This article was originally published by The Student, the student newspaper of the University of Edinburgh. I have re-published it here for archiving. The original article is available here.
This October, Manchester University decided to ban applause and associated noises (such as whooping) and replace the display of appreciation with the British Sign Language version (colloquially referred to as ‘jazz hands’). The reason given for this change was to be more inclusive of people with sensory processing disorders. I do not agree with this shift in policy for a number of reasons, mainly the fact that it excludes some people, but also because it feels more like a gesture than meaningful change.
Firstly, I must clarify that my reasons for opposing this are not in line with the guardian of logical and reasonable argument, Piers Morgan. Clearly, the inane screaming of ‘snowflake’ and similarly tediously repetitive shouting does not help anybody. In fact, it is more counterproductive than anything as it prevents a proper debate on the issue.
The first problem I have with this move is that it discriminates against people who are either blind or partially sighted. The replacement for applause is intrinsically inaudible meaning that blind people will be unable to detect when there is a round of jazz hands without a third party giving them a prod or whispering “we’re all applauding now”. This is directly against the idea that people with disabilities should be allowed to be as independent as possible. A new policy of inclusivity should be more inclusive than its previous policy. Unfortunately, this policy change only discriminates against a different group of people, which makes it, at best, exactly as bad as the previous method. I argue that it is worse.
The second problem I have specifically relates to the aim to include those with sensory processing disorders in that this policy only includes those with aural processing difficulties and ignores other senses, especially people with visual processing difficulties. Rapid movement of hands by multiple people can be equally as distressing to someone with a visual processing difficulty as a wave of aural applause can be to someone with an aural processing difficulty. I have a diagnosed condition that can affect all of my senses. Whilst discussing this policy with some friends, a group of them demonstrated the alternative jazz hands method. The way the room was lit caused their hands to become fuzzy and undefined, similar to the way a cursor on a computer leaves a trail just behind. This was much more problematic to me than the following round of applause that I asked them to do just to demonstrate the difference. Now, imagine rolling that out from three people to 300. That feeling of intense (but not yet seriously debilitating) discomfort suddenly becomes much more serious. It is more easy for me to negate the negative effects of loud or triggering noise (by putting on my noise-canceling/reducing headphones, for example) than it is for me to deal with visual triggers such as the ones that can be caused by the jazz hands form of appreciation. Therefore, not only does this apparently more inclusive policy exclude people who were previously included, but it also poses problems for the people who they were attempting to include.
As outlined above, people with sensory disorders do not act as one homogeneous block and have symptoms and triggers that vary massively. Replacing applause with a non-audible alternative is far down my list of things in society I feel would make it easier for me (and many other people who have a sensory processing disorder) to exist in society. It feels more like what a neurotypical person thinks would help. A much better policy would be to encourage people to learn more about different sensory processing disorders and, if you know someone who has such a disorder, speak to them about things that can specifically be done to make their life more comfortable (for example, their specific triggers or things to do in the event of a sensory overload). Education and taking the time to get to know a specific person is much more beneficial than a blanket inclusivity policy which fails the main test of being more inclusive. In the end, I feel more patronised than included and I would be much more comfortable continuing with applause and sometimes having to stick on a pair of headphones when things get too much.