Category Archives: Deaf

This Saturday, I’m going to be a ‘book’ and I can’t wait!

The Human Library is a project, now a global movement, that seeks to challenge stereotypes and encourage dialogue. The idea is simple; a ‘reader’ can go into the Human Library, browse a catalogue and borrow a ‘book’, the twist is that the ‘book’ is a living, breathing individual with a story to tell.

All the ‘books’ are volunteers, drawn from as wide a background as possible, reflecting various cultural, religious and ethnic identities as well as differing viewpoints, in short, people who can be misrepresented and misunderstood.

I think it’s a brilliant idea; a safe environment in which people can ask their books things they may have wanted to know but never had the opportunity. What could be a safer and more calming environment than a library? The metaphor is extended as far as it will go, and I love it, from the rules for the ‘reader’: “the book has the right to be returned in the same condition in which it was lent” to creating a ‘catalogue reference’.

The project was created for the Roskilde Festival in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2000 by a group called Stop the Violence, and seeing its success and realising its potential, they set about promoting it around the world. Skip forward thirteen years and the Human Library has been put on in over 30 countries; the list is truly dizzying.

And on 16th and 17th November, the Human Library is coming to Bristol! It’s being run by Wunderbar, it’ll be held at the Parlour Showrooms opposite College Green, and yours truly is going to be a ‘book’! I got lucky; a BSL interpreter friend let me know about the project and offered to interpret should I be chosen. I applied, explaining that as a deaf person (with a punk hairdo, no less) I often felt that there are a lot of misperceptions and a lot of barriers for deaf people out there that hearing people are just not aware of. I wanted to bring it out into the open, try and raise awareness in my own way. It must have been a good enough pitch as I got in!

The preparation workshop was an eye-opener, I suspect as much for them as it was for me. I loved the enthusiasm, the organisers created a very easy-going atmosphere, and it’s possibly the widest variety of people I’ve ever shared a room with. This Human Library should be good, and I’m not just saying that!

That friend came good and so Kyra Pollitt will be my interpreter for my ‘book in translation’, a phrase she came up with and I’ve shamelessly borrowed, as you’ll see in my catalogue reference. It feels good to be part of a global project to challenge prejudices and it’s great to be flying the flag for the deaf community!

However, remember when I said it may have been an eye-opener for them as much as it was for me? It seems that the organisers fell into the trap that many have fallen into before; simply not considering what they would do if a deaf person came to the project. Another example of deafness as the ‘invisible disability’… To give them credit, once the oversight was realised, the organisers were more than happy to do all they could to fix it, and I think this is something they’ll take forward into any future Human Libraries – making sure that deaf people, so often an excluded minority – are catered for. For the time being, they’ve done something creative with their funds and are prepared to negotiate for a couple of hours of general terping for the event.

So I’m putting a shout out – if there are any terps out there who have an hour or two free this weekend who’d like to be part of this project, please contact Ilana at Wunderbar at ilana@wunderbar.org.uk. Please. Pretty please. If it helps, think of it as a birthday present to me! (Genuinely, it was my birthday yesterday.) Please, please, please.

Ahem. At time of writing, there’s no access for my fellow deaf human to take part in a project I’m involved in and yes I do find it a little incongruous, I think it’s the first time it’s happened. However, as I’ve said, the organisers are learning fast and I think they’ll be taking this forward into future events; certainly I want to go to any future Human Libraries as a ‘reader’. It’s such a cool project and deserves wider recognition!

In the meantime, if you’re up for an interesting conversation that will almost certainly challenge one of your worldviews, rock on down to the Parlour Showrooms this weekend!

In a way, I’d like to think I’ve already fulfilled my purpose as a ‘book’ in that by my presence I’ve spread a little awareness and made people think, and the Human Library has gained a new dimension. If I can do that this weekend, just make people aware and make them think about deaf people and our place in society, I’ll consider this entire project worthwhile.

For the curious, here’s my catalogue reference:

Title: I’m not deaf, just ignoring you… oh wait, I am deaf.

Date and place of publication: 1983, Surrey

Dedications: Kyra Pollitt, the translator for this ‘book in translation’

Synopsis: People often think I’m ignoring them, but I feel I am the one who is ignored. There are an estimated 9 million (one in seven) hard of hearing or deaf people in the UK, yet access and awareness are a constant uphill battle, for even the simplest things. I’m a poet, writer, traveller, performer; I just want the same freedom as hearing people to enjoy and live my life, however random it may be.

Notes: This is a 3D book in translation, featuring British Sign Language. Please do not be alarmed if it makes sudden movements.

Please handle the book binding carefully: it features a textured blue mohican.

There it is, wonder how many ‘readers’ I can tempt? 🙂

Wunderbar’s creative director Ilana Mitchell kindly agreed to answer a few questions, to give an extra insight into the project and the motivations behind it.

How did you / Wunderbar get involved in the Human Library?

I saw a Human Library in Canada when I was visiting in 2010, and was really inspired by the project. At that event I met a “Book” who was Québécois who had taught himself about 10 languages and worked as a translator during many wars and conflicts.

When I came home I researched the project and found out more about how it started, and its aims to create a space for challenging stereotypes, a space for asking difficult questions. This and its playfulness all fitted really well with Wunderbar’s aims.

What elements attracted you to the project most?

