Deaf woman’s long road to Buckingham Palace speech

When Hafwen Clarke taught 500 people how to say thank you in sign language on the lawn of Buckingham Palace, it was the culmination of years spent spreading knowledge of signing to those around her.

The trilingual 19-year-old St John Ambulance volunteer and student had been invited to make history by becoming the first person to use British Sign Language (BSL) to deliver a speech at the palace.

Along with other young people from across the UK, she was receiving her Duke of Edinburgh (DoE) Gold Award from the new Duke, Prince Edward, who took over the role from his father Prince Philip, the founder of the awards.

As she stepped out in front of the crowd to deliver the speech she had worked on for a month, with the Duke of Edinburgh standing just feet away, Hafwen, from Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, was very nervous.

But years of challenging herself, as a deaf child and young woman in a hearing world, had stood her in good stead.

Hafwen was born without hearing into a family where her mother was a first-language Welsh speaker and her father, from England, had learned some of the language as an adult.

Her first language was BSL, but she went to a Welsh-language mainstream primary school, Ysgol Penrhyn-goch, where Welsh became her second language, and she had learning support from Welsh BSL signer.

Hafwen’s journey to her historic speech started as far back as the age of 10, when she first started going to St John Ambulance groups.

She said: “My mum suggested I join. I wasn’t very confident at that time. I didn’t know how to communicate with people in the same group as me. I was very quiet.

“One friend from primary school helped me a lot. She tried to encourage me to communicate using pen and paper.”




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