by Stan Griffin, Deaf Friends International Special Contributor


A deaf British Jewish actress who said it was " ... fantastic to be in front of (the camera) " after having " ... lots of (unsuccessful) auditions ..." was honored recently with a Best Actress Award at the first-ever Deaf Oscar ceremony held in London’s International Hotel.

Fiona Garfield ("Fifi" to her friends) stars in the television soap opera "Switch," part of BBC2s "See Hear" program for the deaf. Her character is Franny, a woman who separated from her husband and is coping with the accidental death of her only child. "Switch" was also named Best TV Drama.

Fiona, a 36-year-old from Harrow, was born profoundly deaf. Her mother, Rita Koten, said "I’m very proud of her. She has persevered and not let (her deafness) hold her back." Garfield spent 14 years as an amateur member of the London Deaf Drama Group before reaching her goal.

Fiona’s big break came in 2001 when she was chosen to star in a British Television "advert" (commercial), her first professional appearance. This ad was part of B. T.’s "Bringing People Together" campaign and was developed in consultation with the Royal National Institute for the Deaf and the British Deaf Association. According to a B.T. spokesperson, it is " ... one example of the way (we) are making ‘non-voice’ communication easy and enjoyable ..."

The 40-second advert was set in a "normal workplace" and had two characters: a deaf secretary named Hannah (Fiona) who is using an office videophone on her first day in a new job–"misusing" might be more accurate because Hannah is gossiping with a friend at home instead of doing business. The woman on the other end of the videophone is an actress named Rachel Taggart, a hearing performer who can sign. Their conversation is typical "small talk" except no words are audible; both use sign language.

For a number of years, Fiona has been a production manager at "Remark," an all-deaf multi-media company located in Greenwich, South London. In that job, she spent most of her time behind the camera. "Remark" deals with "all aspects of films, television, and video production as well as the Internet." They also do translating of publications into British Sign Language and provide Deaf Awareness training, among other projects.

Fiona believes the deaf need to feel more confident using current technology. It’s her feeling that more of those Deaf Awareness programs in the workplace would "help hearing workers act more patiently."


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