I love how simple the concept is and at the same time its pretty powerful. Every time we’ve done it the workshops have been very inspiring. The Books all get to make friends and support each other – somehow the safety in the space to be open about yourself and whatever stereotype you might fit with allows for some great camaraderie. And I think it boosts the confidence of the Books both to be part of the project and beyond.

The other bit I like is the catalogue and the readers’ reviews – you’ll get to see these on Saturday. Each time a Book is read is a personal experience, shared between Book and Reader. Through the writing in the catalogues and the reviews these get shared more widely, and they are so often really warm and friendly, it’s like the conversations continue on paper.

Am I the first deaf person to be involved in the Human Library in the UK and has my involvement changed how Wunderbar will approach future installations of the Human Library?

I don’t know in the UK, but first for us. Though in our last festival in 2011 we did a very challenging project which attempted to sign the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We learnt a lot about how hard it is to be truly accessible. I had lots of assumptions I had never considered as such – like English being a second language to people for whom BSL is a first, or how strong regional dialects are.

Sadly, the artist we worked with on the UDHR project died earlier this year, though not before the UN accepted and now host on their website an official BSL translation. I’m really keen to build on both that project and now since meeting with you, working out how best to go forward to make all our projects as accessible as possible.

I’m looking forward to having further conversations with you, and hopefully others. I’d like to think that in coming from both the deaf and the hearing side we can make good arguments for how to best work together to bridge the gaps, that we can help each other understand the difficulties and challenges we face and come up with some positive suggestions which we can share more widely.

I mentioned the challenge of funding when we met – this is a dull subject but one it’s important to tackle. Human Library is full of volunteer books, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have costs. As very enthusiastic arts practitioners, we’ll always squeeze far more out of a budget than is actually really practically covered in costs. It’s both admirable and naive: that make do / make happen attitude is in many ways a privilege of those who can function most “normally” in society. To make access equitable needs money not to be an object – which is easier said than done.

I very much hope you agree and are up for this quest! I think that’s important for all our projects, not just Human Library, and everyone else’s too!

Big thanks to Ilana for her insightful and great answers – I didn’t realise Wunderbar had been involved in the translation of Universal Declaration of Human Rights into BSL, fabulous stuff! Brilliant to be involved with them and definitely will be keeping in touch – that’s a quest well worth going on!

Now… who’s coming to the Human Library? Spread the word! 🙂

The BBC are treating me like a second class Doctor Who fan

(originally published on the Limping Chicken)

Recently, there was a post on Pesky People, ‘Silence has fallen at the BBC’ written by a fellow Doctor Who fan, describing their troubles with trying to get a ticket to the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Celebration Convention. It’s quite the saga, it goes on for several blog posts, with various back and forth responses between Samantha and the BBC. But in short, the BBC have been so bloody-minded and inaccessible that they are causing a lifelong fan of the show to fall out of love with it.

Look at her pics. She is totally dedicated. This is the kind of fan that the BBC should be bending over backwards to accommodate, not driving away.

Sadly though, the Beeb seem not to share this view. No doubt they would much prefer it if she disappeared quietly into the ether and stopped making a fuss. That’s certainly been my impression from my dealings with the BBC when it comes to Doctor Who.

In short, the BBC is treating deaf and disabled Whovians like second class Doctor Who fans. And I don’t appreciate it. Not one bit.

Sometimes, though, the BBC can get it right. Check out this interview between Alison (director of Pesky People) and Samantha herself, at ‘Disability meets Digital’ in March, where they discuss the issues they’ve had with Doctor Who events, but when the BBC gets it right, they can get it really right. At 11 mins 30, they discuss the Doctor Who Theatre Experience, which not only had well-trained actors, they even had a set of actors who could use BSL, so if a deaf person came, they could sign the entire performance.

Samantha really hits it on the head when she says that “it really shows what really can be achieved when the will is there” (13.50). Unfortunately, when it comes to certain areas of the Doctor Who franchise, that will seems to be entirely absent.

First, let’s establish my Doctor Who fan credentials; this is my morning coffee cup…

Dr who cup

This is me at the Doctor Who exhibition at Land’s End a few years ago…

Me + TARDIS

This is my official bag from the convention in Cardiff last year, which still hangs proudly in my room…

Dr Who bag

Anyone remember the BSL interpreter on stage for the cast panel? And the make-up workshop? That was me and my good friend in the front row; I was the one mainlining Mentos to stay awake; I’d just got back from America two days before and was horrendously jetlagged. Dragging myself out of bed that morning, I felt like I was dragging myself out of a coma. I still made it. I had to eat a lot of Mentos to get through the day, but I made it.

Me and Ood Dr Who Convention

That’s how much I love Doctor Who.

I haven’t even got to my DVD collection (growing steadily as Amazon keeps telling me when Doctor Who DVDs are on special offer. Oh Amazon, you know me too well) or my various toys. Or my favourite T-shirt with a Dalek silhouette print. Or my planned sci-fi themed fancy dress birthday party in November, where I will most likely be a Doctor.

In summary, I really love Doctor Who.

So imagine my outrage when last year, the Doctor Who Christmas Special, ‘The Snowmen’ wasn’t subtitled on iPlayer. I missed the original broadcast as I was staying with friends and their TV signal was buggered. I tried threatening them, but it didn’t work. I had my heart set on watching the special on iPlayer that night, and I wasn’t prepared to listen to any excuses about the wifi and how long it would take to download; in the end, it took over three hours. Very kind of them to invite me over and everything. Love you, guys.

