(Content note: This podcast contains interview extracts recorded at Deaf Connections. A British Sign Language interpreter, interpreting on behalf of five Deaf people, speaks their answers out loud).
Jak: Welcome to the Guide Gods Digital Collection, I’m Jak Soroka in conversation with Claire Cunningham. You’re listening to a series of podcasts created from the interview material collected as part of Claire’s show, Guide Gods.
I wanted to talk about an interview that spoke to me and perhaps has a lot that’s worth talking about in terms of the politics of it in content and as a form actually in the way it was recorded. So it’s an interview, it’s Deaf Connections isn’t it?
Claire: Yeah it was done through Deaf Connections, which is an advocacy group in Glasgow for D/eaf people that also sort of provide deaf services. I went to them, and they put a call out for anybody that might want to have a conversation, be interviewed, and then they hosted a conversation and the interview process for us. I think there was maybe five people in the conversation, four or five people in one room and a translator, and myself and my mentor Tom Roden was there at the time as well.
Jak: And yeah, and the person that you hear on the audio is the interpreter.
Claire: Yeah, so it’s difficult because you only ever hear, from an audio perspective you just hear the same voice representing a lot of different people. Yeah, like anything, in retrospect, in terms of process and research you learn a lot afterwards of going actually, I should also have videoed, it’s a visual language, I should have of course videoed those conversations. So even if it was only for our own archive there should’ve been a visual record of the language to get a more accurate representation.
Jak: Sure, but I think it’s still, there’s still a lot you can take from it and there’s lots I took.
Jak: It seemed that the, the link between, I think all of them but particularly ones that were from an Islamic faith was that there was just a distinct lack of any kind of access, interpreter, there was no one in the mosque that made them feel welcome, or could use BSL, or translate from the Qur’an and-
Claire: One of the things that was happening particularly here in Glasgow is that a number of the Imams were speaking in the Asian languages, so maybe Pakistani or, and while you could bring in a BSL interpreter, but at that time particularly there was nobody that could translate from the languages the Imams were speaking into BSL. Which is different in some of the cities down south in England that have a much larger sort of ethnic diversity, then there are more interpreters who can translate those languages, but up here, certainly at that time, when I was interviewing them which was 2014 there was nobody that could translate at all into BSL.
Interpreter: I grew up with religion you know going on a Friday, with the family and my mother. My mum and dad didn’t actually teach me anything. We just went to the mosque on the Friday. Is it mosque? Mosque on a Friday. Obviously they were speaking and you know, preaching and I couldn’t hear anything. I didn’t understand what’s going on. It was all going over my head. I wasn’t sure. I tried to ask what was going on. I was told to be quiet. I had to be very patient and then my father would tell me later on in a different language, in his own language.
Interpreter: So growing up I was pitied. They didn’t force me to do anything; I was very pitied because I was deaf. I was treated differently from my family and it was because I was deaf. Then the rules were a lot looser than my brothers and sisters. They had stricter rules that they had to follow. And I see my parents, like my family members praying all the time and I wasn’t made to pray. So I just went on with my life, so obviously learning this later on is because they didn’t force me because [of] my disability. So me growing up in the Asian community, Imam as well he’s you know higher up you know role model for everyone. “Automatically you’ll go to heaven. You don’t worry. You don’t have to actually learn anything”, to me, that’s what he said. I don’t have to learn my faith. I’ll automatically go to heaven, he said. But then I was told, “you can’t learn because you’re not hearing”. And I said. “but I can learn I just need to have access”.
Jak: It struck me, it was like there was almost two things, there was the practicality that right now, there’s, that means, that renders the mosques inaccessible to them but there’s also, a lot of them had stories about when they were brought up how they were treated very differently from if they had siblings that were hearing, the expectations of how often they would go to mosque, the way they were being brought into the faith was completely different, and the expectation for them as deaf people was, ‘agh don’t worry about, you don’t really need this, you’re going to go to heaven anyway, it’s all good’. That kind of, yeah that like absolutely baffles me [laughs].
Interpreter: I prefer an actual BSL translation. It would give me the picture in my mind of what it’s meaning and that’s why it’s so much better.
Interpreter: Recently I went to holiday in Pakistan. They knew everything about their religion obviously and the deaf people, the Deaf community in Pakistan, knew everything about their own religion it’s because they actually have signers that come and sign the service. So then after that they were all talking to us, jaw dropped, in Scotland, there’s nothing like that.
Jak: Yeah, not only are people being deprived of accessing their faith as the Hearing world sees it, but they’re being prevented from actually creating something for themselves. Yeah, which is just, yeah a real real shame, like beyond a shame.
Claire: Yeah, there was, I seem to remember there were conversations around the fact that a lot of them had discovered sort of later on in life that there exist things like, there are videos on YouTube etc., where people were signing the Qur’an, or signing tutorials on Islam, but you have to pay for them, you have to sign up and subscribe to a course and I can’t remember how much it cost but it was, you know, it was quite a significant. So yeah, if they wanted to access teachings on the Qur’an and Islam in BSL, there was somebody in England I think who had, you know, started to do it, but yeah they had to pay money to do that. And just the reality of going, well yeah, nobody else has– Sure, if people choose to want to go and study their own faith to a higher level then they can pay and do courses, but to actually just access your faith at the very beginning [laughs], entry level, to have to pay that. One, obviously off putting and two, some people can’t afford it, is the reality there as well.
Jak: I wanted to say, the Deaf Club and their, the way they all had these stories of problems with access, I think most interviews if not all the interviews had some kind of tale of no ramp or something that made them feel excluded whether that was physically, physical exclusion or like a social exclusion or a shame. It was very easy to pull in all the parts that were just talking about access. So I think it’s worth saying that this, this is just like one part of that whole access picture, or in-access.
Claire: Yeah, I mean and that wasn’t, that wasn’t what I was going to research. I was really trying to find out about the relationship I guess or the intersection between people’s experiences with faith and disability, and the whole question of access hadn’t really been on my mind but it became a really present aspect of the conversation. There’s still a lot to be done there.
Jak: Thanks for listening to this conversation as part of the Guide Gods Digital Collection. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please listen to our other conversations via the website.