Deaf Role Model of the Month: Camilla Arnold


Each month we invite an inspirational or outstanding deaf role model to share their story. From what they’ve learnt, to what they wish they’d have known and their best deaf tips. 

Our role model this month is Camilla Arnold. She’s been trailblazing across the film and television industry and is now the CEO of BSLTB (British Sign Language Broadcasting Trust). Here we get to find out about her journey up until this point. Read her story here or watch the BSL version below. 


1. Please tell us a little about yourself?

Hello, my name is Camilla Arnold. I’m the Chief Executive of the British Sign Language broadcasting trust. I’ve been working in TV as a producer and director for over 15 years, and worked my way up from being runner and a researcher to an assistant producer. And now I’m Chief Executive, focusing on commissioning programmes across multiple genres – factual and drama – and nurturing Deaf talent. When I’m not working. I’ve got my own little family at home: I have a small baby boy, two fellow babies (two dogs!) and a lovely husband. That’s me!

2. Did you grow up in the Deaf Community or come to it later in life?

I joined the deaf community later in life. I’ve got a deaf brother, but growing up we weren’t part of the deaf community. We had a few deaf friends, but we weren’t part of the community. It was only when I started my first job in television – I worked at Remark! (At that time, there was a television production department.) I was about 21/22 years old, I didn’t really sign much – it was a big change. I joined the deaf community. I worked with some amazing people in deaf TV, and met people out filming, then I started to pick up sign language and I discovered my deaf identity.

I’m very fortunate because my family were very ‘pro’ my deaf identity. So when I was growing up, my parents taught me to be proud to be deaf and to embrace my deafness. And I also had a younger deaf brother, so I didn’t have any struggles with my deaf identity. I found that sign language community when I found my first job, and I’ve been a member ever since.

3. What was your experience of education as a deaf person?

I was very fortunate with my experience with the education system – it was very positive. I went to a mainstream school and then I went to Bristol University. I had note takers, but never interpreters as I didn’t sign much back then. I had a very positive experience, because teachers knew that I was deaf, and I loved to learn, and I loved education, and it was very positive.

When I went to university, I learned Latin and Greek, which was quite complicated. Learning that subject, I used to use a radio aid and lip reading, and I used to have a notetaker. Also in my own time, I had the passion to learn more. So that meant I used to have to put in the extra hours and the extra work in my own time to keep up with the languages and also all the essays – I had a lot of time with my tutor. I was very fortunate to have a positive experience.

4. Your career has really grown from a junior researcher to the CEO of BSLBT (British Sign Language Broadcasting Trust). Can you tell us a bit more about how it all began? What drew you to television production, and how did you get involved? 

I was very fortunate in my career. I worked as the Head of Media for Remark!. I was responsible for a small team and finding work. And then we transitioned to Flashing Lights, and I continued to look for work and funding and applying for programmes from this small team. Then I became the Series Producer for See Hear. So it was a very similar path across my career. And now I’ve got a new role as Chief Executive, at BSLBT, which of course is quite different. Looking at charity rules, regulation and governance. I haven’t had experience working with the Board of Trustees previously, or a Chair, so I’ve learned a lot from that relationship.

5. Since then, you’ve worked with some fantastic broadcast institutions, including SeeHear for the BBC as Series Producer, and Creative Director at Flashing Lights Media. What was your experience like moving into leadership roles as a deaf woman? Did you encounter many challenges? 

My experience of management was transferable – the skills that I’ve learnt have transferred into my current new role. Of course, it’s challenging, but I’m still learning, and I’ll continue to learn. Moving into strategic thinking is a little bit different – I look back and I think actually, I have always thought strategically, but I hadn’t realised it. I didn’t realise these skills are transferable to my new role. People have asked me have I had any challenges as a deaf woman? Yes, yes, I have. I’ve had a lot of ‘putting my elbows out’, and barging my way to the front – in the nicest way possible. It’s about having self belief and being assertive, and ensuring that my voice is heard. I think I’ve made a lot of connections with people and gained people’s trust. Trust is a two way street, and I’ve been very lucky to build on that and build on new connections going forwards. It’s been difficult as a woman, but I think the world is changing – the world is more open minded and more respectful of female leadership. Also female directors in television – that was a struggle. I think the television industry has a long way to go specifically for opportunities for women. So that’s why as part of my role, I want to look into that. There’s not just the producer/director roles, there’s lots of other roles that can be filled. And that’s one of my aims here at BSLBT.

A woman sits behind a film camera, with a large metal staircase on the right hand side

6. You are now CEO of BSLBT, the foremost commissioner of BSL television in the UK. What qualities do you think are important to make a good leader and role model? 

