Sunday 18 August 2019

Rachel Shenton: The conversation around deafness needs to be louder

The actress, who won an Oscar for her short film about a deaf child, says progress has been slow.

Rachel Shenton said she thinks the lack of progress for the deaf community is down to the silent nature of the disability (Ian West/PA)
Rachel Shenton said she thinks the lack of progress for the deaf community is down to the silent nature of the disability (Ian West/PA)

By Laura Harding, PA Senior Entertainment Correspondent

A former Hollyoaks actress who won an Oscar for her short film about a deaf child has said the conversation around deafness needs to become louder.

Rachel Shenton, whose project The Silent Child won the Academy Award for best live action short film in 2018, said she believes the lack of progress for the deaf community is down to the silent nature of the disability.

She told the PA news agency: “We still live in a very hearing world ultimately and I think we need to make deafness louder, we need to make the conversation around deafness louder.”

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Rachel Shenton at the ‘Signsbury’s’ store in Bath (Neil Munns/PA)

Shenton is backing an initiative by Sainsbury’s, which has launched “the world’s first signing store” in Bath, including visual guides to help customers sign with employees, and she said: “I think the way to do it is really smart initiatives like this one really, it’s really ambitious.

“I hope people take away that to gain a basic understanding of sign language is relatively easy and fun.

“There are screens all over the store with basic signs and customers can come in and watch short videos and see just how easy it is and hopefully smile whilst doing it and that might inspire lots of people to do the same or maybe even go and join or start a course or do something online but ultimately just to see that it is actually easy to learn the basics.”

Shenton learned to sign after the death of her father, who became deaf after undergoing chemotherapy treatment for cancer, and has since become an advocate for the hearing impaired.

When she collected her Oscar alongside now-husband and fellow film-maker Chris Overton, she signed her acceptance speech.

Discussing why progress has been slow in making sign language more mainstream, she said: “I don’t know if I have a definitive answer for that but I certainly think one thing is that deafness is a silent disability, you can’t see it and it’s not life threatening so it’s harder to get it on people’s radar.”

She cited the viral video of a sign language interpreter signing along to Stormzy during his headline set at Glastonbury as an important step to raising awareness, saying: “I think it’s things like that, it’s seeing sign language in front of a mainstream audience, in a predominantly mainstream environment, that will ultimately raise the profile of deafness and sign language.”

She also called for sign language to be taught in schools, saying: “I think it’s necessary, particularly in primary schools.

“Kids are like little sponges and to start sign language at grass roots level is a great way to one day normalise deafness and reduce isolation within deaf children.

“That is great way of doing it but I also think it’s not just beneficial for deaf children, it’s actually beneficial for non-verbal children, children who have autism, children who have confidence issues, there are so many benefits.”

The signing store, dubbed Signsbury’s, will be open until July 21 as part of the supermarket chain’s 150 Days Of Community initiative, which was launched as part of its 150th anniversary celebrations.

PA Media

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