Last night's viewing - Rita Simons: My Daughter, Deafness and Me, BBC1; Hit the Road Jack, Channel 4


Tom Sutcliffe
Wednesday 21 March 2012 01:00 GMT

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Louise Thomas

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Rita Simons: My Daughter, Deafness and Me began with a pinnacle of parental happiness. "Best. Feeling. Ever," said the EastEnders actress, describing the birth of her twin daughters. What she didn't say, but soon became clear anyway, is that there's always a corollary to such intensity of emotion. You feel your child's frustration and your child's sorrows with an equal power. All parents know that, but the parents of children with disabilities know it more consistently. Simons's daughter Maiya has a condition that seriously limits her hearing now and may take it away entirely in the near future, and this programme was about her parents' attempt to work out what was the best thing they could do for her.

It was, essentially, a face-off between acceptance and technological intervention. On one side, you had those who argued that the best thing for Maiya would be to learn sign language and attend a specialist deaf school. On the other, you had Simons and her husband's determination to preserve her daughter's ordinariness for as long as possible, a route that might eventually lead to cochlear implants. "We haven't embraced the deaf community," Simons said at one point, a diplomatic phrase that almost certainly underplayed her reluctance to acknowledge that Maiya might actually be part of it. On the other side, proselytisers for British Sign Language talked about the importance of introducing Maiya to "deaf culture".

It's a clash between an assumption that the deaf have been born deficient and a fierce insistence that they've just been born different, and it can get complicated. When Simons visited a deaf school, she was visibly moved by the easy confidence of its pupils: "There's no odd child out here," she said, unwittingly lighting on one thing that the deaf community offers to its members, which is the luxury of not being unusual. On the other hand, she struggled with the idea that total deafness might be better than a compromised hearing. "My feeling is it's like an abuse of a child to put cochlear implants in," one deaf woman told her, a remark that Simons only just absorbed without an explosion.

Perhaps because of Simons's starting point, the anti-implant argument never got a full explanation. Those who advocated signing talked of Maiya's "deaf culture" as if she'd been born into an entirely separate ethnic identity, complete with its own traditions and consoling certainties. And at least one woman seemed to acknowledge that – in the face of technological developments – future recruitment to that culture might be a problem: "I have concerns," she signed, "that if parents don't learn any BSL in the future that'll die out... I want to see the deaf community continue." What you didn't get is what Nina Raine's play Tribes (about a deaf boy in a hearing family) gave its audiences, which was the sense of how sign language can liberate the deaf into communication.

Simons had settled in favour of cochlear implants "100 per cent" by the end of the film, though her husband was a little more equivocal, having visited an expert to listen to a simulation of the kind of hearing it might deliver. He was dismayed, in part because he was comparing it to hearing perfectly rather than not hearing at all. But I suspect most hearing viewers will have sided with Simons's conclusion: "I cannot fathom for the life of me – and I've tried – if sound is on offer why you wouldn't use it."

In Hit the Road Jack, Jack Whitehall offers us a hybrid stand-up/chat-show/prank-sketch/national-tour format in which none of the components entirely works. If you like him you'll probably quite like the series too, though even if that's the case you might feel they could tighten up the candid-camera sections. If you can see the "dupe" trying not to crack up it's hard to feel they've been duped at all.

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