Jazz hands: The sound of silence

On September 27, 2018, at the first meeting of the University of Manchester Student Union, a proposal was moved by Sara Khan, "liberation and access officer," to ban traditional applause at Union functions shown by clapping, which she claimed upset those with anxiety or sensory issues and was not sufficiently "accessible."  The original proposal resolved to "swap audible clapping" for British Sign Language (BSL) approval and urged student groups and societies to do the same.  The proposal was accepted by the union.  BSL clapping will be part of inclusion training for new students.

The argument is that people with autism, sensory issues, and deafness had been "discouraged" from attending events because of loud clapping and cheering.  The objective of the union is to make sure that events are more accessible and inclusive for all, that all members of society feel comfortable and able to contribute fully, because clapping, whooping, and loud noises encourage an atmosphere that is not as respectful as it could be.

Only later, as a result of criticism, this proposal was qualified to indicate that it does not ban all audible clapping.  The new formula is to encourage BSL clapping only during "democratic events," not at other events held by the union.  Disabled students, deaf or autistic, may feel more included in this democratic process.

These "democratic events" are defined in curious fashion to mean those in which students are invited to participate in decision-making that affects the democratic organization of the Students' Union.  In fact, they are a small number of the events held each year.

Snowflakes are hypersensitive and easily offended, and they long for safe spaces.  Individually, they are lightweight, but a mass constitutes a blizzard that has been transformed into a ban on controversial speakers or those considered offensive to their sensibilities.  No doubt, autistic people may feel uncomfortable in a noisy place with loud clapping.  The proposed alternative to audible clapping is to appreciate silently with a version of BSL, jazz hands, waving with palms facing outward.

The snowflakes contend that using jazz hands is safer and more inclusive for those with a wide variety of neurodiverse conditions who have hypersensitivity to noise.

They hold that there is a need to make the Union more inclusive and encourage an "environment of respect."  Their elders may remember jazz hands in other, more delightful settings on stage and films.  Two in particular are memorable: Al Jolson in 1927, The Jazz Singer, with arms outstretched, hands extended, wearing white gloves, and more recently adapted by choreographer Bob Fosse.  The policy of "Jazz Hands" was adopted by the National Union of Students (NUS) in 2015 on the grounds that clapping "triggers anxiety."

It is not surprising that young people unable to differentiate fact and fiction should not appreciate someone's point of view by enthusiastic clapping and argue that this and whooping to express support for a speaker has a serious impact on accessibility for disabled students, that clapping may discourage some students from attending "democratic" events, and forget that the hand-waving they propose might cause overload for people with visual sensitivity.