To be a good leader, or role model, I think there are a number of things you need. You need to be empathetic, you need to have those human qualities, and you need to be able to connect to people and listen to them. Without their support, you won’t be able to do your job. You need to work with your staff and your team. They’re the engine room, you need them to work well and together. I’m a believer in listening to people. But also, mutual respect – it is a two way thing. I respect and trust my team, and they trust and respect me back. I think transparency is of paramount importance. If you’re transparent and open about issues that you are facing, the team are more understanding and supportive of where you are. I think also having a sense of fun. People want to enjoy their work – I want to enjoy my job! And if you have that sense of get up and go and we’re in it together people buy into your ideas and work together. I think that’s really important.

7. You’ve mentioned before how important you consider encouraging deaf talent behind the scenes, as well as in front of camera. Can you share a bit more about why you think that is important, and perhaps how you would like to see that develop? 

I’m a big champion of deaf talent and nurturing deaf talent behind and in front of the camera. For example, in Hollywood, they’re way ahead of us when it comes to onscreen talent. They have had deaf actors in big Hollywood movies. And that’s brilliant representation, but I think more work needs to be done behind the camera. You cannot write a script without deaf involvement – specifically if it’s a deaf character – as you can tell it’s not an authentic representation. If a director is filming a deaf actor, sometimes the framing’s not right, or they go in too tight, which is why I feel it’s so important to develop Deaf talent onscreen, but also off screen too – having deaf people involved from the start to the end, having a deaf editor or a deaf art director to work on the set. In my work, both in deaf television and mainstream television, there’s not enough deaf involvement. And I don’t see why deaf people can’t be involved. With the right training, the right support and the right career pathways, deaf people can work in mainstream TV, and that’s something I really want to see more of in the future. The only way it can be done is more training, more awareness, more outreach work at schools and university – encouraging people to get involved in the media. Most people think ‘how do I get involved?’ – there are pathways, and I think more needs to be done. Outreach work is key. And also having training – a ‘safety net’. I was very fortunate when I started my career, I worked for Remark! and there were a lot of deaf people in my team – it was such an empowering team. Everybody was in it together. But we also had role models that we got to learn from – we made mistakes, and they would look after us, so we had a safe space to develop and grow. And I’d like to see that happening again too.

8. What other changes do you hope to see within the landscape of broadcasting television and the wider world in the next few years? 

With the BSL Act, and the BSL GCSE that will be coming in. I think the world is more aware of sign language, more accepting and it is more visible, but that needs to be shown as part of TV as well. I’d like to see more children’s programmes with deaf characters in – not just one singular character, but a group of characters. And it’s not just about them being deaf – I’d like to see more incidental deafness. I have a deaf son, and I’d like him to be able to watch a programme where he can see himself represented just as a deaf person in the mainstream world, or as part of a story or an adventure. I want to see that and I want to see that change. I think there needs to be more content with deaf characters in and characters where there’s not a big song and dance made about their deafness, but just focusing on them being integrated in everyday life. I’m a big champion for more opportunities. I want to see more people work their way up in TV. I’d love to see that in the mainstream as well. I’d love to see a commissioner or director for Channel 4 or the BBC being deaf – that’s what I’d like to see.

9.  Who inspires you and why?

People have asked me who are my role models and who’s inspired me and it’s a bit cheesy, but it’s my parents – 100%. My mum and dad are both hearing, but they’re both strong individuals who have got a good sense of zest for life. They’re very proactive, and they’ve passed on that attitude to me. It doesn’t matter that you’re deaf, if you want to do something, set your heart to it, and you can do it – and there’s a good sense of ambition. So my parents are my biggest role models and my grandparents as well. I was very fortunate to grow up in a close-knit family which gave me the stability that I have have today and the confidence to achieve what I’ve achieved because of my family.

10. What ways do you think hearing people can be allies to the deaf community? Any DOs and DON’Ts? 

I’ve always said that hearing people can be good allies for deaf people. Make sure you collaborate with the right hearing people who you think will support you, encourage you and protect you. Hearing people – if you see it that there is a deaf person you want to work with, don’t patronise them. It’s about giving them the opportunities, being their voice, advocate for them, and help them. Also try to influence change, and the preconception of ideas about deaf people. I think definitely there’s more work hearing people can do to become allies.

11. 3 top tips for deaf people?

My top three tips for deaf people. Firstly, embrace your deaf identity. You’re deaf at the end of the day. Embrace it – you can’t change it! Capitalise on it – use your deafness. See the beauty of being part of a rich and diverse community with so much history. Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed of being deaf. If you’re in an area where you can’t hear properly – speak out, be honest. The more honest we are, the better the world will be – people’s perceptions will change. And then also you need to support each other. I’ve seen a lot of ‘Oh, you’re not deaf enough’, or the D/d debate. We need to be supporting each other and working together to change people’s perceptions. Praise each other. Don’t try to pull people down. Let’s not be crabs in a bucket. Let’s work together. It’s not just about hearing allies, but it’s about Deaf allies as well.

To read more inspirational role model interviews, take a look here. If you would like to be an ally to the deaf community and learn sign language, check out our courses here.

Looking for more support? We’ve made it our mission to improve the lives of deaf people everywhere. Check out Deaf Unity’s projects to find out what we can do for you. If you’d like to get in touch, contact us here.

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