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Last Updated: Monday, 13 October, 2003, 07:56 GMT 08:56 UK
Holby signs way forward
By Geoff Adams-Spink
BBC News Online disability affairs reporter

Sarah Beauvoisin and Ben Crystal
Ben Crystal and Sarah Beauvoisin show off their skills
Hospital drama Holby City is using deaf actors and sign language to highlight the problems faced by deaf people when they seek hospital treatment.

Tuesday's episode, which coincides with Learn To Sign Week, features a storyline using deaf characters - both of whom are played by deaf actors - together with a hearing actor who uses British Sign Language.

Campaigners have welcomed the storyline - which features two of the characters fighting after a furious row in British Sign Language.

"Too often individuals have to rely on family members or friends to communicate complicated personal information to professionals," said John Low, chief executive of the Royal National Institute for Deaf People.

"This is the reason the RNID is calling on the government to channel funding into the training of British Sign Language interpreters who could then be available to NHS staff treating deaf patients."

For Holby producer Richard Stokes, the storyline was a perfect fit with his programme.

"The writer had a great story he wanted to telll - for us, that's what matters first and foremost," he said.

The plot is given an extra twist by involving both deaf characters - played by Sarah Beauvoisin and David Ellington and their hearing, signing colleague Ben Crystal - in a complicated love triangle.

Beauvoisin and Ellington are husband and wife - Sian and Ian - and Crystal plays Ade, one of Sian's students.


Landing a part in a prime-time television drama delighted Beauvoisin, who has previously appeared in productions for deaf people on Channel 4.

"My character's not profoundly deaf, she's partially hearing so she mixes with the deaf and hearing world because she can speak and sign," she told BBC News Online.

As the drama develops, Sian needs treatment and asks Ade to leave the hospital after he declares his love for her.

Holby City
Holby producers rejected the use of subtitles
But the nursing staff insist he stay since there's nobody else to interpret for her.

In a short scene that follows, Ian and Ade argue in sign language, then a fight between the two breaks out.

Richard Stokes said the original plan was to subtitle the scene.

"Then we thought, no, if hearing people feel excluded, that helps them to understand - it's the reverse of usual situation where deaf people often feel isolated by the hearing majority."

Beauvoisin agrees that hospitals can be frightening.

"I've been in hospital with no interpreter at all," she said.

"It was a nightmare and it caused me so much stress. I couldn't live without an interpreter because you just don't know what's going on."


She says healthcare professionals need to think about how they deal with deaf and hard of hearing patients in order to put them at their ease.

"Try and book an interpreter or know how to get one in an emergency."

"The attitude's really important as well - having respect and being patient."

"Even if you don't understand a deaf person signing to you, and there's no interpreter available, just write things down on a piece of paper and be as helpful as you can."

Hearing actors shouldn't play deaf characters, for that you need have a deaf actor
Sarah Beauvoisin
Crystal says basic measures can help with communication.

"Simple things like keeping eye contact and making sure that you don't turn your head away so that they can read your lips would make a world of difference," he said.

Beauvoisin is impressed by the way Crystal picked up sign language so quickly, and thinks other actors would do well to follow his example.

"It's another language, another skill," she said.

"But hearing actors shouldn't play deaf characters. For that you need have a deaf actor."

Crystal took four months to learn British Sign Language, having learnt the American version while at drama school.

"I enjoyed it immeasurably, " he said.

"I like watching it more than anything - it's so beautiful, like watching a dance."

There are around 70,000 British Sign Language users in the UK. Earlier this year the Government recognised it as an official language and has set aside 1m to promote its use.

Holby City airs at 2000 on Tuesdays on BBC One

Holby bids farewell to Sadler
03 Sep 03  |  Entertainment
Behind the scenes at Holby
25 Dec 01  |  Health
Call to teach signing in schools
03 Mar 03  |  England


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