Music to their ears as DIT students sign up


Music is not just for listening to, say the students who reworked Snow Patrol’s ‘Open Hands’ in sign language

MUSIC ISN’T JUST for people who can hear, according to student Thomas Geoghegan, star of the first music video in Irish sign language. The video is already proving to be a hit on YouTube with both the hearing and deaf communities.

Snow Patrol’s Hands Opensounds like the perfect choice for the novel experiment and Geoghegan, chairman of the Sign Language Society at Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT), said the title was significant when it came to choosing a number.

“It’s also a very upbeat and catchy song, and we thought it would be cool to perform it in Irish sign language,” explains Geoghegan, who is not himself deaf and has no relatives with hearing difficulties.

He points out that sign language here is considerably different from sign language in the US or the UK. “They are literally different languages – it is a cultural thing,” he says.

The video, which attracted 1,150 hits in its first two weeks on YouTube, was a joint project between the DIT’s sign language and guitar societies. However, other clubs are now queuing up to get involved in making signing mainstream, according to Anita Conway, head of societies at the college.

This week the college is hosting an Inclusion and Integration Week to promote awareness about disability.The programme includes a water polo match between DIT students and the Irish Deaf Sports Association, a poker night at which all the hands have to be performed in sign language and a live performance of Hands Openwith Geoghegan doing the signing on stage.

A native of Belmullet, Co Mayo, the 23-year-old is doing a master’s in renewable energy at DIT. He became fascinated with sign language partly because of its importance as a communication tool, but also because of the influence of a friend who founded the Sign Language Society three years ago.

“I just became interested in deaf culture,” he says. “We now have 80 members in the society. Some of them have parents or relatives who are deaf and feel bad because they never really learned how to sign properly, and some just thought it was a cool thing to learn.”

He says there are about three deaf students at the institution. It has been estimated that there are 5,000 deaf people in the country and 30,000 with hearing difficulties, but many in the deaf community believe the figure is much higher.

The music video is just one of the society’s innovative ways of bringing sign language to a wider audience. It has also put a number of tutorials on its YouTube channel where people can learn, for example, how to tell the time or play a poker hand in sign language.

The Hands Openvideo features Michael Monaghan and John Jereza from DIT Guitar Society, while Geoghegan takes centre stage doing the signs.

The process took about four days as he had to learn the appropriate signs from Bernie Walshe, a sign language teacher, and then the performance had to be filmed from a number of angles.

Feedback from the Irish Deaf Society and the Irish Deaf Youth Association has been very encouraging.

Geoghegan feels strongly that music can play an important role in the lives of people who cannot hear. “They can feel the vibrations; they experience the emotion; they can watch the performer’s expressions and they can lip read,” he explains.

“This is the first of its kind in Ireland, and we’ve had a great reaction so far. So we’re planning more videos to music and to dance, and we have been asked to team up with the other societies in DIT.”

Members from a variety of societies at DIT are now keen to make sign language an integral part of what they do, according to Conway.

“This is partly because Thomas has been so dynamic and he has made people fascinated by signing,” says Conway.

“We now have two classes every week at DIT. About 50 per cent of people are doing it because they have a relative or a friend who is deaf, while the others see it as a new skill, one that is really interesting,and something that may result in deaf people feeling less isolated.”

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