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Coda’s Oscar success ‘will highlight issues’ for the deaf community, says Northern Ireland charity

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Troy Kotsur with his Oscar. Credit: Doug Peters/PA

Troy Kotsur with his Oscar. Credit: Doug Peters/PA

PA

Troy Kotsur with his Oscar. Credit: Doug Peters/PA

Coda’s monumental three wins at the 2022 Oscars is “absolutely fantastic for raising awareness” of the issues facing the deaf community, a representative of a Northern Ireland charity has said.

Named after the acronym for Children of Deaf Adults, CODA tells the story of a hearing teenager who works with her deaf parents and brother in their fishing business, but has her own aspirations of studying music.

The low-budget indie picture won all of the categories in which it was nominated, including the coveted best picture prize, pipping Branagh’s Belfast movie to the post in the process.

It also gained gongs for best adapted screenplay, having been based on the 2014 French-language film La Famille Bélier, and star Troy Kotsur received the best supporting actor statuette, making him the second deaf actor in history to win an Oscar.

Ann Owens is the finance and interpreter manager for Hands That Talk, an organisation based in Dungiven which helps provide training and education to make the north-west deaf community more hearing aware, and vice versa.

She praised the film’s success, and said it is “great that sign language seems to be getting a lot of publicity”, also referencing Rose Ayling-Ellis’s Strictly Come Dancing win last year.

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The soap actress made history as the first deaf winner of the popular BBC dance competition show, and Ann believes such moments help get the word out about organisations like Hands That Talk, because it opens a wider conversation around the deaf community and their issues.

“We’re a deaf-led organisation. Our cleaner, caretaker, information officer and teachers are all deaf,” said Ann. “They loved Strictly and they were ecstatic when Rose won.”

She believes that CODA’s latest triumph “just shows you, just because people are deaf”, it doesn’t mean they aren’t able, or shouldn’t be able to gain success in any industry, including music, dance and theatre.

“Our deaf people are playing bowls, there’s a deaf football team and a deaf children’s choir who are going to be performing up in Derry soon,” Ann continued.

Derry City and Strabane are members of UNESCO’s Global Network of Learning Cities, an international policy-oriented initiative encouraging multiple forms of learning.

“Learning Cities are doing a big thing and we’re going to go and teach sign language at it because they want to actually break the record for the biggest number of people signing all at the one time, and it’ll be the first time they’ll be signing in two languages, both ISL (Irish Sign Language) and BSL (British Sign Language)”.

Ann also hopes that with this newfound spotlight shining on the deaf community, it will help push for a Sign Language Act to go through Stormont something which many local deaf organisations have been encouraging for a while.

The proposed bill will aim to secure the rights of BSL and ISL users to access services in their first language and “to enhance respect and understanding of the deaf community”, according to the manifesto of the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID) in Northern Ireland.

A similar bill has recently received backing from the UK Government, and if passed into law, will recognise BSL as a language of England, Wales and Scotland in its own right, which Ann added is “a great step for us” as something to work towards here.


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