“Writing With Our Hands”

Together with Exeter’s Royal Academy for Deaf Education, the Royal Albert Memorial Museum has produced an “epic” film.

The Deaf Academy have just finished assembling “Writing With Our Hands”, a subtitled and signed film. It will be posted on YouTube during the exetreme imagination festival and will play in the indoor courtyard of the RAMM during the festival.

Students from the Deaf Academy looked around the museum and selected their favourite items. With the help of Stories Connect, an organisation helping people to write, they created stories and poems about the items.

The chosen items include a Second World War air raid precaution uniform, an Anderson shelter, a starfish, Vivien Leigh’s dress and, although not currently part of a collection in the museum, pink nail varnish. Each of the students wrote their own poem or story about their object, which will go into a booklet.

“The idea was that because RAMM and most museums are so visual, it would be great if more deaf people … could make more of the museum,” said Kate Osborne, the coordinator of the film.

“What I think I didn’t realise until relatively recently is, if you’re deaf, you may not necessarily read English very well. So just assuming that you’ve got everything written on labels or panels makes it instantly accessible for deaf people is not necessarily a very helpful way to think about things. So we thought what we would do is, if we make a film it will be signed in BSL so that other deaf people can, as it were, read the stories with their hands,” Kate said.

The film begins with an introduction from teachers and students from the Deaf Academy, explaining why this sort of approach is important and why British Sign Language is important as a language in its own right.

“It’s a beautiful language and it’s full of shapes and expression, so it’s celebrating it as well,” said Kate. “We hope it will raise awareness of the importance of British Sign Language, but also how good RAMM is for being part of deaf student’s education.”

The project has been brilliant for the students involved, as the film let them release their imagination, creating characters and deciding their fate. It also took them back in time. This is particularly poignant for the students, as British Sign Language only operates in the present tense.

The teacher said it was really good for them to get to imagine themselves in a different time,” Kate said. “And also to have the opportunity to create a character and to have control over what they might do and what their destiny might be, as opposed to as the teacher put it ‘living life by the rules of now’.”

Stories Connect edited the smaller stories into “one big epic story,” as Kate described it, involving air raid wardens, shelters, bombing raids, parties, dresses, starfish, romance and pink nail varnish. The language was quite sophisticated and so, therefore, was the signing. Deafinite Interpreters, based in Exeter, signed the long story, filming it in the museum.

Kate’s inspiration for the film came from a visitor to the museum. “There was a lad who came round. I suppose he must have been about fifteen and he was deaf and he was signing – he was on his own actually,” Kate said. “We have some existing videos with BSL about air raids and he emailed me, saying how much he had enjoyed being able to understand the video, which helped him understand the objects on display and it just made me sit up and think, ‘right, let’s see if we can do some more in that direction’.”

This is the second film the RAMM has made in partnership with and the Deaf Academy. The first, “My Favourite Things”, where students looked around the museum and picked their favourite artefacts, is already on YouTube.

“I’ve really enjoyed this project,” Kate added at the end. “It’s been great to develop further our relationship with the Deaf Academy and I hope that the museum and the Deaf Academy continue to grow in the relationship because I think it’s it is and could be an even more fruitful one.”






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