Category Archives: Disability

Random ramblings and links

One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to update my blog regularly, so here I am. What to write? I fear my life is somewhat uninteresting at the minute. Finished antibiotics a few days ago. Woke up with sore throat. Coughed pitifully. Drank coffee. Took painkillers. Checked twitter. Etc. Apparently, the fact that I’m still unwell even after a course of antibiotics indicates that my infection is at least partly viral. No, really? And it can last for up to 6 weeks or more. Thanks for that.

However, life goes on, and the main event for me yesterday was the launch of the spartacusreport / Responsible Reform report on the proposed changes to DLA, funded, written by and supported by the very people the proposed changes affect, and ooh, does it make for enlightening reading.

For example, where 98% of respondents opposed the qualifying period being raised to 6 months from 3, this somehow got translated by the government document as “some organisations were in favour of our proposal to extend the Qualifying Period from 3 months to 6 months before benefit would be paid… However many organisations and some individuals were not in favour of this” Er, excuse me? 98% against gets translated to ‘many’ and ‘some’ and 2% for is translated to ‘some’? Making it look as though the numbers aren’t as damning as they are? Google it if you don’t believe me. Even Boris Johnson objected in his submission: I think I’m starting to like Boris. It’s a strange sensation.

What I find even more damning though, is that the #spartacusreport was trending on twitter yesterday, even at first place for a short while, then hovering in second for the whole afternoon. It received support from various celebrities, including Stephen Fry and Tim Minchin, and even John Prescott noticed. It attracted millions of tweets.

And yet, where is the BBC report on this amazing reponse to the Welfare Reform Bill? Where is the Daily Mail story on this socially-funded and researched report? This must be it:
Oh, my mistake. Also, notice the ‘MAIL COMMENT: the welfare state has become a bonanza for the feckless’, mere days after being forced to print that, actually, the fraud rate for DLA is less than 0.5%:
It’s like they’ve learned nothing.

Where is ANY mainstream news report on the twitterstorm that #spartacusreport inspired? It’s times like this that make me feel paranoid.

And how appropriate then, that the Resistance Exhibition Event: Telling Our Stories opens at M shed in Bristol this weekend, as a nod to Disability History Month. I’ll be performing BSL poetry in Studio 2 on Saturday as part of this event, all are welcome! Check out the poster – how cool is that? Posed by none other than Liz Crow, the director of Resistance. Come on down!

Oh, and another thing: according to the pope, gay marriage is a threat to humanity’s future:
There’s a lot of things I could say in response to this, but a tweet by Patrick Strudwick has summed it up perfectly:

Today the pope said that gay marriage undermines “the future of humanity itself”. I say telling people not to use condoms already has.

Well, quite.


An hour after I published this, the Daily Mail posted this. They pretty much agree with everything I said, and more. They tear into Cameron and the WRB, defend the disabled and quote the Spartacus Report. Not only do I take back (some) of what I said about them in my previous post, I think I may need a lie-down to get over the shock.

In fact, screw the lie-down, where’s my codeine? Fan me, someone, fan me.


Thanks, First Great Western…

for royally screwing up my afternoon yesterday, and bringing on a relapse of this damned ‘flu. As a result, you’re now on my shitlist next to HSBC. ‘Whatever did we do?’, I hear you say. I’ll tell you.

For the last three months, I have travelled to Cardiff via train on Thursdays. Not all Thursdays, granted, but most Thursdays. My seminars were on Thursdays. My last one was yesterday. And apparently, you, FGW, decided to make my last Thursday train trips extra-special. The train to Cardiff in the morning was late. Frankly, that’s nothing new, and the ten minute delay barely showed up on my radar. Perhaps that’s why you decided to mix it up on the return journey in the afternoon, to give me a ride that I would not only notice, but come to regret.

I turned up on the freezing cold platform at ten past two to catch the 14.25 to London Paddington, which stops at Bristol Parkway, my home station. It’s normally a forty minute journey on the fast service, which I appreciate. I expected to wait fifteen or so minutes, but a glance at the board revealed that the 14.25 was running late. So far, so typical. Wait… what’s this? The 13.25? Good grief.

