Central Croydon becomes a hub for deaf culture to express itself.
As the beat slowly grew louder a door opened at the entrance to the runway. Chris Fonseca came running out and began to move in perfect sync with the rhythm. To the uneducated observer, the performance was just another choreographed dance. However, he couldn’t hear the music. Fonseca is deaf.
Last week, on Wednesday evening, tech hub TRMW hosted a fashion show for Central Croydon. This was no ordinary fashion show since the participants and artists on display all hailed from the deaf community. Tanya Gabrielle, the event organizer, set up the show as a platform for deaf individuals. Gabrielle gradually became deaf by the age of 8, so she grew up determined to show the world that deaf people can be successful. After much planning, her brainchild, H.E.A.R. The Runway, eventually became reality on 31st May.
The show began with the host, Wayne Barrow, welcoming the audience. Barrow is a well-known youtube vlogger who is the child of two deaf parents. His parents exposed him to deaf culture at an early age even though he was born as a hearing individual. His unique situation enables him to act as a liaison between the hearing and deaf communities. Barrow uses his understanding of both cultures to campaign for a national school curriculum that mandates British sign language. “I think this is really important because it raises awareness. It gets people to better understand the deaf community by showing everyone that equality is something that should be celebrated in our country,” said Barrow.
Barrow then introduced the event’s sponsors and contributors. The organizations present were Croydon Partnership, The National Deaf Children Society, and Ai-Media. A spokesperson from each organization introduced themselves and described their contribution to the event.
The last speaker was Remi Coventry who introduced the groundbreaking process that Ai-Media brought to the show. Their captioning system enabled the deaf attendees to read along with speakers without a translator. As Barrow and other guests spoke into the microphone, the audio was recorded and then sent to an off-site team who used an advanced computer ai to interpret captions. Deaf attendees were only a few seconds behind the speaker as they read the live captions from two screens on each side of the stage.
The four hour show featured six designers who each brought their own approach to deaf-conscious fashion. One designer, Andre Ferguson, is a hearing individual who has a strong interest in the deaf community. His dedication comes from his own daughter, Meaka, who lost her ability to hear when she was only one year old. Ferguson struggled to find activities that his daughter could partake in. This fueled him to create the organisation Meaka Bears Deaf Support. His organisation provides many activities for deaf children such as swimming lessons. Instead of accepting that Meaka and other deaf children would be excluded from society, Ferguson decided to make a difference. His influence extends to the fashion industry with his deaf-conscious clothing brand called Deaf Is Cool. “By wearing this brand you’re helping to support deaf children and their families, children with other disabilities and the homeless,” said Ferguson.
The audience applauded as several models walked along the catwalk displaying the designer’s work. In that audience was another fashion icon from the deaf community, Georgia Jones. She was crowned Miss England in 2007 and now models professionally across the UK. Jones is only deaf in one ear so she is able to communicate normally with hearing individuals. She came to the event to show her support for deaf-conscious fashion and deaf models. “I used the Miss England title as a platform to help the younger generations that are hard of hearing or completely deaf to realize that it shouldn’t affect where they’re going with their life or what they want to do,” said Jones.
The event concluded with a congratulations to the designers and an uplifting thank you from Barrow to the audience.