ENERGETIC teenager Tyrese Dibba loves talking to people – but being Deaf means not everyone speaks his language.
This is why the inspirational schoolboy used lockdown to teach more people to communicate using British Sign Language, becoming a YouTube sensation when his lively online tutorials attracted more than 80,000 views.
Tyrese’s passion for bringing the Deaf and hearing communities together and reducing loneliness among people with disabilities is the reason he was chosen as the winner of the Stephen Sutton Inspiration Award at this year’s Pride of Birmingham.
He said: “Without BSL I wouldn’t be able to communicate with either Deaf or hearing people who can sign and I would be isolated. No one likes to feel left out.
“I’m proud to be Deaf and to get more people talking with BSL. The popularity of the classes has been a surprise but a good one.”
Tyrese, 16, was born with CHARGE Syndrome, a rare and complex genetic disorder which can affect many areas of the body including sight and hearing.
As well as being Deaf, he only has sight in one eye and heart issues, and he attends Braidwood Trust School for the Deaf in Birmingham.
His mum Vicky said: “We were lucky that the paediatrician on the maternity ward was friends with a doctor who had taken an interest in CHARGE, so were pointed down the correct road straight away. Some families have to wait a long time to get a diagnosis.
“Day to day, we don't tend to have issues, but being out in the community with hidden disabilities does mean we have to make allowances, like interpreting for shopkeepers when Ty is paying.”
Tyrese started learning the simple sign language Makaton at four months old and progressed to BSL when he started to attend a Deaf school, which his mum says made a big difference to his life.
His very first students were his family, who have also taken classes at his school.
Vicky said: “Tyrese is proud to identify himself as Deaf and a part of the Deaf community. He does get frustrated at times when people stare when he's signing, but his other disabilities don't really bother him.
“There have been times that have been what I'd call difficulties more than discrimination, like looks from people when we're signing, comments that manners don't cost a thing and not being able to take part in activities as there have been no interpreters.
“I've never hidden these from him as they are things that unfortunately he'll face often as he gets older.”
When charity Sense was looking for a new teacher to front its free online BSL lessons, Tyrese was the obvious choice.
The organisation supports people who are deafblind and have complex disabilities to experience the world, and has been in Tyrese’s life since he was around four months old.
They have provided the youngster with one-on-one communication support, as well as helping him go on specialist holidays, build links within the Deaf community and give him opportunities for independence.
The videos were released as part of the Sense Sign School campaign to coincide with the first lockdown, not only working to tackle loneliness and isolation among people with disabilities, but to help everyone learn a new skill while we were told to stay at home.
Students who signed up received a new BSL video starring Tyrese every day for five days, covering some of his favourite subjects like family, food and entertainment.
While the idea is not a new one, Tyrese’s charismatic performance was credited for the popularity of the campaign, which attracted more than 80,000 sign-ups and even reached Japan.
Pupils of “Mr Tyrese” – who looks dapper in a tie and braces - describe him as “really fun” and “not strict”
Vicky said: “When Sense picked Tyrese, they didn't know what they were letting themselves in for.
“While they came up with the idea and a rough script was put together, Ty turned a few things on their head, pointing out aspects that wouldn’t translate into BSL for example. He’s proud of his Deafness and his language.”
“I like acting and drama, and helping people to learn to sign, so it came naturally,” said Tyrese.
“But when me and Mom talked about agreeing to help Sense, we didn’t think so many people would sign up.
“There can be times when it is annoying not more people can sign and I have to find other ways of communicating, like writing or pointing.”
Damian Field, head of communications for Sense, said Tyrese’s engaging style means that more of us will be able to communicate using BSL, which is the first language of hundreds of thousands of people.
“People have responded to Tyrese’s authenticity. He’s not your typical teacher – he’s not trained to teach a class,” he said.
“He moves quite quickly and he covers the subjects that he’s interested in. He’s young, charismatic and incredibly passionate about BSL and life. He’s someone with lived experience in the subject he’s teaching, and people have responded to that.
“Tyrese has received huge attention, but seems to be taking it all in his stride, feet firmly on the ground.”
Students are still signing up for Tyrese’s classes and Vicky hopes many of these will take their learning forward, to reduce social isolation among the disabled community.
She said: “Ty is very proud of his identity as a Deaf young person and likes sharing his language with the hearing world.
“The character you see in the videos is barely an act – he’s a funny, clever confident, kind and caring young person but of course, like most teenagers, he has his moments!
“I am extremely proud of his award and his achievements, not only with these classes but everything he's done and how confidently he faces everything.
“I hope it inspires others that no matter what, give it a try.”
But while Tyrese has shown a natural flare as a language tutor, the football-mad youngster said he would much prefer to teach another subject – PE.
He said: “I feel good teaching people my language but I’ll feel a bit embarrassed if they recognise me!”