“We are not afraid to stand up and ask for what we have right to.” Meet the sisters who didn’t take NO for an answer

They have appeared on the Nolan Live TV show, been interviewed on the radio and made newspaper headlines.

They are the two deaf sisters that have stood up to a concert promoter for refusing to provide a signer for them for the upcoming One Direction concert at the Odyssey Arena, Belfast. 

Sara, 18 and Lisa Kelly, 20, from Newtownabbey, said they are both outraged after Aiken Promotions said it could not “accede to your request”.

Sara, 18, and Lisa, 20, wrote to the Odyssey Arena to request a signer.

The Kelly sisters have sufficient hearing to be able to experience the music, and since they are already big One Direction fans they know all the lyrics off by heart. What they asked for is someone to help them connect with the banter and chat spoken by the band in between the songs, so they could feel part of things.

The sisters said they could hear the songs but needed the interpreter to hear the boys chatting in between songs.

The request was initially refused by the Odyssey and it was passed on to Aiken Promotions.

The sisters, then received a letter from the concert promoters which stated: “It is our considered view that the provision of a signing facility is not appropriate for this kind of performance. There is no possibility of the signer being placed on the stage, and any other location would detract from the usual impact of the performance.

“We do not believe that your suggestion of a signer positioned at another point can allow you and others to experience both the usual performance of the act and the interpretation by the signer. 

Our information is that even if the set list and lyrics can be provided there is limited prospect of this ‘ad-libbing’ of the act to be adequately reflected. We understand that some signers can ‘dramatize’ or ‘code’ such ‘ad-libbing’ but it is not always a true reflection of the performer’s words.”

Aiken Promotions said it could not adhere to the sisters’ request but said the company would “attempt to present you with a set list and the lyrics of the songs if this is approved by the artist management”.

The sisters said they felt they were being discriminated against and said other concert venues are able to provide the service.

Lisa said: “I would say we need to raise more awareness of the need for deaf people to have access to this kind of stuff. We keep being told no, as deaf people we cannot believe in the 21st century that is still happening to us.”

Sara added: “I feel discriminated against, my language and culture has been discriminated against. Saying no to us makes us feel we are not being treated the same as anyone else.”

The sisters said the letter made them feel angry and said: “the person who wrote the response is not deaf, does not know how interpretation works”.

Both Sara and Lisa said they will also be attending the One Direction concert in Cardiff and that arena had been able to accommodate them, even though they had to change from standing to seated tickets.

The show also heard from Action Deaf Youth who said Aiken Promotions has provided tickets for members of the Action Deaf Youth community over the years.


With the support of BDA Northern Ireland and Action Deaf Youth the Kelly sisters did interviews and appeared in the media.

Appearing on BBC’s Nolan Live show, they confidently raised awareness on deaf equality and access issues and talked about the right to an interpreter at a concert.

The audience applauded at a comment Lisa made about Stephen Nolan coming with them to a concert and having to tell them what was being said. Stephen was left speechless!

Watch it in BSL here

Watch the replay here


So, what was the controversy about? Several journalists, and members of the public took to the newspaper opinion columns to vent their confusion all over Twitter and Facebook. Some called them “spoilt brats”.

One Belfast Telegraph journalist said: “When I heard that two deaf sisters had bought tickets for the One Direction concert in the Odyssey Arena and wanted the venue to provide an interpreter, I’ll admit I was puzzled. What is the point of going to a live music event when you can’t hear the music?

“I’m disappointed that they dragged the ‘D’ word in so quickly. Discrimination. The moment you start talking like that, you turn the situation from a conversation and a negotiation into a down-and-dirty fight. Not only that, you alienate potential supporters. 

“I think we’re far too quick to shriek discrimination when things don’t go our way. But what happened to sorting tricky situations out through dialogue, compromise and accommodation? 

“If not, perhaps they can help themselves by bringing along a hearing friend who can interpret the brief joshing in between songs. Proactive problem solving is far more empowering than rushing to embrace victimhood.”


“Sara and I are not looking for sympathy, we are looking for access and equality amongst everyone else.
We have had great support from loads of people and especially from the Deaf community who know what kind of barriers Sara and I are facing, as we as a community go through barriers every day. 

The ‘potential supporters’ need to do a bit more research as they will find on the legislation side, under the Disability Discrimination Act, we are being discriminated. 

People think the word ‘discrimination’ has been thrown around too much, well, in fact, it shouldn’t be thrown around too much because we should not be discriminated. We are in a society where when we are being discriminated, we seem to think it is normal because we face it every day. 

We are not afraid to stand up and ask for what we have right to. We want to show other people that they shouldn’t be afraid to ask and not to accept no next time. 
Secondly, we will NOT bring a hearing friend to interpret for us, as it is not their job, we want them to enjoy the concert as well. Interpreters are there to do that job, they are highly trained professionals who are trained to translate spoken English into British Sign Language grammar.

Deaf people have been denied access to many entertainments many times, it’s about time someone stands up and fights for access and equality.”


Last month, a meeting was held between Odyssey Arena and Aiken Promotions with BDA NI and Action Deaf Youth. Concert promoters raised the option of placing an interpreter with the sisters in a separate suite. 

Majella McAteer, Business Development Manager for the British Deaf Association NI, said: “This issue is about inclusion and allowing Deaf people to have the same access and opportunities as hearing people. I am very proud of these local young Deaf girls who rather than taking the ruling of a large organisation, were able to challenge and change the situation.”

Despite follow-up, this agreement was yet to be confirmed at the time of BDN going to print.

BDA’s Director of Community Development and Operations, Damian Barry said: “The BDA supports the efforts of Sara and Lisa Kelly.

These are young people, who just like anyone their age, like to have fun and be swept up in One Direction mania.

All they asked was to be included.

Every young person deserves the right to access and enjoy entertainment and to be treated fairly to like everyone else.

Stage interpreters do not just wave their hands in the air – they are highly trained professionals, who have high-quality, specific skills in interpreting performances and sharing that with all audiences – no matter who they are.

Shouldn’t giant promotional companies, like Aiken Promotions, be sending the message that One Direction embrace every single one of their fans – even if those fans are deaf?”

Watch it in BSL here

• Eurovision Song Contest 2015 presented in International Sign Language.
• The Spice Girls featured ‘Sign Spice’
• Glastonbury
• Bruce Springsteen
• U2
• Eminem
• Jay-Z

Published in BDN July 2015 issue