What’s The Most Amazing Thing You Can Do With Your Hands?

This week, Olivia Wilkinson reflects on an extremely successful evening with Leeds Sign Society. Raising funds for SignHealth, the society and their guests battled the weather to gather in the Michael Sadler Building and learn new, innovative ways of using their hands to save lives.

On Wednesday 28th February, Leeds Sign Society saw the month out with a special event: the Medical Sign Language Session. And what a turn out it was! Not even the Beast from the East could keep the masses away – although the night’s popularity may have been due to the fact that the society’s regular Wednesday night meeting had a few exciting twists.

Each week, the sign language vocabulary that everyone is taught takes on a specific theme; past topics have included food, travel and even love on Valentine’s Day. The focus of this session was words that would prove useful in a medical/healthcare setting.

The session was bigger and longer than normal. It was so popular, in fact, that a ticketing system was introduced; tickets were priced at £3 with all profits donated to the charity SignHealth. As there were attendees who weren’t regular members of the society, a quick recap was given of the essential basics including the alphabet, names and numbers. The session was also longer, and participants were gifted with an additional 30 minutes, on top of the usual hour, of the knowledgeable committee’s time and expertise. Every
minute was thoroughly engaging; from the pre-planned vocabulary,
activities and individual practice sessions, to peoples’ interest sparking up additional queries. Amongst others, questions included what the signs would be for a radiographer, a healthcare assistant, a surgeon and an allergic reaction – all of which the committee were able to answer.

Not only did we learn lots of new field-specific medical signs, we also had the option of purchasing a vocabulary book consisting of all the terms and expressions covered by the committee. Unsurprisingly, creating a vocabulary book on sign language can be incredibly challenging due to the gestural nature of signing.

However, whilst creating her own book, our very creative social secretary, Molly-Rose Bradley, managed to overcome this obstacle. Her ‘Handy Handbook’ is filled with colourful diagrams and clear, easy-to-follow instructions to help you form the right sign for a word. Considering how much time was clearly spent planning, designing and creating the book, it was surprisingly priced at only £3. Once again, the money would be donated to SignHealth. And, as if we weren’t already getting enough for our money, all ticketholders would receive a certificate of participation for attending the event!

Whilst it was great to learn how to sign medical occupations, parts of the body and various common illnesses (amongst many other signs), there was more to the night. We were taught about deaf awareness and how best to communicate with a deaf person. Tips included speaking naturally and clearly. For example, people often slow down or exaggerate lip movements, but this only makes it harder for a deaf person to read them. Additionally, when signing, it is important not to neglect using facial expressions as this is the equivalent of intonation in speech.

We were also given more information about British Sign Language. As it contains a lot less vocabulary, a lot of words have the same/similar sign. For example, cancer, Coca-Cola and cream can all be represented using the same sign, highlighting the importance of simultaneously mouthing the words and using facial expressions. There is also a simple writing system to get straight to the point whilst communicating, meaning the word order for British Sign Language is also different. Contextual information enabled us to understand why our attendance was
beneficial; We learnt about the charity which would benefit from the money we raised: an amazing £471. To learn more about SignHealth visit their website: www.signhealth.org.uk.

Due to a lack of interpreters, the deaf community struggles to access healthcare as much as hearing people. Thus, even the slightest of efforts and/or knowledge can make a deaf person feel a lot more at ease in an already potentially stressful situation. Overall, the event was a huge success and it was great to see so many new and enthusiastic faces. One individual who missed the event wrote: “Please do another one! I wasn’t able to attend [due to] conditions… little gutted I missed it.” As people were willing to travel to Leeds to attend, there is no doubt that with better weather, the event would have been even busier.

Make sure to follow the society’s Facebook page – Leeds SignSociety – to keep informed of future events. If a signing bingo session sounds like your cup of tea, heads up, that’s the next session! (Wednesday 7th March at 7:00p.m. in Function, LUU).


Olivia Wilkinson