A few weeks back, I had the exciting opportunity to photograph a national swimming championship at Loughborough University. While this was a fantastic job in itself, the best part was that all the participants were Deaf and I got to practice my rusty BSL.
I attended the event with the Deaf Sports Personality of Year media team. This organisation works tirelessly to promote Deaf sport and honours the best athletes of the Deaf community with a gala dinner and awards ceremony every two years. I first got involved with DSPY a few years ago, when I was more active as a sports photographer and covered a few events with them as well as working alongside Newcastle-based photographer Jason Steadman during their last awards show in 2016.
I’ve often been asked why there is such thing as Deaf sport. People are surprised to hear that there is even a Deaflympics – an Olympics for Deaf people. This is a valid question – after all I’m deaf and I have participated in sport with hearing people all my life.
There are two reasons why I have never played Deaf sports myself, the simpler of the two being that I’ve always competed in a sport that is not part of the Olympics, let alone the Deaflympics. Furthermore, I also grew up in a hearing world, which makes me deaf rather than Deaf. With a small ‘d’ the term refers to my actual hearing loss, while the capital ‘D’ implies a cultural association with the Deaf community and Deaf culture. Personally, I didn’t meet anyone else that had a significant hearing loss and was younger than 60 until my teens and I only began to pick up sign language as an adult.
You might now be wondering why there are no deaf people in the Paralympics. There are several reasons for this, and Deaf sports look back on a longer history that you might think! The first Deaflympics were held in Paris in 1924. Just in comparison: The first Stoke Mandeville Games (often considered the stepping stone for the Paralympic movement) were held in 1948 and the first Paralympics were not held until 1960.
The truth is that it would be impossible from a practical point of view to accommodate the large number of Deaf athletes wishing to represent their countries in various disciplines within the Paralympics.
Then, there is another slight problem: Deaf people are actually able-bodied. Some people, including myself, may have some balance issues due to the damage in their inner ear, but from a biological point of view the disadvantages are minor. Issues, however, arise when it comes to hearing start signals, which need to be given visually and through touch.
Another obvious obstacle is communication. The latter may be the biggest obstacle for deaf and Deaf children wanting to join a sports club and it would also inevitably mean that Deaf people would remain somewhat excluded in a joint Paralympic event with hearing people.
Covering the National Deaf Swimming Championships for DSPY gave me the opportunity to photograph some of the country’s best Deaf athletes and potential nominees for this year’s awards. One of the top contenders is Danielle Joyce (pictured above), who already placed third in the last awards although being only 20 at the time. She brought home two individual Golds and an individual Bronze alongside another Bronze medal in the Mixed Relay from last year’s Deaflympics in Turkey. Her relay teammates Jack McComish (below left [computer] or top [mobile device], also won and individual Gold and Bronze), Shiona McClafferty (below right) and Nathan Young and Team GB head coach Sam Chamberlain will also be hoping for a DSPY nomination.
As I was there as part of the DSPY media team, I had to focus on the shortlist of potential nominees. However, if you were at the event and want me to have a look whether I might have got a picture of you or your child, please contact me with some details on the outfit and I will have a look.