Around three or four years ago, I had an issue at work with a Customer. Now, for those of your who know what I do, I have issues all the time. It’s the nature of the game. But this was a different kind of issue.
A lovely elderly couple used to come into work frequently. Both were profoundly deaf. Neither had verbal communication. But they both used sign language. Which none of us knew.
The lady had a little writing ability, so we could write notes to her and she would read and respond. But the lovely gentleman was unable to read and write at all.
I learnt that this was quite prevalent in the profoundly deaf community, especially in people of the older generation.
He was reliant on her for his communication. And then she was taken seriously ill and left permanently bedbound.
He was alone, isolated and unable to communicate with anyone, but life was still going on. The small things that she did, like arranging lifts for them, or getting us to ring her gas meter reading through were made impossible with his lack of literacy skills.
I was unhappy with this situation. I felt impotent and useless. I was left after every interaction with him, angry at myself and my lack of knowledge.
I decided that it couldn’t continue. Something had to change.
And that someone was me!
I started looking at Sign Language classes local to my area. I found a perfect one that was run by the Local Council in their Adult Learning programme.
I duly signed myself up and waited for the start of classes to begin.
Walking nervously into the class, I was welcomed by the lovely Bina who was going to be the teacher for a 10 week introduction to BSL (British Sign Language)
The group I was in were total novices, with no previous knowledge of signing. None of them had a hearing impediment, so were doing it for family members, work or to learn a new skill.
After having had the second class, my elderly man came in. I tentatively signed “I am learning sign language but please go slow” and held my breath!
His eyes lit up and his little face just cracked into the biggest smile I had ever seen. He made the BSL sign for clapping (almost like two jazz hands in the air) and started to sign at an alarming rate!
Well, of course I couldn’t even hope to keep up! He eventually slowed down, and we muddled through. He was literally so happy that someone was able to communicate with him, however basic and a bit rubbish.
By the time he left, I was exhausted. Mentally and Physically. But then he gave me the biggest hug ever, and thanked me, literally with tears in his eyes.
He learnt when my shifts were, so he would always know when to pop and see me. I would chat, and pass time with him, and I learnt a lot from him. I was also able to find out that he was amazing at lipreading. This meant that in an emergency, he would be able to communicate with someone else if I wasn’t around.
The classes continued and I absolutely loved them. I couldn’t wait for every Monday to come around. After the first 10 weeks, we did another 10 weeks. And then another 5.
Unfortunately at the end of that block of lessons, there was nothing else I could move onto. The council weren’t offering any further classes, or even BSL Level 1 exams.
Thankfully, there was a couple of people within my wider workplace that were able to sign. So I tried to keep from losing my skills by having the odd signing conversation with them when they were onsite.
Then last year, Bina got in touch and asked If I would like to join her new class where she had an elderly man who needed some one on one practice. Jumping at the opportunity to practice, I immediately said yes.
I met with the lovely Mick, and we hit it off like a house on fire. Every Monday I would turn up, and help him practice. And I loved every minute.
Again, the lessons have now drawn to a close. And I am left with no signing partners.
My local council do not offer any classes and to do it privately would cost nearly £500 for BSL level one. Way out of my financial abilities.
BUT…. there is now some light at the end of the tunnel!
The people I work for have employed a Deaf Charity to work with them on producing a BSL level 1 and 2 in-house training course.
This starts in September and is one full day, every week for a year.
And I have been chosen to take part! I have secured my place and am eager to start! At the end of it, I hopefully will have recognised qualifications in BSL, which is actually a dream come true.
All because of one man who needed someone to talk to………
Till next time.