SCOTLAND’S first ever deaf festival is being launched on Friday with the aim of bringing a new cultural experience to deaf and hearing audiences.

Organised by Deaf Action, the world’s first deaf organisation, it will offer everything from drama, comedy and cabaret to magic, tours and exhibitions.

Highlights will include a Deaf Rave featuring a host of deaf DJs and performers, including DJ Chinaman, MC Geezer, DJ Ceri Karma, Jia McKenzie and Billy Reid along with dance acts, signing singers and rappers.

Also appearing at the festival is internationally renowned stand-up Gavin Lilley who will share his experiences as a deaf person navigating a hearing world.

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In addition, there is deaf cabaret from Glasgow’s Solar Bear theatre company which works with deaf and hearing performers, and a funny magic show for toddlers with sensory games and magic tricks.

The festival is spearheaded by Deaf Action’s chief executive officer Philip Gerrard, who said work was still needed to improve the lives of deaf people even though the introduction of the British Sign Language (Scotland) Act in 2015 had helped.

Despite the Scottish Government’s aim of making Scotland the “best place for British Sign Language (BSL) users to live, work, learn and visit”, Gerrard said access for deaf people to the Edinburgh festivals had been “patchy and uncoordinated”, even though the events are “world renowned”.

“Deaf Action wants to change this by making sure that deaf people can take part in these celebrations – but just making the existing festival season accessible didn’t feel enough,” Gerrard said.

“Instead, we’ve added an extra dimension by introducing the inaugural Edinburgh Deaf Festival, a week of deaf culturally specific events alongside an accessible festival season.”

The capital was picked for the launch of the festival as it has had a rich association with deaf culture, ever since the world’s first school for deaf people was founded in the city in 1760.

Gerrard said there had been a build-up of momentum to establish a deaf festival ever since the BSL act was passed.

“When the BSL National Plan was published, it included ‘culture and the arts’ as one of its long-term goals to give BSL users ‘full access to the cultural life of Scotland’,” he said.

ONE of the problems in the past has been that performances suitable for deaf people were staged at pre-defined, often inaccessible times.

As a result, as well as creating a week-long festival, Deaf Action has been working with festival partners to make even more events accessible this year.

“Our aim is to work together to bring the arts to deaf audiences, giving deaf people access to festivals in a way that they haven’t had before,” he said.

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The on-demand interpreting and captioning service has been developed so that deaf people can now choose the performances they want to see, at the times they want to see them.

The charity’s aim is to make it possible for deaf people to come to Edinburgh and see any show.

“We want integration alongside a cultural celebration, drawing the deaf community into the other festivals,” he said.

In addition, Gerrard said that there has already been a huge shift in societal attitudes and increased deaf awareness in recent times.

“During daily Covid briefings throughout the pandemic, there was a BSL interpreter standing next to the First Minister, increasing visibility of sign language and in addition to the BSL (Scotland) Act 2015, there is now a new law giving British Sign Language protected status across the UK,” Gerrard said.

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It is hoped the impact of the new Edinburgh Deaf Festival will last far beyond the end of August.

“Deaf performers will have had a much-needed opportunity to join the circuit, hone their skills and share their talents with new audiences and they will have seen deaf performers and interpreters in action. It’s easy to stay insular as a community but now we get the opportunity to showcase our work to a wider audience and share our culture with new communities.”

He added: “This is an incredibly exciting year for deaf culture. We have seen a deaf actor win an Oscar, a deaf contestant win BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing, and a deaf contestant on ITV’s Love Island, all normalising sign languages, deaf voices and hearing devices.

“More and more people are taking an interest in deaf culture and we can’t wait to welcome them into our world.”

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