Life as an Extreme Sport

Jazz Hands vs Clapping – One is Not the Other

Oh for the love of – there’s a news story going around saying that the University of Manchester Student Union “banned” clapping, because it’d disruptive for speakers and can cause issues for students with sensory issues, and told students to instead use “jazz hands” to convey applause, like sign language!



So in other words, the University of Manchester Student Union asked students to applaud, and folks who’ve never chatted with a deaf person or been exposed to a signed language assume jazz hands is just the same as sign language, because it…involves hands?

Ah yes. Because they are so similar. (They are not similar at all.)

I mean, if you want to talk about language constructing the world and Othering, here you go; you couldn’t ask for a better example. Because at best, the media coverage of this SHOULD read “clapping out, clapping in at university – student union encourages silent applause” or somesuch to be accurate, but they went for the evocative and absolutely incorrect, Busby Berkeley frill of “jazz hands” instead. So think about it: what does BBC or ITV or anyone else GAIN from characterizing a move towards a silent applause as “jazz hands” rather than “signed applause” or “silent clapping”? It’s about how we construct worlds – and exclude people. Jazz hands and spirit fingers are punchlines, often literally. So what does that say about the writers’ view of signed languages? (Here’s a hint: nothing good.)

Ableism isn’t always about access, it’s also about environment. Using someone’s native (signed) language as a punchline, delivered while simultaneously deriding the needs of students who can experience sensory overload and the thoughtfulness of students thinking about how to make their spaces more inclusive of multiple needs and languages, is a pretty special level of “hey, you’re being a jackass.”

Tell me what you think here.

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