By 14.45, this is what the board said: 13.25 delayed to 14.48, 14.25 delayed to 14.52. Perhaps this is where alarm bells should have rung. I don’t know, since nothing like this has ever happened to me before, even on other occasions where trains were so late that the next one was practically up its arse.

The 13.25 eventually arrived at 14.50ish, on a different platform than had been advertised for the previous 35 minutes. The 14.25 had been put back a bit more, presumably waiting for the delayed Nottingham train on the original platform to bugger off. There were various tannoy announcements, presumably regarding the platform change, but of course they’re as meaningless to me as they ever were. I followed the people, which has been the tried-and-tested method of deaf people since the dawn of public transport. The people led me to the correct platform, happily just the next one over, and I looked at the platform screen and it said ‘London Paddington’. Train, check. Correct operator, check. Correct destination, check. This is my train. Or so I thought…

Cardiff was chaotic. I spent the time avoiding being run over by various people and got on the train. It moved off. And kept moving. Imagine my surprise when we sailed straight through Bristol Parkway. Honestly, my face must have been a picture. I haven’t had a ‘WTF?!’ moment like that since a certain phone call to HSBC in July.

A quick survey among the passengers turned up a nice guy with a French accent and a nice lady who I didn’t understand much, but the consensus was that this train was heading straight to Reading. No stops. Just as I was reeling from that, an FGW train person with a suit wandered past, possibly a train manager. I confirmed this information with her, and when I explained that I was deaf and hadn’t heard any of the announcements and that my home station was Parkway, she winced visibly. She was apologetic, and said she would get me information about the next train back to Parkway from Reading, and said the information had been on the platform screens, via the ‘calling at’ rolling info underneath the destination. I didn’t see it. I saw ‘STAND BACK: TRAIN APPROACHING’ which usually stays stuck there until about two minutes after the train has actually stopped moving, by which point I was focussing on avoiding the damn crowd. And besides, I was frozen, tired, still suffering the after-effects of ‘flu and was so happy to see a London train that it didn’t occur to me for a moment that train stops were somehow optional.

The FGW person came back and gave me the info, which she had helpfully written on a napkin for me; ETA at Reading 16.10, next train back to Parkway 16.41. I was taking things quite well I thought, nothing more than the occasional tortured groan, but I did ask in a calm, reasonable voice whether there was any recourse to contact FGW and vent. At this, they got defensive and pointed out that the information HAD been on the platform screens. I frankly didn’t see why they got defensive. It was a reasonable question. It wasn’t like I was tearing my hair out, beating my chest and screaming ‘I want your name, bitch!’. It was, I feel, a fair enquiry. That said, they did bring me a couple of bottles of water and were otherwise apologetic and did tell me that I could fill out a refund form; that would be available on the website.

So it was on the platform screen, or so I’m told. Be that as it may, were I hearing, I would have heard one of the no doubt countless announcements telling everyone but me what was happening. What did I get? A few seconds of rolling text that with various distractions, I obviously missed. Thanks a bunch. I didn’t realise I had to read it. Of course, after this experience I will be even more paranoid in future about public transport than I already am, no mean feat. Hearing people get no choice about hearing announcements. They would have heard about the change in plans whether they chose to or not. I had one little screen that clearly displayed the correct destination, told me to stand back because the train was approaching when it was already there, and standing there waiting for the roll call would have resulted in my trampling under the chaos that was platforms one and two at Cardiff. Thanks a frigging bunch.

Anyway, FGW are stuck in the 20th century. If this had been a Virgin Train, it would have had a little screen next to all of the doors clearly displaying destination and scheduled stops. It would have had a little screen at either end of each carriage, with rolling info about scheduled stops. In other words, if this had been a Virgin Train with proper visual up-to-date access, this may well not have happened. FGW has outdated carriages, with paper on the windows to show stops, if that, which aren’t exactly ideal for displaying up-to-date info. And if it was a Virgin Train, and it had current info, and I still missed it, I would have had no excuse. And if it was a Virgin Train, and they hadn’t updated the info, I would have had every excuse to do my nut. FGW = “No, but it was on the platform screens…” = massive sulk. Those screens aren’t yours anyway. They belong to Cardiff Central. What exactly is FGW doing to make themselves more accessible to deaf or HoH customers? Not a damn thing. Go to Virgin and learn. I digress.