It wasn’t subtitled. It wasn’t bleeding subtitled!

Every day and night I went back to check. Still not subtitled. Still not subtitled. Still not subtitled. Still not subtitled. Have you ever seen a junkie that can see a fix; it’s so close they can smell it and touch it, but someone keeps dangling it just out of reach? For me, that someone was the BBC. Eventually, after four long days, the BBC deigned to subtitle the Christmas Special of one of their most popular shows of all time. By that point, I was like this:

smashed-computer

I tried contacting them, believe me. I sent them constant error reports, I emailed them, nothing. For four days, nothing. And then eventually, a few days later, a pathetic email apologising for the inconvenience. The inconvenience? Did they have any idea of what they’d done? That they had effectively withheld a stonking episode from me for days, whilst the hearing population could watch it at any time? Discrimination. I had to watch the special another few times before I calmed down. Ah, the power of the fix…

But this is not what’s got me wound up. This was just one incident in a long line. The two prequels to The Snowmen, The Great Detective and Madame Vastra Investigates, were not subtitled.

I commented on the videos on YouTube and emailed the webmaster on the BBC official Doctor Who website, to no avail. I got zero reply. I found this incredibly annoying on several levels, but mainly that these were prequels intended to tantalise fans, to whet their appetites. All they did for me taunt me; that here was an official canon Doctor Who clip, possibly filled with verbal clues, that I could not access. I had no idea what any of them were saying.

This wasn’t the first time the BBC had pulled this stunt. When they released a prequel for The Big Bang, with Rory tearfully talking to Amy’s lifeless form, that wasn’t subtitled either. I tweeted and commented on that occasion too, and got nothing. In fact, a big fat nothing has been the BBC’s M.O. thus far.

It gets worse. This is the BBC official Doctor Who website. Click on ‘clips’. Click on a clip. Any clip. Pick one. It doesn’t matter which you pick, because not a goddamned one is subtitled. I’m sure ‘Songtaran Carols’ is funny as hell, but to me, without subtitles, it’s worse than meaningless. This has been a source of frustration for a while, and believe me I have tried everything I can think of to attract the BBC’s attention to this.

I left comments (under DeafFirefly) on YouTube videos linked to the Doctor Who website, with no reply, I used the Doctor Who website contact form to send a message to the webmaster, twice, with no reply, I emailed the BBC accessibility team at accessibilityteam@bbc.co.uk twice, with no reply, and most recently, I went through a phase where I tweeted the official @bbcdoctorwho account every day for two weeks to complain about the lack of subtitles, with no reply, and at one point comparing the @bbdoctorwho overseers to Tivolians (A reference to a species famed for their cowardice and lack of will) again with no reply. Every single attempt I have made to raise this issue has been totally ignored.

In the end, I begged a kind geek, Chakoteya, who does transcripts of Doctor Who episodes voluntarily, to do transcripts for the prequels for me. This she did and I thank her wholeheartedly, it really helped, at least now I knew what they were saying. She has continued to do transcripts for canon prequels, they’re available with all her other transcripts in episode order. Thanks Chakoteya! Really, really appreciate it.

In all honesty, though, it’s not the same as watching a clip with subtitles; with a transcript one has to either remember the dialogue while watching the clip and match it to any visible lip movements (panning shots, ha!) or flick constantly back and forth between transcript and clip, making a supposedly enjoyable experience hard work.

It would be much easier to watch a subtitled clip and thus enjoy full and equal access to what the hearing Doctor Who fans are getting. This is the BBC’s job. Why am I having to ask kind people to do transcripts for me when the BBC surely has enough resources at its disposal to provide access themselves? How unreasonable is it to expect the BBC’s biggest internationally-selling show to subtitle a few videos?

(*cough* Equality Act, reasonable adjustments *cough*)

In sticking it to loyal fans like this, not only is the BBC doing deaf and HOH Doctor Who fans and themselves a great disservice, they’re also flouting Ofcom’s Codes on Television Access Services, and their own policies on accessibility. The BBC accessibility policy even includes this great piece of lip service:

“This is an area of importance for the BBC. In keeping with our public-service remit, and our obligations under the Equality Act, we are committed to ensuring that BBC digital services are as accessible to disabled and elderly people as reasonably possible. We aim for a consistently high level of usability for our entire audience across all of our websites, following best-practice accessibility guidelines. We engage with disabled, non-disabled and elderly people throughout website development to fully understand user requirements and ensure we produce sites that meet these.”

As lip service is indeed all it is.

I’ve had a look at BBC accessibility help and found this page that proudly boasts that among other shows, online content for Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood, both Doctor Who spin-offs, are subtitled. Irony, anyone?

You think this post is long? You should see the formal complaint that I’ve written, for the attention of the BBC Trust. It goes to three pages, which I managed to achieve by shuffling the margins a little to squeeze it all in. Three chock-full pages of quotes from BBC access policy, subtitling guidelines, codes of practice and Ofcom. Let’s see them ignore that.

I really did not want to have to do this. I tried all the methods I could think to contact the BBC so we could sort it out like reasonable people. But that’s impossible when one side of the dialogue is apparently a brick wall.

I did not want to have to write a formal complaint, quote the BBC’s own policies at them, nor tell them that if I do not receive a satisfactory response within 10 days, my next step is a formal complaint to Ofcom and to explore other options. Not to my favourite show. Look what they made me do.

