Rethinking Deafness, film and accessibility
By Ryan Bramley, Beth Evans, Kirsty Liddiard and Jon Rhodes
Dr Kirsty Liddiard and Dr Ryan Bramley, of the School of Education and iHuman, are working on a Sheffield Innovation Programme (SIP) project with Beth Evans and Jon Rhodes at user research and design studio Paper to explore how Deaf people perceive suspense in films as an under-researched and under-represented group.
Our participatory research project explores Deaf people’s experiences of suspense in film. It is a small scale project, funded by the Sheffield Innovation Programme (SIP), which is a regional initiative that aims to stimulate business growth and promote the development of long-term relationships with small and medium enterprises; this is achieved by providing access to a broad range of academic expertise and university facilities. Paper is a local Sheffield-based user research and service design company. Paper has a number of governmental, industry and academic clients and partners, and believes in designing with people, not for them, and making sure no person is left behind. In this short blog post we want to introduce our project and outline some of our approaches and learnings as a diverse team.
From our early collaboration as a team our aim has been to co-create a meaningfully accessible research process. Our research is participatory through its inclusion and engagement with an Advisory Group made up of Deaf people. The capital ‘D’ here is used to denote people who identify as culturally and lingually Deaf and thus who use British Sign Language (BSL) as their first or preferred language. For Deaf people, deafness is more than an audiological experience, and equates to being part of Deaf community and Deaf culture.
To effectively embed Deaf-centric approaches within the project, our Advisory Group is actively guiding the project, its themes and approaches, and providing expert knowledge and guidance across the process to ensure an inclusive process for Deaf participants and their communities. Our Advisory Group ensures that Deaf people’s voices and lived knowledges sit at the core of the project, acknowledging that Kirsty, Ryan, Beth and Jon are hearing people and thus have no embodied experiences of Deafness and/or audism. Audism is described as ‘overt, covert, and aversive practices of discrimination’ experienced by Deaf people (Eckert and Rowley, 2013: 101). As we discuss in a longer version of this blogpost here, our commitment to signed language — in this case, BSL — ensures that we fully embed accessible forms of communication across the project and work to mitigate researcher-participant language barriers that can emerge when exploring Deaf people’s experiences in research.
In sum, our hopes are that the project makes valuable contributions to understandings of the ways in which film, as a key consumed medium in modern times, can be made in more accessible ways and cater to heterogeneous audiences. We also hope that we can continue to build upon the radical ways in which research and inquiry are being co-designed and co-produced with marginalised groups as advocated within disability and D/deaf research (Liddiard et al. 2022).
Deaf Unity (2022) ‘BSL is a hot topic — what you need to know’. Online. Available from: https://deafunity.org/article_interview/bsl-is-a-hot-topic-what-you-need-to-know/ [Accessed 10/5/2022)
Eckert, R. C. and Rowley, A. J. (2013) ‘Audism: A Theory and Practice of Audiocentric Privilege’, Humanity & Society, 37: 2, 101–130
Liddiard, K., Goodley, D., Runswick-Cole, K., Whitney, S., Vogelmann, E., Watts, L., Aimes, C., Evans, K. and Spurr, R. (2022) Living Life to the Fullest: Disability, Youth and Voice. Bingley: Emerald Publishing.