A UK short film that tells the story of Libby, a profoundly deaf four-year-old girl, whose life is transformed when she learns sign language, has won a 2018 Oscar.
The Silent Child was named winner of the Oscar for ‘Best live action short’ at the 90th annual Academy Awards ceremony in Hollywood. Directed by Chris Overton with a screen play by Rachel Shenton it stars Maisie Sly as Libby and Shenton as the social worker who teaches her how to sign.
The ceremony itself was treated to a moment of high drama when Shenton signed her acceptance speech after telling the audience that she had promised her six-year-old co-star that she would. Shenton is a qualified British Sign Language Interpreter and an ambassador for the UK’s National Deaf Children’s Society.
She told the audience:
Our movie is about a deaf child being born into a world of silence. It’s not exaggerated or sensationalised for the movie.
This is happening. Millions of children all over the world live in silence and face communication barriers, and particularly access to education.
Deafness is a silent disability, you can’t see it and it isn’t life threatening, so I want to say the biggest of thank-yous to the Academy for allowing us to put this in front of a mainstream audience.
Shenton’s father lost his hearing when she was 12 years old and lived the last two years of his life profoundly deaf. She said:
I witnessed first hand the huge effects deafness has on a family. Simple things we took for granted like phoning him to see what time he’s home, eating out, a knock on the door and shouting from the next room among other things suddenly became difficult, some even impossible.
I also witnessed my super hero dad for the first time seem vulnerable and I noticed how easy it was for people to leave him out.
Ninety per cent of deaf children are born to hearing parents with no experience of deafness often resulting in limited communication between the parent and child, meaning a child can start school with little to no communication skills.
Since the closure of almost all deaf schools, deaf children now have to attend mainstream school and shockingly over 78 per cent of deaf children attend mainstream school with no specialised support in place. This is heavily reflected in their grades as well as their mental health and well being.
The Oscar win has already helped focus attention on the perilous state of deaf education in the UK as highlighted in a recent report on Special World. The Sly family had to move 160 miles to find a mainstream school where deaf children are taught alongside hearing pupils.
Speaking on British TV, National Deaf Children’s Society Chief Executive Susan Daniels said deaf education was ‘facing a cliff edge’. She called for more support for deaf children’s education and urged government backing for the society’s Right to Sign campaign. This calls for the introduction of a British Sign Language (BSL) GCSE as part of the national curriculum. A 2017 survey of over 2,000 young people — deaf and hearing — found that 97 per cent thought sign language should be taught in schools.