Reading was chaos.

Every single bloody train was delayed. The main screens consisted of two little pathetic TV screens that were almost entirely taken up with delayed trains from the last two hours, with only one or two current trains and certainly no future trains, like, say, the 16.41. Luckily, the nice if slightly defensive FGW woman had also thought to include the platform number with the info she gave me, so I headed to platform 4. Eventually Swansea 16.41 came up on the platform screen (those again) but it claimed it was still coming at 16.41 despite all the delays and I could see that was a non-starter. I laid down some groundwork by finding someone in a fluorescent jacket and telling them I was deaf and was worried about missing announcements. She nodded professionally, said ‘no problem, wait here’ before disappearing. Oh, great. However, I saw her talking to a fellow fluorescent jacket and pointing at me before leaving, so I nailed my colours to that mast instead, making sure I was never more than a few feet away from him. And it paid off when, at 16.45, Swansea disappeared from the screen, and when I grabbed him he told me the correct platform without hesitation.

I hightailed it to platform 8, cutting my way through the crowd but getting stuck behind a tall, skateboard-carrying, beanie-wearing, suitcase-dragging tweenie who was probably having his own issues with the crowd on platform 8, but my internal monologue wasn’t so forgiving; “do you WANT to catch this train or not? Move your…”

We fought our way to the train, which was stuffed to the gills. The door compartments were full of people, but a quick glance through the carriage window showed that they weren’t spilling into the carriage, they were filling up the door area and not using the extra potential standing room at all. I tried to indicate this to the people, but they just stood there and looked at me like cows. It’s at times like this that I wish I could use my walking stick as an offensive weapon, or in this case, a cattle prod.

I managed to squeeze myself into another door compartment, and a couple of people managed to squeeze themselves on after me, and this is how I spent the journey from Reading to Didcot Parkway; standing with a bunch of fellow luckless sardines, making notes in the memo app on my phone for this blog, and ignoring the complaints from my feet, which by the way, are punishing me today. Like it’s my fault.

After the exodus at Didcot, I found a seat, and rued the day I’d ever heard of FGW. I eventually arrived at Bristol Parkway at 6pm, three hours after I should have done, were there no delays. I do intend to fill out a refund form, and according to FGW’s own guidelines, I qualify for a full refund. What I find amazing, is that if you’re half an hour late, you’ll only get 50% of the value of your ticket, over an hour and you get all of it. Imagine if that happened in Japan, where according to Wikipedia:

Japanese railways are among the most punctual in the world. The average delay on the Tokaido Shinkansen in fiscal 2006 was only 0.3 minutes.[9] When trains are delayed for as little as five minutes, the conductor makes an announcement apologizing for the delay and the railway company may provide a “delay certificate” (遅延証明書), as no one would expect a train to be this late. Japanese passengers rely heavily on rail transit and take it for granted that trains operate on time. When trains are delayed for an hour or more, it may even appear in the newspaper.”

Can you IMAGINE? Imagine if the UK’s train companies were held up to these standards. Just imagine. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful day? They’d spend all day apologising constantly, and handing out delay certificates to all and sundry, hell, they’d probably have to take over a factory to print them all.

I’ve also had a look at FGW’s website for their accessibility guidelines, and there’s a lot of noise about how they’re improving services and making them more accessible, for everyone, it seems, but the deaf. Braille information? Lower steps on trains? Lovely, but what are you doing about visual displays? These wonderful ‘Help Points’ that you’re installing all over the place – how many of them have visual displays? Only a select few? Oh, that’s very helpful.

My recommendation is to take a leaf out Virgin Trains’ book. Screens, screens, everywhere. FGW, you’ll be hearing from me.

P.S. This here, is a man after my own heart. Tired of delays on his daily trips with FGW, he’s started writing letters to the MD every time his train is delayed, with the length of the letter corresponding to the length of time wasted. I’d love to follow his shining example, but I’m not sure even I can write a letter of complaint that takes three hours to read…

I might try though.

