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Celebrating deaf history at the castle

View of the west defences and hospital of Edinburgh Castle from Princes Gardens, Ross fountain in the foreground (with seagull) Edinburgh Castle

We caught up with Sally Gall from our Interpretation Unit, who gave us some more information about the tours:

We’re focused on telling the stories of our many wonderful properties. We started developing ideas for improving our British Sign Language (BSL) provision over a year ago and since then our understanding of Deafness and BSL has been transformed. We’ve come to realise the misunderstanding among the hearing about what sign language is and how it works.

A tour of Edinburgh Castle, led by one of the Castle Guides. On 9 September, John Hay will lead a day of BSL tours at the castle for the first time.

The main (and, thankfully, the first) thing I found is that BSL is not related to English. While people may finger spell (also known as dactylology) particular words or names, BSL is a language in its own right, with a grammar that is completely different from English. This means that BSL is the first language of many Deaf people.

There is no written form of BSL, so it can be difficult for Deaf histories to be preserved and passed down the generations. How many Deaf people have there been throughout history whose stories will never be told? Too many.

We want to celebrate the stories of the many Deaf people who have shaped our world. As a first step towards this, we have asked John Hay to deliver a tour of Edinburgh Castle from a Deaf perspective, focusing on the stories of the castle and on the starring role Edinburgh has played in Deaf history.

Video with John Hay and Paul Belmonte, senior interpreter for Deaf Action: Announcing the upcoming British Sign Language tours at Edinburgh Castle

Some History

The city was the place of the world’s first organised school for the Deaf in Braidwood’s Academy, founded in 1760. It was also the place of the world’s first society supporting Deaf adults – the Edinburgh Benevolent Society for the Deaf and Dumb, founded in 1835. This society became Deaf Action in 2003, and continues to support Edinburgh’s Deaf population to this this day.

A view over the city of Edinburgh, showing Salisbury Crags and Edinburgh Castle beyond

The tours

John is ideally placed to deliver these tours. Born in Edinburgh, he attended Donaldson’s School for the Deaf before going on to become a senior lecturer at the University of Wolverhampton and an authority on Britain’s Deaf history – and that of Scotland, and Edinburgh in particular. We are delighted to have the benefit of his expertise in revealing Edinburgh’s Deaf heritage.

On his tour, John will be accompanied by Linda Duncan as interpreter, who will translate his signed tour into English. We aim to welcome everyone, whether they communicate in BSL or in English.

We hope to see many of you up at the castle for our first day of British Sign Language tours, but if you can’t make it, don’t worry – We hope very much that it will be the first of many! Watch this space

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