Whilst I’m not yet falling out of love with Doctor Who, the BBC are severely testing my patience.

I love Doctor Who, but I really don’t like being treated like a second class Doctor Who fan.

Deaf lad wins Big Brother!

Big Brother. Orwellian piss-take or a sad indictment of modern celebrity culture, or both? Either way, the subtitles are live – read, crap – so I’ve never bothered.

But then a deaf lad entered it. I never thought I’d see the day when a deafie willingly entered a house full of hearing fame-hunters, most likely totally un-deaf-aware and utterly clueless, and have to deal with them in front of cameras recording live. Every slip-up, every misunderstanding televised for the nation’s viewing pleasure. Not to mention spending every waking moment with them for weeks. Trapped. With literally nowhere to hide.

In short, I would only agree to go in the Big Brother house if you guaranteed me the £100,000 prize up-front.

Whilst I still don’t watch Big Brother, I’ve been keenly following Michelle Hedley’s updates on the Limping Chicken, and it seems that for the most part he relied on his lip-reading and speech skills, and on instructions printed on laminate for the Big Brother ritual humiliations, I mean tasks.

And it seems he survived. He not only survived, he endeared himself to the hearts of the nation enough that he won. He bloody won Big Brother, essentially a televised popularity contest. I give him all credit. As he struggles in large groups, it seems his tactic was to hang quietly in the background and make friends with individuals; exactly what I would have done. He even managed to spread some deaf awareness along the way, giving his real thoughts to Callum, telling him the truth about how hard it is to keep up sometimes.

I so understood what he meant. I identify with Sam on several levels. Like him, I wasn’t diagnosed until I was three, as doctors had told my worried parents that I was fine, just ‘lazy’ and ‘slow’. I went to mainstream schools, where I got a ‘good education’ – if a good education is one defined by average-to-good grades and zero social life – and yes, I relied on lip-reading and speech. I didn’t learn to sign fluently until I was 19.

And yes, it was bloody hard work. Always tired, getting headaches from concentrating, eye blur, and forget about group situations. Just forget them. My hearing aids suck in all noise, so no chance of hearing anything clearly, and it’s a game of follow the magical invisible conversational ball, which constantly changes shape and direction as it flies through the air. Actually that’s not a bad metaphor. I might try to work that into a poem.

Nowadays, I avoid hearing non-signer group situations like the plague. Why would I put myself through that? It’s frustrating and you’re basically treading water while everyone swims conversational circles round you. And on national TV? Show me the money.

I’ve seen on Facebook and Twitter some deafies giving Sam shit for not signing enough or for lip-reading and speaking all the time etc. I’m not sure what they wanted him to do – hijack a camera and climb on the roof of the Big Brother house, unfurling an FDP flag before launching into a Sign Song or a BSL translation of Shakespeare? Maybe he doesn’t overtly represent the deaf BSL users, but he has showed the country several important things;

Deaf people are not aliens
Deaf people do not have two heads
Deaf people can have a nice smile; they don’t bite
Deaf people can be funny
Deaf people can be romantic
Deaf people can be lost and insecure
Deaf people can participate in things if you give them half a chance
Deaf people can win Orwellian televised popularity contests if you give them half a chance

Plus, of the prize money, he said he was gonna give 25% to charity, 25% to his Mum and hold the rest for his future. Another thing he’s showed the nation:

Deaf people can be kind, smart and have a good head on their shoulders.

So I’m feeling the love for Sam. He took on the Big Brother house, a daunting enough prospect for someone who can hear everything going on round them, and won.

He bloody won.

Congratulations, Sam and I wish you all the best for the future. You’ll go far.

A poem in remembrance of the CDS.

They really did it. The University of Bristol really did it. They really shut the Centre for Deaf Studies.

And I haven’t had any reply to my email in which I accused them of academic vandalism.

It is academic vandalism. It’s a crying tragedy. What does a Centre have to do to stay open? Win funding? The CDS did that. Produce graduates with a reasonable prospect of future employment in their chosen discipline? The CDS did that. Conduct ground-breaking research and change perspectives? The CDS did that. Win worldwide prestige for the University? The CDS did all that and more.

The University crippled the Centre by closing down the undergraduate programmes ‘for academic reasons’ then said the Centre wasn’t getting enough income to be viable. This seems somewhat like shooting someone in the leg and then telling them they deserve to get eaten by the big angry bear because they’re not running away fast enough.

In these times of austerity and recession, one could perhaps understand a venerable organisation like the University of Bristol wanting to tighten their belts. Times are tough, after all.

Imagine my surprise then, when I walked into the main entrance of the building that housed the CDS a couple of months ago. I saw something. My step slowed. I turned to look at it fully. My mouth dropped open. The object of my disbelieving attention?

A great big poster advertising the new ‘Priory Road Redevelopment’. It showed a big shiny building with lots of expensive-looking detail. Lots of glass, some fancy landscaping. What?

To recap, they’re shutting the CDS due to lack of money, then they’re building a great big new fancy complex on the site.

I fear I cannot write what I think about that, it might turn the screen blue.

However, what I did do was compose a poem. I had been invited to perform at the CDS Ball on 22nd June (and a big kudos here to the third year students who organised it on top of their studies – go you!) and I wanted to create a poem that a) honoured the CDS and b) expressed the outrage that shutting it is.

