Rebecca A Withey: Access for deaf people needs to be considered and valued by the holistic health field (BSL)

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again – the holistic health field is far from being fully accessible. I mentioned this in my writing years ago and unfortunately I still feel – eight years later – that the holistic world has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to inclusivity.

Being able to pursue an holistic health hobby is a very empowering thing. It allows you to take the reins somewhat and feel in control of your wellbeing. I know of several hearing friends who swear by things like acupuncture, reflexology or energy healing to boost their overall health and they rave about its positive effects.

Online there is a wealth of free resources (especially on YouTube) that allow you to learn more about a topic or holistic activity. Yet in order to access these videos deaf people’s choices are very limited.

Occasionally, you’ll find perfectly edited English captions but more often than not these videos are either auto captioned – famously filled with errors and typos – or with no captions at all.

One platform where I have found excellent captions is Gaia, which is a kind of ‘Netflix’ for yogis and those who practice meditation. Despite not having any videos in sign language, I am yet to find a video on Gaia that doesn’t have accurate English captions.

So, Gaia, you are in my good books! It’s worth checking out if you’d like to watch guided meditations and yoga routines but just be mindful that it does charge members a monthly subscription.

Aside from wanting holistic practitioners to caption and provide clear visuals on their videos, I would like to see a changing of attitudes in the holistic world too. When I have attended festivals in the past, whether it be a Mind Body Spirit festival or the Yoga Show down in London, I don’t always feel I am treated the same as the hearing people who attend.

I remember one festival in Birmingham very clearly – for all the wrong reasons. I was in a workshop and the host was discussing the minds capacity to heal the body. I raised my hand to ask a question through a friend who was also interpreting for me and the speakers eyes lit up as he saw me.

Disregarding the question I asked he went on to excitedly tell me how he ‘knew someone who had a hearing aid and then divulged how he managed to ‘cure’ her of her deafness.’

I hadn’t even asked a deafness related question yet this was all he saw in me?

The speaker then stated how he felt confident that if I worked with him one-on-one for a week he would be able to ‘cure’ me too. Oh – at the cost of £1,000!

I know. I couldn’t believe it either.

I didn’t go to the workshop wanting to ‘heal my ears’ but instead to learn something new and expand my knowledge. I felt saddened that when someone looked at me all they saw was my deafness and nothing else. They’re blinded by that and their assumptions.

It’s unfortunately not the only time it’s happened. Too many holistic practitioners put deafness in the same category as illness, assuming that its something we wish to heal when in fact its something that many of us live happily and peacefully with.

Another example of feeling excluded is much more recent. A speaker who I have admired for several years recently announced she was visiting Amsterdam this year to lead a seminar. As she rarely visits Europe I was keen to know whether I could request a sign language interpreter or something to enable me to access the event.

After messaging her PR team I was told that a sign language interpreter would not be made available and I couldn’t bring one but….they could reserve a front row seat for me to lipread!

I know. I’m rolling my eyes too.

Who made the assumption that deaf people can lipread perfectly from a distance for hours at a time? Who gets to decide what type of access benefits me? As you can guess, I didn’t book that ticket to go to Amsterdam.

I later found out that this speaker does not allow any kind of translators to attend her events, even those who speak another language as she doesn’t want a third party to alter her messages in any way. I find this such a shame and it reeks of ignorance to me.

So what if a translator alters a message slightly to convey it in another language? Who says your work can only be accessed by certain people – namely ‘English speaking, hearing people.’ Talk about privilege!

I’ve enjoyed seeing this speakers work online via English captions and transcripts but I’m disappointed that they seem to segregate who their workshops are accessible to.

So, once again, deaf people are being turned away from accessing what could potentially be life changing information, purely because the speaker doesn’t value the importance of inclusivity.

This is why attitudes to deafness and disability needs to change. Instead of getting offended if we ask for access or label us as an inconvenience, simply ask what could be done for us to feel included. More attendees = more profit for you – isn’t that a bonus?!

When deaf people attend holistic events, it usually isn’t to ‘cure their deafness’ but instead to gather important information that hearing people have the privilege to learn about without any adaptations.

I look forward to the day where access is automatically considered and valued not just in education, healthcare and employment but also in the holistic field where deaf people may be one day empowered to explore a topic of their choice.

Rebecca Anne Withey is a freelance writer with a background in Performing Arts & Holistic health. She is also profoundly deaf, a sign language user and pretty great lipreader. She writes on varied topics close to her heart in the hope that they may serve to inspire others.

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