Story by Jo Siedlecka, first published on Independent Catholic News
A group of Westminster parishioners recently completed a Taster Course in British Sign Language, (BSL) given by Shell Roca, Caritas Deaf Service, at Sacred Heart Church, Kilburn. Shell was an inspiring teacher – she taught us some basic greetings, questions, Mass parts and prayers but more importantly – gave us some understanding of what Deaf people experience in their parishes. It’s estimated that one in six parishioners is Deaf or hard or hearing – they have so much to offer the Church community – whether it is learning about our faith or other skills – but we really need to make our communities more accessible to them.
I always imagined that Deaf people were able to communicate through lip-reading – but in fact it is estimated that only 30-40 percent of speech sounds can be lip-read – even under the best conditions! More than 150,000 people use BSL. It was considered a true language in 2003, but officially recognised as a language with legal status in the UK last year. (Read more about BSL here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Sign_Language )
Shell showed us that BSL isn’t simply English with hand signs. It is a different language with its own grammar and sentence construction, using graceful combination of hand gestures, facial expressions and body language. They might take us quite a long time to time to learn – but at least we’ve made a start!
Shell also explained that there are lots of other sign languages around the world – even the Irish use a different one. (Fr Terry Murray, Parish Priest at Kilburn uses that one) – but that’s another story.
At the end of the course Shell gave us information about where we can take more courses in BSL. Several of us are planning to do that.
During the recent Synodal discussions the main response from Deaf people in Westminster Diocese, was the need for more interpreters, so that Mass and the life of the Church is more accessible to them. Deaf Catholics want to practice their faith, contribute to their parish and be fully part of Catholic Church.