Emmerdale: what’s behind the mask?

Hats off to Emmerdale for their accurate and true-to-life (as close a possible) portrayal of what life is like, and has been like, under the shadow of Covid-19.

From the stand alone lockdown episodes through the summer of 2020, to the recent stunt week with the barn explosion, the crew and team have worked tirelessly to not only reflect our lives on the screen but to produce scenes which take us away from those daily lives and immerse us in a world where we don’t notice the covid restrictions and can just enjoy the drama.

One feature which Emmerdale has seamlessly woven in, is the wearing of facemasks by the characters, in appropriate settings, obviously with somene degree of flexibility. Each character’s personality is clearly reflected in their mask ‘choice’, and it helps serve as a reminder that life goes on, Covid or not, but safety must come first.

(Picture: ITV)

However, one section of society for whom this is constant reminder is really not needed, is the deaf and hard-of-hearing community.

Whether born deaf or deafened later in life, many people, with varying degrees of hearing loss, rely on lipreading to support communication and integration with the hearing world. From personal experience and dialogue with the deaf community, it is clear that masks have made this immeasurably more difficult, and this is where Emmerdale have, unfortunately, fallen short.

Viewers with hearing loss may need or choose to watch nightly episodes with subtitles as a matter of routine, regardless of characters wearing masks, but to be forced to use captions because the dialogue is made inaccessible, raises the issue of deaf awareness and understanding in the media, in TV and in society in general.

And here’s the thing – the current global situation, paired with Emmerdale’s dedication to accurate representation of daily lives, has provided them with the perfect opportunity for an organic, naturally occurring storyline, rising from the very real situation deaf people find themselves in, everyday.

Add to that the fact that Emmerdale have a good track record for writing disability focused storylines and for representing disabilities with care and respect, and it is clear that they could, undoubtedly, write and handle a deaf storyline with equal sensitivity, and one which reflects the real experiences of a wide cross-section of the deaf community.

(Picture: ITV)

Whether it be a new character to the village arriving with pre-existing hearing loss, or a current character experiencing hearing deterioration or sudden loss, the soap is well situated to deliver a thoughtful, issues-based storyline here, which could start much-needed and timely conversations about deafness and accessibility.

One such imagining of this storyline can be found here, where Jess – a newcomer to the village and who has acquired hearing loss – arrives in Emmerdale for the first time, to be met with barriers, in the form of masks, and a characters who do not believe she has hearing loss because ‘she doesn’t sound deaf’. https://archiveofourown.org/works/29965740/chapters/73767501

Emmerdale really could do this storyline, and the deaf community justice, at a time when we need deaf awareness more than ever.

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