British university wants to replace clapping with 'jazz hands' for a very serious reason

Clapping will be replaced by the sign language version at the University of Manchester. (Photo: Getty Images)
Clapping will be replaced by the sign language version at the University of Manchester. (Photo: Getty Images)

The University of Manchester’s student union passed a resolution this week that it hopes will make its meetings more accessible to all students. In the process, however, they’ve made the kinds of headlines that certain talking heads love to mock. Their move to swap out clapping, whooping, and other loud noises of approval in favor of the British Sign Language sign for applause, often described as “jazz hands,” has earned them plenty of jeers.

“Britain’s losing its mind,” TV host Piers Morgan tweeted on Tuesday, a sentiment echoed by many others on Twitter.

But this isn’t a case of kids being overly politically correct. Rather, it’s about hoping that all students can participate.

“[Clapping] can trigger issues for students who have autism, sensory issues, and deafness, and it can discourage them from being present at those events,” Sara Khan, the student union’s liberation and access officer, told the BBC. Her organization was following the example of the National Union of Students, which moved to replace clapping with the applause sign in 2017.

For some people on the autism spectrum and those with sensory integration disorder, loud sounds aren’t just the irritants they might be to neurotypical people.

“Part of the dilemma if you have this sensory integration disorder, when you get bothered by that particular sensory input, whether it’s visual or auditory or tactile, is that it’s hard to settle yourself down,” Karen Cassiday, the managing director of the Anxiety Treatment Center of Greater Chicago, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Someone who has [a disorder] is very slow to recover from the sound. And they can even get phobic about it, where they get a panic attack when they encounter it.”

One common accommodation for this issue is the large headphones you may see children wearing in school. This is also why places like Chuck E. Cheese hold “sensory-free” days, so that all kids can enjoy their attractions. A longer-term solution Cassiday has had success with is exposure-based therapy, which involves slowly introducing lesser forms of the sensory stimulation that triggers the patient.

Manchester University’s rule might be the next step for a generation that has grown up with more awareness of how many people are on the autism spectrum. According to the U.K.’s National Autistic Society, more than one in 100 people in that country are on the spectrum, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that one in 59 American 8-year-olds have the condition. Many of those on the spectrum are very capable, and many are attending universities today, but they may not all have had access to something like exposure-based therapy, Cassiday says.

“One of the beautiful things about university students is they bring things to the attention of the public and the rest of us that we oftentimes may take for granted or have not been supersensitive to,” Cassiday adds, “and their idealism can oftentimes help improve society.”

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