Corrie star insists co-stars of deaf actors should learn sign language
29th December 2022

An upcoming Coronation Street storyline will see Gemma (Dolly-Rose Campbell) and Bernie (Jane Hazlegrove) stage a sit-in at Joseph (William Flanagan)’s school when the teacher tells him off for using sign language at school.

Joseph’s brother Aled is deaf and the family has been learning BSL, and Gemma feels the teacher is being discriminatory by not letting Joseph use his skills and also when she refuses to entertain the idea of sign language classes in the school.

This is an issue that Dolly-Rose Campbell is absolutely passionate about and she told us why it’s so important for Gemma.

‘She has gone to the trouble of making sure they are all learning to sign around Aled to make him feel inclusive and part of the family,’ she explained. ‘Through her relationship with Freda (Burgess, played by Ali Briggs) she has really learnt the importance of BSL and how that is going to affect Aled’s identity as a deaf person. She has encouraged and been the driving force of the family to learn sign language, to keep practising to keep using it with all the children to support Aled, and that includes Joseph.’

For Dolly, there was never a question about learning to use sign language. ‘It was never really an option not to learn to sign. If we were going to be working with a deaf child actor whose language was going to be BSL, then for none of his colleagues to be able to sign didn’t make sense to me at all,’ she stated.

‘Because I am going to lessons and learning it as Dolly I am able to feed that into what I am filming as Gemma and shown a little bit of how you learn,’ she said.

‘You will see Gemma signing a lot with people who are hearing, like in the pub with the staff and customers. That is because I sign with hearing people when I know the sign to make sure I remember it and learn it. I am constantly teaching myself and those actions are scripted but I have driven it through the scripts. I didn’t want to throw a sign in every few months just to remind the audience that they have a deaf child. That is not how it works when you have a child with specific needs.’

Dolly hopes that Aled’s story will help to raise awareness of the need for BSL to be more widely taught.

‘Lots of people have said to me that they want to learn sign language when I have told them what I am doing but they don’t know how to get started with it,’ she told us.

‘Sign language lessons can be really expensive so that may be one of the barriers preventing parents from accessing the tools to learn. You have to learn sign language from a deaf person because they are using the language every day, it is their language. The first step would be to include deaf awareness training in schools and improve the learning experience for deaf children. There is support available but parents are really having to fight for it.

‘I was hoping that people would start to enjoy those elements of the scenes and not be distracted by it and that is the feedback I am getting,’ she continued. ‘It also adds something to Gemma. I wanted to illustrate the extra joy that you can get and what you can learn from knowing someone who is different rather than people thinking how hard it must be as a hearing person having a deaf child.

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