It took me a while, but finally, inspiration struck me. The address of the Centre was Priory Road. Priory is an old word meaning religious house, a place for monks or nuns to study, pray, write, etc. But long ago, disaster fell when Henry VIII decided that a) He could come up with a better church than the one in Rome and b) look at all that money the religious houses had. In the “dissolution of the monasteries” most of the religious houses in England were closed and ransacked, with the wealth going to the Crown. Funnily enough, this dissolution was also preceded by cynical rule-changing, with dubious reports and ‘fact-finding’ that led to only one inevitable conclusion.

Perfect. It also occurred to me that an old word for a servant of the king or higher noble used to be ‘squire’. Ahem. Other things that were in my head were the maze-like structure of the CDS, who the monks and nuns might worship, the CDS library (which I really hope the University of Bristol will at least try to preserve), the reams of writings produced in one form or another, the students, the other deaf studies institutions that sprung up after the CDS, in fact there are various references and in-jokes scattered around, I’m not going to give you all the clues, you’ll have to watch it and see for yourself!

Here, with thanks to Amy Claridge for filming, and more kudos to her and the other organisers, is ‘The Priory’, complete with a brief introduction to the poem. I’ve subtitled the intro, but I have no English translation for the poem as yet. Give me time.

Wherever we go, we shall always remember the CDS.

SAVE THE CENTRE FOR DEAF STUDIES!

It has been an amazing week. It started with the CDS Ball in Bristol on Saturday, where I performed a poem, then went to Birmingham on Sunday for InteGreat Theatre’s big hurrah, where I performed a poem, then back to Bristol on Mon only to bounce back again on Weds for meeting and prep for Thursday’s Deaf Explorer Unconference where I was due to present a summary of my trip and perform a poem, then last but not least, BSL Pride day on Saturday where, with the madly talented Jason Sharpe, I was due to perform – you’ve guessed it – a poem.

The CDS Ball, though. Talk about bittersweet. Lovely to see everyone, and pay our respects to the Centre for Deaf Studies and celebrate the fact it’s been around for 35 years. If that sounds somewhat contradictory, it was. Yay, 35 years! Aw, this is the last year of undergraduates.

The CDS undergraduate programme was axed in 2010. This did not pass without comment. There were protests, local news coverage, letters, general outrage. All to no avail. This year will mark the last group of undergraduates to pass through the CDS. So the third years took it upon themselves to organise a Ball in honour of the CDS and all it represents, and I have to give them lots of kudos for rolling up their sleeves and organising it all, I can only imagine the stress. And on top of exams too! KUDOS. *bows*

It was at the M Shed no less, MC’d by Matt Jenkins and featuring a few special guests from the history of the CDS. It was surreal. Everyone was dressed in their finest, including myself, I’d picked out a black velvet jacket, a proper dress shirt, and borrowed some cufflinks from my father. I don’t know if anyone noticed, but the stone in my ring matched my navy blue bowtie. Well you didn’t expect me to wear a dress, did you…?

We even managed to raise a few laughs for Gavin Lilley’s stand-up comedy and the slightly anarchic raffle (where I won a sweatshirt – go, me!) and the golden girls’ speeches – and I hope I don’t get lynched for calling them that, but it was inspiring to see them all on stage and equally depressing to know why we were all there.

Yes, depressing. The Centre for Deaf Studies scored a lot of firsts, from the first use of the term ‘Deaf Studies’, to the first textbook in BSL, which is still in use today; it was at the forefront of research into Deaf Studies, developing that unique field of sociological research, joining up with other areas of sociology, providing safe haven for deaf and hearing academics and students alike. They gathered a brilliant dedicated interpreting team and having a degree from the Uni of Bristol is / was a great start for any would-be terp or academic.

I myself have been a research subject; I was lucky enough to be part of Dr Rachel Sutton-Spence’s Metaphor in Creative Sign Language Project for several years, and I credit my involvement with this project for my development as a poet, both in skills and confidence. I had the opportunity to hang out with some great, talented BSL poets and help with poetry festivals and in return all I had to do was sign a few consent forms and allow Dr Sutton-Spence and her keen research fellows Dr Kaneko and Dr West to film my performances and the occasional informal discussion / interview so they could write papers to their hearts’ desire. For me, it was a fantastic deal. I owe the CDS a lot.

Not to mention the fun I’ve had helping with the interpreting student’s roleplays. As well as giving me a chance to flex my acting muscles, it was fun to see their reactions to the scenarios (given to me by the tutor, so don’t blame me) and also an interesting insight into what goes into a terp’s training. Everybody starts somewhere, including BSL terps. Bless. They’re so cute. I’m going to miss that.

And now tomorrow, there is a meeting. On the 5th July, 2013, it will be decided whether or not to completely and permanently shut down the CDS.

The University of Bristol is insane. It’s like they don’t know what they’re throwing away.

Help them see the light.

There’s still a day in which to send your strongest objections via email to:

Professor Eric Thomas, Vice Chancellor, via his exec assistant:  jami.west@bristol.ac.uk

and

Mr Denis Burn, Chair of Council: denis.burn@bristol.ac.uk and also via  Clerk to Council: hugh.martin@bristol.ac.uk

Advice from savedeafstudies.org.uk updates: http://www.savedeafstudies.org.uk/?p=468

Tell them:

1.     we want the subsidy the Vice Chancellor announced in December – honour the promise!

2.     we want an independent review of the finances

3.     we want a proper impact assessment – the decision affects the Deaf community and the hearing community

Please write now!

