University's move to replace clapping with 'jazz hands' sparks controversy

The student union denies it's banning clapping at university functions.

A British university has come under fire after its student union body passed a motion on Friday to replace clapping with the sign language applause known "jazz hands."

Sara Khan, the access and liberations officer at the University of Manchester Students' Union, told the BBC the move will make the union more inclusive and encourage an “environment of respect.”

She said many people with autism, sensory issues and deafness had been “discouraged” from attending events because of loud clapping and cheering.

"Jazz hands," the British Sign Language’s form of clapping, is the practice of waving one’s hands in the air.

A spokesperson from the National Union of Students told ABC News in a statement, “Students’ unions strive to make their events welcoming to all of their students; by acknowledging their experiences and responding to their needs. We should all aspire to improve our public spaces so that all members of society feel comfortable and able to contribute fully.”

The move has been met with some fierce criticism online.

Broadcaster Piers Morgan tweeted that “Britain’s losing its mind,” before clashing with a Manchester University representative on his breakfast show, "Good Morning Britain."

The debate raged across the Atlantic when Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, weighed in. He tweeted, “Not cool, University of Manchester. Not Cool.”

Carol Povey of the National Autistic Society told ABC News she understood the university’s position as “many autistic people experience sensory overload.” But her organization did not advocate an outright ban on clapping.

“Hand waving might cause sensory overload for people with visual sensitivity,” she said.

The University of Manchester Students’ Union has criticized media coverage of the motion, denying that it was enforcing a "clapping ban."

The policy was passed “to encourage the use of British Sign Language (BSL) clapping during our democratic events to make those events more accessible and inclusive for all," the union said in a statement. "We are not banning audible clapping – we understand that some people may be more comfortable to continue using it.”

The union said this would only apply to democratic meetings where policy is made.

Amy Wei, the deputy editor of The Mancunion student newspaper who penned the original article on the “clapping ban,” told ABC News it was “surreal to watch Piers Morgan froth at the mouth over this policy.”

"I’m stunned by how my story has been used to create and perpetuate sweeping generalizations about my generation and liberalism,” she said. “It’s not representative of the views of the vast majority of students I’ve spoken to, and I don’t think it’s representative of the student left wing.”