Dear Reader’s Digest…

Thank you for a cheering picture after a week of depressing disability-related news stories, from the blind man who was ‘forgotten about’ and left stranded on an Underground platform in Victoria for 70 minutes…
to the wheelchair user who had his wheelchair nicked for scrap metal…
to, worst and most depressing of all, the deaf, elderly, disabled man who was tazed for failing to respond to a police officer’s commands. He died. The police officer has been put on ‘administrative leave’.

I’m still in shock over that. The original report the police got was for a man who fell off his bike and appeared to be drunk. It wasn’t “Help us! He’s got a knife! He’s just mugged me! I want my wallet back!”. It wasn’t “Oh Jesus Christ, he’s got a bayonet strapped to his bicycle like a jousting pike! Do something!”. It was “Excuse me officer, this elderly man seems to have fallen off his bicycle. I wonder if he’s all right.” How do we go from that, to a situation where, OK he appears to be ignoring you, but he is no direct threat. He’s no threat to the public or to you. He’s riding a bicycle. How on this green earth do you justify zapping him? Even the mayor of the town said he wouldn’t blame the family if they sued. If?

As for the officer concerned, administrative leave? Let’s contrast the situation a little. An ordinary member of the public is told of a man that has fallen off his bicycle, but has got up and continued on his merry way. The member of the public tracks down the man and asks if he’s OK, and if he could stop his bicycle. The man appears to ignore them totally. Unable to handle this slight to their ego, the member of the public takes out a tazer and zaps the man. The man promptly dies. In these circumstances, how long would it be before they were arrested and charged with, at the least, suspicion of second-degree murder while an investigation was conducted? If the autopsy came back and said the man didn’t die as a direct result of being zapped, they might lower the charge to involuntary manslaughter or felony assault or GBH (Grevious Bodily Harm). This police officer has been placed on administrative leave while an investigation is conducted. I’ll be following what happens next with great interest.

Too often I bemoan the lack of deaf and sign language awareness in the general population, and as we’ve seen, it can have tragic results.

Sometimes however, this lack of knowledge can be hilarious for those who understand sign language. And for this, I thank you, Reader’s Digest, for cheering me up when I was starting to think the world had it in for the disabled. And to the person who brought it to my attention on facebook, thanks for the laugh. You may wonder I’m talking about, RD. After all, RD isn’t known for its comedy. I refer you to the cover of the Dec 2011 / Jan 2012 issue, where you have Michelle Obama, wife of one of the most powerful leaders on the planet, signing a word. It’s not a ‘family-friendly’ word. You’ve even managed to get her to sign it in a position approximate to where it actually is. What is this word, you ask? Look at it. Look at the picture. Where are her hands? What shape is she making with her fingers? Oh really, RD. Do I have to draw you a picture? Look at it! All right then, in its loosest, most polite translation, it means ‘fanny’ (British meaning). Or, in a less polite, more accurate translation, it means ‘cunt’ or ‘twat’. Yes, that’s right, RD. You have taken a picture of a smiling Michelle Obama signing the word ‘cunt’, and put it on the front cover of an international magazine and on a website for the world to see. I hope the Secret Service are gentle with you.

Mwahahahahaha hahahaaahaha haaaahahaaaaaahahahaaaaahahaha

Mwaahahahahahahahahahahahaaahahaaahahahaahaha *falls over laughing*

America is so far ahead.

Not in economic terms, but in terms of how deaf people are portrayed in mainstream TV, particularly those who use sign language. In America, signing deaf characters have featured in The West Wing, CSI, Law and Order:SVU and ER, to name but a few. Whilst here in the UK, Shameless has shown that a signing deaf person can be as conflicted, unpredictable, independent or even downright psychotically angry as any hearing counterpart with the character of Danny, very few other British shows have had such strong signing deaf characters. Danny’s leaving scene in Shameless was as stunning for the fact that a deaf person (Shock! Horror!) was shown being so incandescent with rage they actually beat their own father to death (but it seems the guy may have had it coming) as it was for the violence – nothing graphic, but a hell of a lot of beating. Good for you. That’s a deaf person doing it for themselves on national telly, that is.

