Originally appeared in April/May 2018 | Issue 42

The Hollywood Hills are famed for its iconic Hollywood Sign towering over the city, but in March, there was new show-stopping signs in Tinseltown.

When ex-Hollyoaks actor Rachel Shenton took to the stage at the glittering Academy Awards to lift her award for her short film The Silent Child and signed her speech so the film’s star could watch, she couldn’t have known the effect worldwide that the gesture would have.

The 30-year-old became only the second winner in the awards’ history to sign her speech, but it became just as captivating as her film, it’s production and its story.

Shenton plays Joanne, a social worker and BSL user who helps open the world up to four-year-old Libby, played by Deaf actor Maisie Sly, by introducing her to sign language before she takes the huge leap into school life.

The short film directed by Shenton’s fiancé Chris Overton was awarded by the Academy for Best Live Action Short film, seeing the cast whisked off on a whirlwind trip stateside where they shone the light on deaf awareness, miles away from its Kickstarter roots and Facebook campaigns to find a deaf child to play alongside its leading lady.

The film, which is available on BBC iPlayer, was written by the star who learned sign language after her father’s chemotherapy seen him lose his hearing, and with her status as National Deaf Children’s Society ambassador, Shenton’s contribution to the community has been invaluable in the lead up to Deaf Awareness Week.

With awareness greater than ever thanks to BSL’s Hollywood appearance, we look into two businesses who both look to open up more of the world to Deaf people to celebrate this year’ Deaf Awareness Week.

BSLcourses.co.uk

One company looking to up BSL’s profile is BSLcourses.co.uk and director Russell Fowler told PosAbility all about what they have on offer.

How did the company come about?

Rachael and I are the company directors of BSLcourses Ltd but we are also husband and wife. I graduated with a degree in Computer Science and did some further studies in IT and Business Auditing.

I was born deaf and lost residual hearing at 17 so he started to learn British Sign Language within the Deaf communities. Rachael is also deaf from birth and learnt sign language from a young age and communicated in BSL to her other deaf friends at school.

Rachael has been a BSL teacher ever since she was 17 and is highly respected in the BSL education industry.

She’s an assessor, internal and external verifier, marker, translator, and Deaf-blind communicator amongst other roles. We combined our skills to create an online platform where BSL course material can be accessed anywhere and 1-to-1 tailored feedback was available.

In classroom-based courses, 1-to-1 feedback and practice is difficult to achieve. Online courses mean anybody interested from all over the country and the world can learn, as opposed to travelling.

What kind of team is in place, I believe you work with an interpreter daily for the likes of phone calls etc?

We have a team of deaf BSL teachers, assessors and internal verifiers who work from home and meet their students on webcam. In the office, I work with several Communication Support Workers and BSL Interpreters to make and answer telephone calls.

What is on offer for anyone wanting to learn and at what levels? 

Online courses mean there are no ‘start dates’ and students can start their courses at any time, as opposed to the academic year.

As our online assessments have been approved by BSL Awarding bodies, students can complete their assessments via a webcam and we offer courses for qualifications from Level 1 (beginner) to Level 6 (equivalent to a degree).

Tutor-led BSL courses are generally not cheap so we are proud to offer “BSL Training” courses that skip assessments.

Have you noticed a spike in interest at any point?

Throughout the year, there are events such as Sign Language Week and BSL Day that usually result in spikes of enrolments, but the busiest times of the year is when students are looking at the start of the academic year. Any Deaf related issues that hit the news such as The Silent Child winning an Oscar also sees an influx in enrolments.

How valuable is having BSL as a skill set?

BSL is an amazing skill to have. There are over 100,000 Deaf people who use BSL as their first language- even the basic skills when you suddenly encounter a Deaf person would mean so much to both parties.

There is also a huge demand for BSL Interpreters and Communication Support Workers in all sorts of industries, it’s also fun if you want to say something across the room without bringing attention to yourself!

Are there any plans in the pipeline?

We firmly believe we have the tools and platform to be able to add courses for other sign languages across the world, such as Australia, America, Canada to start with.

I worked and travelled in Australia for a year and discovered just how lonely Deaf people can be – both socially and at work.

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