Hidden history of Isles deaf community is to be revealed

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A FILM documenting the lives of profoundly deaf sign language users in the Western Isles, Highlands and Moray will be launched at An Lanntair, Stornoway, tomorrow,(Friday, April 8) at 2.30 (doors open 2pm).

A free 15 minute screening of the film will be shown.

Researcher Jean Pentland, who is herself deaf, interviewed four people from the Western Isles for the film: Christina MacLeod, Tarbert; Cathy Macleod, Tolsta Chaolais; Angus Murray, Back and Duncan Macmillan, Stornoway. The film was made by the Highland Council’s Deaf Communication Project. “For years, social history programmes have been made about the lives of hearing people, but deaf signers here have never had an opportunity to share their extraordinary life stories,” said project manager Jenny Liddell.

“We also had a compelling need to make the film now, because the way people sign is changing. Older deaf people don’t use as many signs, but instead use their fingers to spell out individual letters.

“It sounds like a slow way to communicate, but in fact it’s amazingly fast and beautiful to watch, and it’s part of our heritage. We wanted to capture this wonderful communication style on film while we still can.”

The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) agreed with the need to record the Highland ‘finger-spelling’ and awarded the project nearly £50,000 towards the cost for the three year project.

Jean said: “It’s great for Gaelic that they get so much financial support, but our deaf language and culture sometimes gets forgotten about. I’m glad people will have the chance to find out more about our community through this film.”

Colin McLean, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Scotland, said: “I am delighted that HLF has been able to help capture the legacy of Highland ‘finger-spelling’ before it dies out completely.

“This film is not only extremely interesting and educational for all but will, I’m sure, give deaf people a stronger affinity with their identity through greater understanding of their history and traditions.”

The film is fully voiced-over and sub-titled with an accompanying booklet. A key aim of the initiative is to create opportunities for the wider community to learn about deaf people’s language, history and culture.

Copies will be distributed to the Highland Archive Centre, schools, universities, museums and libraries, and will be available from the Deaf Communication Project.