For my part, this is what I have sent, with a tiny little bit borrowed from Dr Emery’s letter at the end:

For the attention of Professor Eric Thomas, Vice Chancellor of the University of Bristol, and Mr Denis Burn, Chair of Council of same.

My name is Donna Williams (BA, MA) and I wish to register my surprise, dismay and extreme disappointment at the prospect that the Centre for Deaf Studies may be permanently and completely shut down. I hold degrees in Deaf Studies with Philosophy and Ethics and Social Philosophy, and it was my hope that one day I would be able to do a cross-departmental Phd between the Centre for Deaf Studies and the Centre for Ethics in Medicine, both of which are highly-renowned academic centres that the University of Bristol should be proud to own, and should, in my view, defend to the last.  The Centre for Deaf Studies has been at the forefront of exciting sociological research of the highest order, research that has contributed to changes in perception of sign language and deaf people. The work of the Centre for Deaf Studies over the last 35 years has been invaluable, both in terms of research and in terms of producing high-quality graduates with good prospects of employment, and the international regard in which it is held is well-deserved. Closing the Centre for Deaf Studies would be an act of academic vandalism.

I cannot believe that the University of Bristol would let such a valuable asset, one that it should proudly boast of, die. Furthermore, it is my understanding that a subsidy of £100,000 was offered in order to keep the CDS open, which was then withdrawn. This only serves to further my disbelief. Why has the University of Bristol not honoured this promise?

I urge the University of Bristol in the strongest possible terms to give a great deal of consideration to any decisions relating to the Centre for Deaf Studies, including an impact assessment; decisions relating to the Centre for Deaf Studies will affect the Deaf community and the wider hearing community as a whole. I also urge you to begin an independent review of the finances so that the Centre for Deaf Studies may demonstrate its financial worth as well as its academic worth.

I appeal to you to rethink your plans to close the Centre for Deaf Studies. Please commit to your original promise not to close the Centre and to offer a subsidy.  That would enable the Centre to focus on developing a top quality institution of research into sign language and Deaf culture, and sign language Interpreting.

It is not too late to put research into the rights of Deaf people ahead of the economics of the current ‘austerity’ climate. In the long term the University will be a great beneficiary.

Please don’t throw away a Centre for learning that is held in such high regard across the world. It should be possible to work out a solution with political will and commitment. If the University is prepared to give the Centre a long term plan, there is no doubt it can continue to be a pioneering Centre for Deaf studies related research.

Yours Sincerely,

Donna Williams, BA, MA

Get writing!

Feel the Music!

On 23rd October, I went to a ‘Feel the Music’ concert, performed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales at BBC Hoddinot Hall at the Wales Millennium Centre. It was held in conjunction with Music and the Deaf, and led by Dr Paul Whittaker OBE, founder and artistic director of same, and Andy Pidcock, creative musician, and the whole thing was conducted by Grant Llewellyn, who has conducted the BBC Doctor Who proms, no less. I just hope I’ve spelt his name right.

It was a stellar cast, with a great orchestra and many more working behind the scenes, and it paid off in droves.

It was brilliant! It was my first concert, and I’m glad I picked this one to go to. It had deaf people firmly in mind, with lots of audience interaction, palantypists, big screens with subtitles and ‘visual representations’ of the music (think psychedelic shapes morphing in time to the music), an interpreter, Tony Evans, who kept up his enthusiastic terping for well over an hour, towel and a bucket for that man please and a very enthusiastic and colourful orchestra. There were lots of children and some NDCS volunteers in attendance, and I certainly embraced my own inner child!

Before the concert proper, there was the chance to talk to members of the orchestra as they milled around with their instruments, happy to explain them to anyone who asked. I met a bass clarinet player (think giant clarinet; a bastard offspring of a clarinet and a saxophone) who explained the concept of a bass clarinet – genuinely new to me – and as a violinist wandered along, I had the opportunity to ask them what was so bad about ‘bum notes’. It’s a phenomenon I’ve seen on subtitles, usually as hearing people wince and flinch, but I’ve never been bothered by them nor understood what the fuss was about; it’s just a wrong note. How bad can it be?

The clarinettist and violinist did their best to explain that it’s when two notes clash together – then they demonstrated it for me. They played together, then deliberately did a ‘bum note’ for me, right next to me, and damn.

To explain to my fellow deaf readers who may, like me, not have appreciated a ‘bum note’ in its full glory, find a blackboard. Run your fingernails down it. Feel how the weird vibration sets your teeth on edge and makes your hair rise? That’s what a ‘bum note’ feels like when you’re next to it. Is that what hearing people feel every time they hear a bum note? No wonder they hate it so much, the poor darlings! And bless those two players for their patient explanations and personal demonstrations, really felt like they were only too happy to help me understand elements of music that have passed me by.

