This stuff still happens, years after the Disability Discrimination Act

What to put in my first post? Clearly, I’ve chosen wordpress, but only because I was told I could put my CV up here and after 7 months, anything’s worth a try. Since I’ve touted myself as an observer of life from a deaf perspective, let me begin with a recent episode of life that had me astonished, resentful and then a little bit hopeful.

Last Sunday, I attended a poetry event at the Arnolfini, a Bristol gallery / theatre / arty type place. ‘Casting Shapes’, a very good title for the event, had two deaf poets and two hearing poets.

The schedule was hearing poet, deaf poet, interval, deaf poet, hearing poet. Fine. The audience, including several good friends, arrived and we settled in for hopefully a good show.

Organiser steps up, intro’s event, British Sign Language interpreter next to him. Organiser walks off, first poet walks on. Interpreter sits down next to other poets. Poet starts talking, clearly reading from her poems. Still no interpreter.

This caused a minor stir among the deaf members of the  audience, some looking at interpreter to see if maybe she’d missed the fact that someone was talking and no-one was there to interpret it; we asked each other what was going on. After a few minutes, when it was clear that the interpreter wasn’t going to come back up, someone went up to the stage to ask the poet what was happening.

Organiser stepped in, interpreter went and stood next to organiser. He explained that they (the organisers) had chosen not have the spoken poetry interpreted as it’s so difficult to translate spoken poetry and they thought it would be all right; after all, they weren’t having a voiceover for the signed poetry, so no signing for the spoken poetry. Is that all right?

He actually asked the audience if that was ok and could we carry on with the show? I would describe the atmosphere as frosty. To be honest, I think the entire deaf section was looking at him with more than a little disbelief. Organiser retreated, poet continued, interpreter sat down. The next 25 mins would have been incredibly pointless and boring had they not unwisely given me a feedback form before entering the theatre. I spent the time scribbling away, eventually running out of space and resorting to writing around the edges of the paper.

By the time the spoken poet had finished, I’d done the feedback form, checked my messages, had a brief chat with my fellow audience members and polished my fingernails.

Finally, it was the deaf poet’s turn, Paul Scott, and he was great. I loved ‘Five senses’, and ‘Tree’, and it was just about worth sitting through 25 minutes of tedium. Come the interval, I handed in my form. After interval, the organiser came back, looking as if he’d been spoken to by several people, and apologised for the lack of an interpreter for the spoken poetry, saying they hadn’t realised it would be such an issue or words to that effect and offered the deaf members of audience 50% of their money back on the ticket. This was met with more frosty silence and some mocking backchat amongst ourselves: ‘ooh! £2.50! wow(!)’. He seemed to sense this and wisely withdrew.

Richard Carter stepped up, and his poetry was fantastic. I especially liked ‘Caterpillar’, ‘Operation’ and ‘Looking for a Prince’, and both poets did a brilliant job under difficult circumstances.

Several deaf audience members walked out when Richard was done, as we simply didn’t see the point of sitting through another half an hour of uninterpreted boredom. I got my money back, and when event was over, I recruited a hearing friend to interpret for me and ambushed the organiser. I asked what had happened, saying I dabbled in theatre myself (I do) and I know there can be miscommunications (true) and wondered what had happened here? He said that no-one had told him that not having an interpreter for the spoken poetry would be an issue, indeed an access issue.

Well, they’ve certainly told him now. I got the impression that several people had approached him and by the time I got there, he was getting used to defending himself. I even offered suggestions for the future: get an interpreter to read a copy of poetry at least 2 weeks before then ask them to intepret it, or get one of the deaf poets to read it and put their own spin on it, or use that great big projector screen hanging over the stage to project the words of the poem.

Even today, over a decade after the DDA was first brought out, this stuff still happens. The irony was that out in the foyer, they were advertising events for the upcoming Sign Language Awareness week. Makes you weep.

Hopefully, though, lessons have been learned, and the organiser has said that he wants to bring more similar events in, so hopefully, it was a useful experience.

Big kudos to Paul Scott and Richard Carter for total professionalism – it was a great show! 🙂

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