The Silent Child is ‘like watching my own life’

John Smith is an deaf comedian from Mansfield.
John Smith is an deaf comedian from Mansfield.

An Oscar-winning film which shows the life of “isolated” deaf children is like “watching my own life” according to a deaf comedian from Mansfield.

John Smith says he was incredibly moved by the Academy Award winning short film, The Silent Child, which follows a deaf four-year-old girl named Libby, “who lives in a world of silence until a caring social worker teaches her to use sign language to communicate”.

The 52-year-old says he had no friends growing up, because he could not communicate and he was told not to use sign language.

The 52-year-old says he had no friends growing up, because he could not communicate and he was told not to use sign language.

John, who lived in Mansfield since he was one, but recently moved to Sutton says more needs to be done to stop people who are deaf from feeling isolated.

The 52-year-old says he had no friends growing up, because he could not communicate and he was told not to use sign language.

The 20-minute-long film inspired by real-life events won the award on Monday, March 5.

John lost his sense of hearing at the age of three-and-a-half, after contracting meningitis.

John Smith says he was incredibly moved by the Academy Award winning short film.

John Smith says he was incredibly moved by the Academy Award winning short film.

He says: “The Silent Child talks about deaf children and how they become isolated, that they are forced to talk, they don’t sign, the parents can’t sign.

“They are sort of ignored and become very isolated.

“I have had barriers with my own family, I had to lipread all the time and it shouldn’t be like that.

“I went to a mainstream school with a partially deaf unit in Nottingham which is now closed – I wasn’t allowed to use sign language we were taught and forced to speak, forced to listen.

“I am deaf, how could they force me to listen? It absolutely infuriated me when I realised how I was treated in the past.

“We treat deaf people like second-rate citizens at the moment. It really impacted me, seeing the film and seeing that children are still living through that.”

John is now trying to get British sign language into schools to stop deaf children from being unable to communicate with hearing children – a message carried at the end of The Silent Child after figures showed 78 per cent of deaf children in mainstream schools do not receive additional support.

He says: “Schools teach German and French, but we don’t teach BSL, there is no option there to learn it, I feel like we need to stop that.

“People seem to have a phobia of deaf people and think we are broken.

“I have never met anybody who will just come up to us and sign in the street – they all get frightened and seem to run off.

“I try to lipread, but 70 per cent of what people say is guesswork.”

Dad-of-two John, who lives with his wife and stepdaughter near Sutton Lawn, said that, as many people do not sign, he “always has to have an interpreter”.

He says: “I feel like society ignores us – it is okay for gay people, it is okay for black people, they are getting equality at the moment, but we are being treated like we are third class.

“We have to always have interpreters there. If they started teaching children, communication would be easy and we wouldn’t need an interpreter all the time.”

John said that just learning how to talk to people who are deaf without using sign language can help.

He advises using mine and gestures, repeating yourself and writing things down.

John works as a BSL teacher at Mansfield & North Nottinghamshire Society for Deaf People, based on Wood Street, Mansfield, alongside being a comedian.

He has travelled across the globe with this comedy act, having been inspired after watching Peter Kay.

In his set, he talks about the “everyday humour” he has in his life.

He says: “I teach deaf awareness but it should be in schools, it is the foundation for children, that is how they develop why do we

wait till later.”

In Parliament this month, a House of Commons debate was broadcast with a simultaneous British sign language interpretation for the first time ever.

The house was debating a petition which calls for BSL to be part of the national curriculum.

John said: “It is positive education around deaf people is being discussed in Parliament currently, but we need more people to support deaf people, to support deaf children.

“BSL is threatened at the moment – it is going down, not a lot of people are learning it. It is going to disappear and we don’t want that.”

John has also has been on TV programmes such as BBCs See Hear, Ireland’s afternoon television show RTE, and Doctors on BBC 1.

He also met the writer of the short film, former Hollyoaks actress Rachel Shenton.

The 30-year-old signed her Oscar acceptance speech alongside fiance Chris OVerton, the director, having learned sign language when her father lost his hearing after having chemotherapy when she was 12.

The film, which won the Oscar for best live action short film, stars six-year-old Maisie Sly, from Swindon, as Libby, with Rachel as the social worker.

John says: “The film showed that there isn’t a happy ending for deaf children at the moment, but people have started waking up to it - it is a shame that it is an Oscar which woke up society.”