Royal Commission Staff Learning British Sign Language
As part of our ongoing work, the Royal Commission is committed to increasing the ease of access to our archival collections and sharing our work with a broad audience. While we are proud of sharing our cutting-edge research and technological innovations with the general public and specialists alike, we don’t stop there. We have put several measures in place to lower barriers of access to our collections. On our online archive Coflein, you can adapt the screen settings in accordance with your needs, whilst our search room is equipped with various reading aids and adaptable tables. We also support our visitors before they arrive in Aberystwyth by providing a photographic guide for how to find us. Most recently we have piloted audio-descriptive guides for use in our touring exhibitions, which we plan to make a standing feature in the future.
Technology can only go so far, however, and we are keen to provide the personal touch as well. For that reason, a number of staff have started learning British Sign Language. Since spring this year, BSL tutor Alison Bryan of Dysgu Bro Ceredigion in Aberystwyth has been teaching us the basic principles of sign language. Like learning any other spoken language, we started with spelling our names and the names of our home towns, and we learnt how to introduce ourselves. Unlike a spoken language, however, it is quite important whether BSL speakers are left- or right-handed because that determines how a sign is formed. It is more difficult than you think to reverse your conversation partner’s signs in your head instead of copying them like in front of a mirror!
The best part of the lessons is when we make mistakes as this often results in unintentional jokes. The difference between ‘boy’ and ‘strange’ is much smaller than you’d expect. And mind your eyebrows, because they determine whether you are asking your conversation partner a question or whether you are going to provide the answer yourself.
Accessibility is an ongoing process, not a one-time-investment in a particular keyboard or software. Accessibility takes dedicated people who enjoy sharing their work with as many people as possible in a welcoming atmosphere. Although we have only just started learning BSL and are still a long way from fluency, we hope to offer some of our newly acquired skills to our visitors who rely on signing and wherever we meet with the public.
To find out more about Deaf Culture and the history of BSL in Wales, please visit the website of the Cambrian Educational Foundation for Deaf Children.