Comment: Disappointing coverage of jazz hands at university Students’ Union events

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The University of Manchester Students’ Union (SU) recently passed a motion that encourages students to use the BSL ‘jazz hands’ sign instead of clapping. Unfortunately, media coverage has not been positive.

The motion to use jazz hands instead of audible clapping at democratic SU events was passed to make events more accessible and inclusive to more students, e.g. with hearing loss, or sensory/anxiety issues.

“This union notes that since 2015, the National Union of Students (NUS) has been using British sign language (BSL) clapping (or ‘jazz hands’), as loud noises, including whooping and traditional applause, can pose an issue for students with disabilities such as anxiety or sensory issues,” the motion read.

The union agreed “to swap audible clapping out for BSL clapping at SU events in order to make them more accessible” and “to encourage student groups and societies to do the same, and to include BSL clapping as part of inclusion training”.

Students can still clap to their hearts’ content at SU gigs, performances or sports events.

Is this motion enforced at meetings? No.

Does this motion truly impact students, other than those at democratic SU events? No.

Will any audible clappers be escorted out of the building, and have their hands amputated? No.

But judging by the coverage in the media, you’d think the world was ending.

‘CLAP UNHAPPY: Student union bans CLAPPING to spare snowflake millennials anxiety as they are told ‘use jazz hands’ instead,’ reads The Sun’s headline (‘millennials’ is a term to refer to people born around 1980-1994. A lot of new students at the university will actually be ‘Generation Z’ but why should facts get in the way of an edgy headline?).

‘If you’re happy and you know it, don’t clap your hands,’ Piers Morgan says mockingly. ‘You have banned it, haven’t you?’ he also asked an SU representative, but interrupting her as she tried to explain the motion.

Perhaps I’m just being biased against The Sun and Piers Morgan… but it’s disappointing that instead of taking a step back and reflecting on how the BSL sign for clapping could benefit students, journalists are quick to encourage people to read a clickbait headline, or watch the story being covered tongue-in-cheek on TV, and jump to conclusions.

Reading the comments from people online doesn’t make things any better. Parents insist they’re going to clap and whoop at their child’s graduation ceremony (despite it not being an SU event, hence unaffected). Commenters ask ‘what about blind people?’ not because they care about blind people feeling excluded or because they have anything constructive to offer, but because they want to mock a motion that likely doesn’t affect them. ‘What about people with triggering anxiety who don’t want to look like a tit?’ asks another commenter, because apparently people using BSL ‘look like a tit.’

It’s disappointing that instead of people’s first thoughts being ‘Hmm, that seems unusual. I’ll research that,’ so many people are posting outraged tweets and calling the motion’s supporters ‘triggered snowflakes’ (a term which infers the person is having an OTT reaction. Surely I can’t be the only one to see the irony).

It’s just… disappointing. But then, what would I know? I’m hearing and neurotypical, and I’m not a student at the University of Manchester: I’d have no issue with or feel excluded from clapping. I’m just capable of reading an article and understanding what the motion means without freaking out about it, and I try to have an awareness of other people’s needs. Shocking, I know…!

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