is one type of deafness, hearing loss, whatever.
We also have to be aware of the people with cochlear implant usage. You have to be aware of the people that use bone-anchored hearing aids. You need to be aware of people that are only mildly deaf, or people like me that are in between those two communities.
I definitely think the media needs to be aware that it’s just not one size fits all with disability. It has to really reflect a whole load of different experiences.
And also, I suppose, I think intersectionality is the word. This idea that you have someone who is disabled who is also LGBT, and they will have their own unique experiences as members of both those communities in their own right.
There will be people that are black and minority ethic who are also deaf or hard of hearing or have all these other characteristics. And because they have those, those also shape the experiences that they have in regards to another characteristic or identity that they have.
So I think it’s also just being aware of the wider aspects of a person’s identity rather than just focusing so precisely on one aspect of their personality identity and presenting it as the be-all or end-all of it.
That was a very long, conflated answer. I’m so sorry, but that’s my view of that.
Ahmed: And that is why we need more voices. As you said, it’s not about one person’s experience will represent everything a person experience. It’s that if you have different voices from different background, different ethnicity and diversity and different upbringing experiences, then you get a better picture of the general topic of, in this case, we talk about being deaf.
I think that’s quite important because the immediate perception I get, I don’t know about you, but I get is that your deaf means that you can’t hear anything at all, and then that it.
Liam: Exactly. Exactly.
Ahmed: And that’s it. But it’s a lot more complicated than that, and it’s a lot more needs to be talked about. I think that is part of why I’m doing what I’m doing, and that’s why I commend you what you’re doing. I love the fact that you are writing for the bigger media publications, and I hope to see more of it out there.
I hope to see more people reading it because I think it does need to be talked about, as well as seeing other people on YouTube and on their own website and on social media. They’re doing their bit as well. I think it’s great.
From my perspective, I definitely appreciate what you’re doing. I appreciate the writing and sharing the stories on all these different publications that you’re doing. I think it needs to be heard.
So definitely appreciate that you’re sharing your story and messages because it does help a lot of people, and it also helps for someone like me, it’s like, “You know what? I can relate to that. I can resonate with that,” and it’s nice to feel that you’re not the only one going through that struggle or that barrier or that situation.
It’s nice to know that from other people’s content that you’re not alone. That’s what I try to tell people, “you are not alone” just because, as you say, if you’re deaf, it doesn’t mean that you can’t hear anything. We’re listening to a lot of things, but we need to be able to listen to each other, as well, I think, and just to learn from our experiences. I think that’s great.
Liam: Yeah, absolutely. And thank you very much for the kind words. That’s very good.
Ahmed: No, not a problem, and I think if we can round it up, if people want to find you, connect with you, and do all these things, where is the best place for them to do that?
Liam: I’m predominantly active on Twitter but all social media platforms. The username is @LiamODellUK and also on my website, which is more predominantly theatre reviews. But it’s liamodell.com where I review theatre, but I’m also, hopefully, in the future going to go back to talking more about disability on there as well
If you find me online, on the Limping Chicken. I’ll plug that as well, limpingchicken.com. There’s articles on there from myself, but also we talked about other voices. There’s other great deaf writers on there that are also talking about their own experiences, as well.
Ahmed: That’s very true, and I’ll make sure I link to all these sources as well. I’ve only written one article on Limping Chicken, and I definitely want to get back on that as well.
But you’re right. There are so many great writers on there sharing their own stories. I’ll make sure I’ll link to all these places, and yeah, thank you for your time, Liam, I appreciate it.
Liam: Sure. Thanks for inviting me on. Thanks for having me.
Ahmed: That was such a great interview. Thank you, Liam, for being on the podcast. Really appreciate you sharing your stories and getting to know you. It’s amazing what you’re doing as well as part of what you do on the day-to-day, so thank you for being on the show.
I hope you also enjoyed listening to us or reading to transcript of our interview. If you have, I’d really appreciate it if you could leave a review on iTunes or whatever podcasting platform that you’re using. It would be really awesome if you can do that.
If not, even subscribe will make a difference. Make sure you do that.
In the meantime, I will speak to you again soon.
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- Deafness as a ‘hidden/invisible disability’ - October 6, 2021
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