Finally, being a geek has paid off. The Big Bang Theory has rewarded my years of loyalty with a signing deaf character – and not the kind that’s ever so brave, and deals with the world despite all that is thrown in their way etc, but the kind that got her claws into Raj and took him for everything she could get. Go girl! Most of the jokes were funny, though I did feel uneasy at all the talking to each other while the girl looked on, vaguely puzzled, while the boys got laughs, it just seems that the type of gal who would chew out Penny and Howard with a lot of *somethings* and stomp off in a huff would wanna know what was going on. That aside, she was independent, she was sassy, she was pretty, and in the end she was ruthless, breaking Raj’s heart when it became clear the supply of money had dried up. And she did it in a funny way. And she taught Raj to sign. Was there anything she couldn’t do?

And I loved the way that Penny’s claim that “Disabled people are nice. Everyone knows that.” was challenged for the generic fallacy it was; not that we aren’t nice, but aren’t we allowed to have bad days and be grumpy like everyone else? Assuming disabled people are nice all the time is like saying we’re not allowed to be as moody and unpredictable as ‘normal’ people. Just ask the train station guard I had a brief word with yesterday when I discovered that both the assigned disabled access gates (the ticket operated things that let you access the platforms) were letting people out, but not in. There was tutting, and there was a “what’s the big idea?” and a muttered, half-hearted “thanks” as I was finally allowed to hobble through. I doubt he’ll be voting me for the ‘genteel spice’ award anytime soon.

The Big Bang Theory – well written, hilarious, and good kudos for a strong signing deaf character and for challenging preconceptions. Clearly, the natural next step is to show a deaf or disabled scientist /  geek. We’re out there, you know.

The OTHER awards speech…

First, I’d like to say thanks to my good friend Rosie for giving me a heads-up on this. Seems so much attention has been focussed on Dr Dornan’s acceptance speech for the Businesswoman of the Year award,that her OTHER award (The White Pages Community and Government Award) and acceptance speech have been almost unremarked upon, even though that particular video is still available on youtube, here:

Even better, the CC button works, and it seems that CC can handle Australian accents better than British, perhaps they’ve been trained on Americans. I digress. Apart from a few phonic mistakes, most of the speech is still understandable, and if this is anything to go by, I can see why the other video has been taken down. Stand-out quotes include:

“…because I would like to decimate the very significant impact of deafness around the earth” (1.26)

“deaf children have the potential to speak just like children with normal hearing, and develop at the same rate”(1.54)

She then goes on to say that what deaf children (in Australia) need now is a nationwide newborn hearing screening programme, access to hearing technologies and cochlear implants – and I give her credit for saying ‘if they need it’ as that allows some room for grey area – but, and perhaps the captions screwed this bit up, she apparently makes no mention of access to sign language.

It’s ironic she talks about helping people to communicate with each other (3.14) – though due to caption trouble, I’m not sure of that context – since there are other ways to communicate than speech.

She then goes on to say that “the job needs to be finished” (3.39) – ominous, and somewhat overly optimistic.

She seems very passionate, and it’s great that she thinks that deaf children “are worth it” (3.47) and she does say that there will be a whole new generation of deaf children who are ready to take their place on the world stage, which is at least ending on a positive note. Unfortunately, I lost the rest of the speech to CC glitches, but I think I got the gist. The theme that runs throughout the whole speech is that speaking clearly, cochlear implants and hearing technology are the be-all and end-all.

I wear powerful hearing-aids. I was mainstreamed. I speak well. I can hear speech, in that speech is within my frequency register.  I even ‘pass’ occasionally, in that people don’t notice my hearing aids and thus don’t notice my deafness.

The truth is, at school I was hopelessly lost. I have never been able to cope in hearing social situations; the constant back and forth, the background noise, the chatter. And when you speak well, the assumption is often “they can’t be that deaf”, even as an adult. In fact, I have a profound sensori-neural hearing loss; I’m missing an average of 95dB and a couple of frequencies, and my hearing-aids, whilst powerful, are not magic. Noises are blended together, radio is worse than meaningless, and music has to have a beat or something I can ‘hook into’ before it makes sense. Wailing guitars and random wailing are a no-no. Sign language was my saviour.