One of the things the various orchestra members did was to play their instruments and encourage us to touch the instrument while they were playing – a brilliant idea. Now I know what a violin feels like when it’s played and I think I have a better understanding of why hearing people like it so much; I didn’t really ‘get’ violins before, as they produce a ‘soft’ sound that I perhaps I don’t really appreciate, but they sound nice up close and feel nice when played. Another win for the concert! The best instrument for this though, was the double bass; it feels like a really deep purr, and putting my head on the body of the instrument (yes, really) felt like a deep purr buzzing through my skull. Believe it or not, it was actually quite soothing. Bbbbrrrrrrrrrrrrmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm……

The concert proper began with some interactive explanations of basic music concepts, with Andy turning it into a game where the audience could ‘boomerang’ sound and bounce it back and forth. There was also a demonstration of the ‘speaker box’ – basically a wooden box on the ground, positioned above a speaker so whatever sound there was blasted through the speaker and made the box vibrate. Andy got a couple of kids to demonstrate it by getting them to stand on it and giving them a microphone, and one innocent little boy was so enthralled with feeling his own voice that he started jumping up and down on it going ‘Oh! Ah! Oh! Ah! Yes! Yes! Yes! Oh! Ah! Yes! YES! YES!’… Whilst my hearing-aids don’t usually pick up low-level sounds, I’ll swear I heard muffled chuckles coming from all around me. Or maybe that was just me – stop it woman, he’s just an innocent little munchkin discovering the vibration of his voice, don’t laugh. A thought process I suspect occurred in many of the adult section of the audience…

I digress. The concert as a whole was enthusiastically delivered, by everyone, and it was a great atmosphere. The kids were really getting into it, and so was I, I loved it. During some of the pieces of music, the audience was invited to go into the orchestra where empty seats had been set up strategically within the orchestra where people could easily be led there and sit down amongst the music, brilliant idea. It’s like being in the middle of a wall of musical sound, it was great. Even better, a guide was asking people in turn if they would like to come and touch an instrument as it was being played as part of an orchestra, and of course I said yes when she came to me. I was led to a violin, which I duly touched, though it did feel a bit strange to touch a stranger’s instrument while they were playing it (get your mind of the gutter, readers) and it was great – seriously, if you can arrange it, sit in the middle of an orchestra in full flow and touch the violin; you‘ll feel the vibrations of not just the violin, but underneath it, the symphony of the whole orchestra. Huh. This must be why hearing people like orchestra music so much. It does actually feel – and sound – quite nice.

I presume the invasion of personal space by random deaf members of the public had already been cleared with the orchestra in advance, but I was still impressed that having people led to them and having them touch their stuff while they were playing didn’t seem to put them off at all, and indeed one of the cutest things I saw that whole evening was a violinist and a little girl:

The guide led the little girl to the violinist. The little girl reached up to touch the violin, but couldn’t quite reach it. The violinist, without breaking stride, gently leaned down so the little girl could touch the violin, still playing all the while. Aw. I wanted to give that violinist a hug. The little girl seemed quite happy as well. Bless. Double bless.

I did that every time we were invited, it was great fun. There was also ‘who wants to be a conductor?’ which was very popular; the children practically rushed the stage and unfortunately I was too slow in making up my mind that I’d like to have a go. Not to worry, it was fun to watch the kids take the orchestra through their paces – and it was amazing to watch the skill of the orchestra that they were able to play to random baton-waving by a child they’d never seen before – kudos! About 20 kids (and adults) did this, with varying levels of knowledge and skill, but I’m pretty sure they all had fun! There were a few show-stealers among them, possible future conductors if I’m any judge, but every single one of them got a round of applause from the audience. The atmosphere was so positive and encouraging, I wish we could have bottled it.

For me one of the highlights of the evening, as a Dr Who fan, was being invited back into the orchestra for the Dr Who theme. And by luck or serendipity, I ended up near the drum section, and as they were inviting us to come and touch instruments, I got to go and touch the biggest bass drum I’ve ever seen. Until that evening, I wasn’t that bothered by the theme tune. It was just weird whistling noises while the TARDIS swirled around.

But standing within the actual BBC National Orchestra of Wales whilst they played it, with my hand on a big bass drum that soaked up every vibration from the orchestra was just fucking magical. It turns out the Dr Who theme tune is far more complex than I had thought. Who knew? In fact I think I’m going put that down as one of the highlights of my life.

Post-concert, I had the chance to chat with several people involved with the show, and was impressed by their enthusiasm; I got the impression the feeling was mutual! Everyone in the audience I spoke to had loved the show, and everyone involved I spoke to had loved doing it. All in all, a great success, and I’m delighted to say that this concert was only the pilot for more concerts planned in February, I’ll definitely be going!

Thanks to everyone involved for such an accessible, educational and thoroughly enjoyable concert! What a brilliant idea, brilliantly executed by an enthusiastic and varied cast, thanks again! And I look forward to the next one 🙂

P.S. BBC’s National Chorus of Wales and Dr Paul Whittaker OBE are teaming up for Handel’s Messiah at St David’s Hall on 14th December, no doubt a more formal event but I’ll be taking a look 🙂

When people are mean…

I’ve had a variety of responses to my ‘shit hearing people say…’ blogs, mostly positive I’m happy and somewhat relieved to say, whether sharing my sentiments, adding their own ‘shit they say’ or joining in the humour, as indeed I am actually trying to be funny-yet-educational with most of my mental responses; unleashing my sarcasm on the various idiotic statements / questions I’ve had to deal with, so that people might laugh and / or make a mental note not to say that to any deaf person they meet.

One or two people have pointed out though, that my comments can be taken negatively. This is true, though they’re not (usually) intended that way; they’re just expressions of the internalised frustration and disbelief some of these comments cause. One person, though, asked:

“Do you think when hearing people say those types of comments… they’re actually trying to be mean?”

