The recent decision taken by the Manchester University Student Union, to ban clapping as a form of applause at SU events, seems to be rather odd at first glance. The union voted to replace clapping with British Sign Language (BSL) applause, which closely resembles ‘jazz hands’, at democratic SU events, in order to promote more inclusivity in the democratic system at the university. Though the decision may seem to stem from absurdity, this is an effective move towards promoting democracy within the university itself.
The reason behind this change, as stated by the student union itself in a statement, was "to encourage the use of British Sign Language (BSL) clapping during our democratic events to make those events more accessible and inclusive for all.” The union also clarified that the move was not a blanket ban on other forms of applause, such as clapping and whooping, and students who felt more comfortable with these could continue using them.
This move, potentially, could lead to more inclusion in the democratic process, as disabled students would feel less hesitant to attend these events. The union claimed that they had already received positive responses from disabled students, who now felt more comfortable attending the events. With positive responses flowing in from the moment this policy was implemented, the move has the potential of making the student union at Manchester a significantly more welcoming environment for all.
The question that follows is this: how effective is this move actually going to be? Although the regulations have been changed on paper, practical implementation of this policy is going to be an exceedingly tough task. There are many obstacles that could obstruct the smooth implementation of this effort. The members of the community, accustomed to clapping their hands to applaud at public events, will have to make a conscious effort to restrain themselves from clapping, which has been ingrained in our subconscious as a default for appreciating and applauding others. Also, there may be anti-social elements in society, incensed by the restrictions on their ability to applaud in their own way, who proceed to clap loudly, merely with the purpose of incensing others gathered at the event.
Although there seems to be obstacles in the path for successful implementation, the move is one which shows promise. There are many among us who are not endowed with all that we consider to be ‘normal’, and often take for granted. They have troubles that exceed ours significantly in degree, yet they do not complain. This move is a step forward to make them feel included in the student community as a whole, which may be a sign of a positive change coming to bear across universities in the UK.