The point I’m trying to make here is that being able to speak well does not give one automatic access to the world. Far from it, if anything it hinders slightly, because of the assumption that you can hear better than you actually can. I still need assistance to access the world around me, whether via sign language interpreters or palantypists / captions, I still cannot use a telephone, and instead use minicoms and relay services. The upshot is that you can communicate with the other person, but it’s hard for them to communicate with you, and for some reason sometimes it’s hard for them to understand I am actually that deaf, and sometimes they won’t write things down or speak more clearly for you. Such conversations usually end in frustration.

Communication is a two way street. Just because they understand you, doesn’t mean you understand them.

Furthermore, cochlear implants are not suited to every deaf person. However far technology advances, it’s going to take something more than an implanted amplifier to ‘fix’ deformed or absent auditory nerves, or malfunctioning auditory processors in the brain. Cochlear implants are offered only to those who are considered suitable for them, hence reasonably high success rates. Mention is rarely made of those who cannot use them.

All this means the job will not be ‘finished’ as soon as Dr Dornan apparently hopes. The comment I found most objectionable though was “deaf children have the potential to speak just like children with normal hearing, and develop at the same rate”(1.54)

Not all deaf childen have this potential to speak; all children are different, and this comment infers that deaf children who do not speak well will not develop at a similar rate to hearing children, and this is wrong. I have friends who have never or rarely spoken in their lives, and yet have university degrees, which they accessed entirely through written English and sign language. Speech is not the most important thing. Having an understanding of language is. If a deaf child is taught written English and sign language, there is no reason they should not flourish. Speech, if they are able to develop it, should of course be an option, a fun game like it was for me, not something they have to do, even if they can’t or don’t understand. My parents made a game out of getting sounds right, without any pressure. Making a child do something they don’t understand is one way to put them off for life – ask one or two people I know who, after leaving school, literally threw away their hearing-aids and never looked back.

I fully support that deaf children should have full access to services that can help them, and I can see Dr Dornan’s passion even if I object strongly to what she has to say, but what I really, really object to is the idea that being able to speak clearly and hear speech sounds will fix all of a deaf child’s or person’s issues.

I know for a fact that this isn’t true.

Misunderstanding or misquoted? Apparently, both…

Oh dear. There seems to have been a terrible misunderstanding. See, when Dr Dornan used the word ‘scourge’, she wasn’t referring to deafness, she just meant polio. This is how far Dr Dornan has backtracked since her little speech, i.e. not very far at all. Even so, she insists that she was misquoted. Funnily enough though, the people behind the awards ceremony took down the youtube video of her acceptance speech for fear that it could “cause offence”, at the same time as Dr Dornan was saying that the journalists had reported her wrong (a reporter who was there later publicly said that they quoted her exactly right, but I digress). Surely, to clear this all up, it would be a simple matter to reinstate the video, with subtitles of course. Telstra? We’re waiting.

What was depressing though, was watching some of the backlash. They acted so surprised. Like they really hadn’t thought that stringing the words ‘scourge’, ‘polio’, ‘eradication’ and ‘deafness’ together in a sentence might upset anyone. If this woman really didn’t know how the deaf community was likely to react, then I don’t know how she can claim to represent the interests of the deaf. And if she did know, then why go out of your way and ruin a perfectly good opportunity for a public speech in order to wind people up? Perhaps, in a twisted logic, she was trying to help, in that the furore over this little incident may have raised awareness of just how touchy this subject can be. Yes, that could be it. She could get her PR people to put out a release saying she was only trying to raise awareness via the medium of controversy. It would be more convincing than saying she was misquoted and then refusing to let us see the evidence for ourselves.

Not to mention those who couldn’t get why deaf people were making such a fuss. A few quotes from a couple of open forums I visited: “nut bags” – in reference to militant deafies, “People being forced to be PC, ridiculous!” – re Dornan’s backtracking, and “I’d be beside myself if I lost my hearing” – a perfectly normal reaction, but then you’d adjust. That’s what humans do – adapt to circumstances. A somewhat enlightening glimpse into a corner of mainstream society. Makes me wonder how people look at me when I’m out and about. Do they see an independent individual or an object of pity? I really hope the former.