I can honestly say no. No, not at all. I’m fully aware that more often than not, silly comments or questions are born entirely of lack of thought or awareness. They’re merely annoying; in the same way that running your fingers down a blackboard and feeling your teeth go on edge is annoying.

When people are actually trying to be mean, it’s much more than annoying. It’s demoralising, disempowering, and infuriating.

People are being mean when:

They pull silly faces and stick their tongue out while saying “can you understand this?”

They hide their lips behind their hand and demand to know what they just said. For extra points, one person who did this then refused to believe I couldn’t do it because I’m totally reliant on lip-reading with non-signers, because ‘you speak so well’. Basically called me a liar and accused me of playing for sympathy.

They flick my hearing-aid with a finger, then laugh as I scramble to save it from dropping on the floor.

They treat me like I’m completely stupid when they realise I’m deaf. I’m considering carrying around my newly-minted MA certificate in order to prevent this in future.

They hoot or yell directly into my hearing-aid, overloading the microphone and electronics and causing me to wince and / or jump; then laugh. Yeah, that’s really funny.

They wave their hands and contort their faces in a very mocking way, not unlike a certain ‘comedy sketch’ broadcast by Saturday Night Live ripping off Lydia Callis, the ASL terp made famous by terping for Mayor Bloomberg during Hurricane Sandy (and kudos to New York for providing a terp for NY’s many deaf residents!). This is an activity usually conducted by drunks. (And for extra points in meanness, compare deaf women to dogs – watch the clip. It’s not just the ‘interpreter’; they all piled on).

They ask if I plan to have children, then suggest I might be irresponsible to pass on my genes when I say I don’t know, I haven’t really thought about it.

They say I shouldn’t be driving because I’m deaf (actually, deaf people are statistically no more likely to have accidents, thank you very much) and ask how I know when emergency vehicles are coming. Um, bright blue flashing lights? Plus, they tend to be painted in bright, attention-getting colours. They’re kind of hard to miss. That said, I did nearly swallow my tongue once when I was overtaken by a police car doing about 100mph while I was trundling along at 30 on a quiet road. But that was hardly my fault, by the time I knew they were there, they were half a mile away. That must have been some emergency.

They laugh patronisingly when I misunderstand something and refuse to repeat it.

They say ‘What? What? What?’, making me repeat something over and over, until I lose confidence that I’m saying the bloody word right, before dissolving into hysterical giggles.

They roll their eyes every time I miss something. Sometimes, it’s a martyred sigh, as if I’ve been put on this Earth for one reason only; to test their patience and fortitude. (Learn sign language then, if talking to me is so difficult, or if you can’t be bothered with that, write it down. It’s not rocket science. You’re only making it difficult for yourself and blaming me).

Once upon a time, when I was still a young, nervous deaf person finding their way in the world, on a train back home from Uni, I was peacefully reading a book (one of Terry Pratchett’s, so I was fully immersed) when the train stopped at Birmingham New Street. Since this wasn’t my stop, I continued reading my book.

Suddenly, there was a massive blow to my shoulder, knocking me into the window next to me. In shock, I looked up and there was a man, his fist raised, demanding that I get out of ‘his seat’. Utterly stunned, and struck dumb, I shakily gathered my things and stood up. As I shuffled out of the seat, I managed to find my voice and say: ‘You know, I’m DEAF. A tap on the shoulder is FINE.” Lame I know, but it was the best I could come up with. He refused to look me in the eyes.

Turning around, I found that the entire carriage was watching the scene and felt like a rabbit being pinned by many headlights. Thinking it couldn’t get any worse, I started to shuffle down the aisle, head bowed.

Then, all of a sudden, seats were free. People invited me to sit next to them (seriously, how often does that happen on British transport?) or offered me their own seats. So many people rushed to offer me a seat, it was almost like being royalty. Heavily pregnant royalty. I was suddenly the most popular person in the carriage, while the man slunk into ‘his seat’ and sat looking out of the window to avoid the stares.

I ended up sitting next to a woman who said darkly: “there are ways and means of doing things.” I got the impression that what had horrified the carriage wasn’t the blatant assault per se, but that the man hadn’t attempted to get me out of his seat more politely. How very British.

If this happened to me today, I’d be texting 80999 like crazy to have the guy arrested. But at the time, there was no 80999 and either I didn’t have enough confidence to flag down the train manager or was too much in shock to think of doing so, I’m not sure which. But so help me, no-one is getting away with doing that again.

Add to this all the times that I have been pushed aside or given filthy looks for not moving out of the way when I simply didn’t hear ‘excuse me’. True enough, they’re not being mean because they know I’m deaf, but indirectly it is because I’m deaf. And they apparently can’t see, or be bothered to think to look for, my bright blue earmoulds and goth-black hearing-aids.

This is what happens when people are being mean. Luckily, these types of incidents, where I have to deal with real ignorance and hostility, are few and far between. I’ve only been physically assaulted once (I’m choosing not to count all the times of being pushed aside; those didn’t leave a mark – both on my skin and on my confidence in public spaces) and I steer clear of obvious drunk muppets when I’m out.

I’m happy to say that the vast majority of the hearing people that I have met have been nice, if maybe sometimes a bit clueless. I can put up with occasional daft comments (though I may make a note of them for future blog posts…) because I know that far more often than not, it’s not intended to offend. It’s annoying, it’s frustrating, but it’s unintentional, so I try to deal with those with patience, whatever my mental musings or gripings might be.

But I do wish people wouldn’t be mean.