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Introducing Marilyn Willrich – Women International Day – 8th March

Mar 3, 2022

Marilyn Willrich has a wonderfully rich history as a successful businesswoman who has taken her passion for film and creative arts across the world. 

She is a much-loved mum and Nana and receives huge respect from Deaf and hearing people of all ages across a range of backgrounds. As a profoundly Deaf native BSL user, Marilyn comes from a family spanning several generations of Deaf BSL native users. Marilyn’s passion lies in continually striving to achieve access for Deaf people to information, arts, media and everyday life in a way that best suits their individual needs. Her passion is experience-led not politically driven, and she works tirelessly to reinforce and enable access for all.

Marilyn worked throughout the UK for over 30 years as a Sign Language Trainer in a range of settings including being a former Senior Lecturer in BSL/English Interpreting at the University of Wolverhampton. However, Marilyn is probably best known for her media work as a TV presenter, reporter and BSL Consultant for a variety of programmes, including BBC’s See Hear and Channel 4’s VEE TV. Marilyn led by example and has worked both sides of the camera as an award-winning actress and a filmmaker, producing many films and documentaries. 

Whilst working at the forefront of TV magazine shows for Deaf people, Marilyn became more aware of the difficulties that other Deaf people were having in trying to work in the film and media industry. Many Deaf people had started looking to her for support and advice on how they too might work in the industry. This led to Marilyn setting up her business.

Marilyn is Co-Director of Zebra Uno Limited, which was established in 2003 in the same month and year that BSL was formerly recognised by the British government. Zebra Uno is a successful media company whose core focus is digital media and communication, the organisation also has close links with the Deaf Community. Zebra Uno is committed to developing people’s skills through delivering both hands-on and theory-based media, Deaf Awareness training and consultation across the UK.

Marilyn’s passion to support accessibility for the Deaf community beyond the arts, and within their everyday life led her to co-found Zebra Access CIO in 2005. Zebra Access is a Deaf-led charity dedicated to ensuring that all Deaf and Hard of Hearing people enjoy equal participation and access without communication barriers.

Marilyn co-founded Deaffest, in 2006, and the UK’s leading Deaf-led Film & Arts Festival, which celebrates the talents of Deaf filmmakers and artists from all over the world, was born. The success of this festival in the UK led to invitations to Marilyn to set up and support similar film festivals across the globe, including in the USA, Hong Kong and China.

Marilyn is very environmentally aware and is also passionate about working with others for the good of our planet. In her very limited ‘spare time’ she volunteers for SAS (Surfers Against Sewage) and WWF (World Wildlife Fund). Marilyn very much leads by example, and has formed an SAS BSL/Deaf Group who meet monthly to clean beaches in Cornwall. She is involved with other ‘Clean Beach’ groups in Cornwall, giving talks in BSL about Saving the Earth, ECO and Plastic Prevention, amongst other subjects.

Over the last year Marilyn has been invited to present to wider Deaf audiences about the importance of awareness of their actions in conserving the environment. In March and September 2021 Marilyn joined British Deaf Association’s Community Development Manager Avril Hepner on BSL Blethers Facebook live stream to discuss ‘Is Earth Dying and how we can help save our Earth’.

Following feedback from that presentation, Marilyn realised that through lack of appropriate media access, many Deaf people had not yet received full information about many green planet issues. As a result, throughout the autumn and winter of 2021, Marilyn presented to several groups across the country as part of ‘Deaffest on Tour’ talking about how we can all do our part through small simple steps to save our planet, reduce plastic usage and reduce slow, painful deaths for sea birds and creatures through our positive actions, such as:

  • Avoid putting dissolvable products in the toilets especially wipes.
  • Avoid using plastic straws and use paper/ environmentally friendly straws instead.
  • Cut off elastic parts from the PPE masks and recycle the rest. Use reusable masks that come with a filter.
  • Use eco-friendly products in recyclable materials i.e. toothpaste in the form of a tablet.
  • Avoid purchasing plastic bags and use reusable bags.
  • Avoid purchasing water in plastic bottles and use reusable bottles.
  • Use a reusable cup when purchasing a hot drink at cafe.
  • Use recycling bins to throw away your products i.e. plastic, glass and paper.
  • Discard certain food in your compost bin for your garden.
  • Contribute to the cleaning of your local environment by cleaning your home using eco-friendly products, contacting your local council for clean-up activities and if you have spare time, get involved. (Remember to wear protective coverings i.e. specialised gloves for picking up hazardous items).
  • Educate one another in how to look after the planet.

If you wish to know more about Marilyn’s environmental work, Deaffest or accessibility for Deaf people, please get in touch at

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