Still, I think that’s the same for a lot of people, whether deaf or hearing. All we really want is to be understood, or at least perceived how we want to be. If I worried about what people thought, with my blue glitter earmoulds, my goth-black hearing-aids, my thick stripy glasses and blue walking stick – or at the moment, boring grey NHS crutches – I’d never go anywhere. The hell with it. If I get rich enough, they’ll just call me eccentric.

Meantime, I call on Telstra to release the video – subtitled. It’ll either exonerate Dr Dornan and the deaf community will owe her an apology, or give us a glimpse of a leader of a deaf-focussed charity unloading both barrels into her foot. Either way, it promises entertainment.

Here is one who ‘gets it’:

For my part, I hope I can raise awareness in my own way, whether via my poetry, writing, sign singing, studies, whatever, at least so that when people see me or other deaf people, they see us, and not our lack of hearing.

So I’m a scourge, am I?

Well, there was me thinking that I was leading a fairly blameless life, studying an MA, looking after my parents, writing small things here and there, getting involved with arty stuff, running for student councillor at Cardiff Uni (yes, my political career, take two) and well, generally getting on with my life. I had no idea that I was suffering from a scourge, or indeed, that I was a scourge – depending on how you interpret this woman’s comments – as described by someone who just won an award for businesswoman of the year in Queensland, Australia:

Thanks for the boost to my self-esteem! The key quote, I feel, is:

“Deafness is a scourge that can be eradicated and consigned to history, just like polio, according to Queensland’s newly crowned Business Woman of the Year.”

Quite apart from the comparison of a non-life-threatening condition to an extremely unpleasant and life-threatening illness, which is poor taste to say the least, when there are other life-threatening conditions the human race can do without (Tay-Sachs, which has no treatment and kills most sufferers by the age of 5, comes to mind) I feel that this kind of emotionally charged rhetoric against deafness, itself a morally neutral and non-life-threatening condition is really unhelpful, and can only serve to alienate deaf adults who have been living with, and in some cases, thriving with this ‘scourge’.

Another quote I found interesting was:

“Dr Dornan founded Hear and Say after she came across a crying boy who had lost his bus money in 1991.
Due to his deafness, Dr Dornan could not communicate properly with the boy about what was wrong and what she could do to help.
A year later, she founded Hear and Say to teach deaf children how to hear and speak and it is now one of the world’s leading paediatric auditory-verbal and cochlear implant centres.”

To me, this quote would look so much better (and her business maybe more inclusive) if it had gone:

“Due to her inability to understand him, she realised that she needed to go on a deaf awareness course and learn sign language forthwith. When she had done this, she realised that services for deaf children in her area were sorely lacking, and set about setting up a business, Hear and Say, in order to improve the situation, with auditory-verbal services and sign language classes, ensuring all deaf children in her area had access to anything they needed.”

Sadly, t’was not to be. Now we have someone who’s apparently providing services for deaf children who clearly believes they are suffering from a dreadful scourge that needs to be eradicated, a scourge just as bad as polio. (I’ve actually met a couple of people who survived polio, who are now wheelchair-users and lucky to be alive. I think they might disagree.) And she’s just won an award, and been given an opportunity to spout this rhetoric across the front page of a local newspaper. I might suggest that as such a public figure, Dr Dornan chooses her words more carefully, or she might just upset the very people she says she’s trying to help. Oh, wait. She already has. Just google ‘Dr Dornan Hear and Say’. I have a feeling this will be staying with her for a while.

Charlie Swinbourne has a few things to say as well – and check out his much more well-considered and researched response to Liz Jones, as opposed to my midnight rant!

Just for using the words ‘deaf’, ‘scourge’, ‘polio’ and ‘eradication’ in the same sentence, never mind the same speech, Dr Dornan, you have at the very least exercised poor judgement. At worst, you’re some kind of post-eugenic nightmare of the deaf community. Congratulations on your award.