Category Archives: Disability

Spartacus Report

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.

http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/files/response_to_proposed_dla_reforms.pdf

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: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/danielknowles/100127807/boris-johnson-turns-his-fire-on-the-governments-reforms-to-disability-living-allowance/ 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: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2084445/Incapacity-benefits-10-000-sick-Britons-abroad-claiming-1m-week.html
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%: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2083294/Boris-Johnson-attacks-Tory-plans-benefits-squeeze-disability-living-allowance.html?ito=feeds-newsxml
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! http://mshed.org/whats-on/events/resistance-exhibition-event-telling-our-stories/ 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: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/01/09/us-pope-gay-idUSTRE8081RM20120109
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.

Update:

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.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2084706/David-Camerons-Welfare-Reform-Bill-Hiding-truth-way-achieve-it.html

Fan me, someone, fan me.

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 cats are here!

The last couple of days have been spent on housework and settling in the new cats. They’re very chalk and cheese, with personalities as different as their markings. Yuki (Japanese for ‘snow’) is a pure white 3-month-old kitten, with some oriental good looks and smooth fur, with Siamese-sized ears (i.e. like little radar dishes on his head) that, in a perfect example of life’s little ironies, are stone deaf. So far I’ve tried the traditional clicking of fingers and clapping hands, and the less-traditional blast of music from my phone, but perhaps the most convincing evidence is that when The Doctor and Alex were sucked, screaming, into the cupboard, he didn’t even twitch. I’m looking forward to what happens when I bring out the hoover. He’s a playful but chilled kitten, who seems just as happy sleeping on his back on the sofa as he is killing random motes of dust and bits of fluff on the floor.

Lucy is an ancient, slightly grumpy, 22-year-old long-haired black moggy with a white bib and socks who lives for food. Her favourite activities so far have been lying on random patches of the kitchen floor, or the dining room floor, or on the landing, and eating. If she could spend all day with her face in a food bowl, I have no doubt she would. Yes, she does have an underactive thyroid, and if anything this has worked in her favour, as I wrap the pills in chicken. She’s already started to follow me when I open the fridge.

I’m happy that the cats are settling in, but still not sure what to do about Yuki when he’s been here long enough to – in theory – be let out. Do we set up a fence in the garden? We’ve already got a harness so we can take him out supervised. He’s not the brightest cat, and pretty fearless, so letting him out unsupervised is a risk at best, I’m all for deaf empowerment, but he’s too pretty to be run over by the boy racers we sometimes get round here. Am trying to teach him some basic signs / hand signals but it’s not going well. Mind you, I suppose it’s asking too much of the attention span of a 13-week-old kitten.

To clear up some confusion, my cat Faraday (whose picture is still my personal profile pic) who lived with me at my flat in Bristol passed away last November after a suspected kidney infection turned out to be end-stage renal failure. She came from the RSPCA at the age of 16, as I wanted a quiet cat to hang out at flat with me. This she did quite happily in return for a soft sofa and all the boiled chicken and felix she could eat, and when she went, she was 19-and-a-half. I still miss that bloody cat.

Tabby, who disappeared so mysteriously four months ago, was my parents’ cat, who came to live with us from RSPCA when I was about 14 or 15 after about two or three years of asking, persuading and eventually begging on my part. She was, as her name suggests, an ordinary tabby cat that I loved dearly, but she never quite forgave me for moving away to Uni, and then for moving away again to my own place, so our relationship over the last few years had been distant, at best. If I didn’t know better, I could almost put her disappearance a mere two months after I moved back in down to spite. I still wish I knew where the hell she went. Quite apart from closure, it’s like a Rubik’s cube that you can’t figure out. The solution is there somewhere, but you’re damned if you can work out what it is.

Cats, eh?

Riots or protests?

So the rioters have been going through the courts at a breakneck pace, and they’re being threatened with having their benefits taken away. I’m sure that will really worry the millionaire’s daughter, the primary school worker and the budding musician. Well, maybe the musician… It seems that the riots were truly classless, with many tearing up the town regardless of social background. Apparently these people were ‘protesting’ against the government and all its various stupid ideas since the coalition took power, and some people are arguing online that these protesters should be treated as wannabe freedom fighters rather than criminal idiots.

Here’s my view:

If they were protesting against government reforms and all the misery that the government has caused the little people since it took over, if they were protesting the rich tax-dodgers, the bank bonuses, the benefit reforms that have led to untold stress, the fact that it now appears that the police really did shoot an innocent man dead – again! – and the insane cuts to various vital services etc etc etc then…

Why didn’t we see ATOS centres and JobCentres in flames? Why weren’t the crowds marching on parliament demanding equality for all? Why didn’t we see people trying to do to Canary Wharf what the Daleks couldn’t? Why wasn’t every single RBS branch looted and decorated with symbolic effigies of Fred Goodwin? Why wasn’t the House of Commons pelted with paint and stones? Believe me, if the ATOS centres or JobCentres had gone up in smoke, some people would have happily toasted marshmallows in the ashes. (For the record, these are rhetorical questions not suggestions, so if the local ATOS centre gets torched, I had nothing to do with it. Honest.)

Instead, what did these protesters do? Indiscriminately attacked buses, police cars and firefighters. Burned shops and homes to the ground. Whatever didn’t burn, got looted. Homes burgled, passersby beaten up and mugged. Three men mown down. Petrol bombs hurled at police. Reporters hospitalised. In general, forgive me if I’m wrong, but they seemed to be picking the easy targets and hitting them up, much like this government has been doing.

Take for example that they have just admitted that their disability benefit reforms have been based on iffy figures, figures that have been clearly been, at best, not looked at properly, giving an unfair impression of the ‘rise’ in DLA caseloads: http://www.leftfootforward.org/2011/08/dwp-admits-disability-reform-based-on-dodgy-figures-as-reported-by-left-foot-forward/

Or the smearing of disability benefit claimants as ‘scroungers’: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/charities-angry-over-ministers-crackdown-on-disability-benefits-2326481.html

Or letting huge corporations avoid amazing amounts of tax while reducing the police, the fire service and the army.

And now, what have the protesters / rioters really achieved? A hell of a lot of mess, nervous tension, and ‘Call me Dave’ has given the police powers to disrupt social networks. Hoodies probably banned (I like hoodies, dammit), increased legal powers to deal with those who upset the state – for whatever reason. I bet ID cards are back on the agenda within a few months. The Daily Mail must be loving this. Now they’ve got an excuse to curtail more freedoms and for what? A free TV and some Basmati rice? I hope it was worth it.

On the upside though, it has been heartening to see communities pulling together, helping each other out and uniting in the face of the worst riots we’ve had since, well, the last Tory government. Community clean-ups, wombles, facebook support groups for the police / emergency services and fundraising for those who lost their homes in the riots make me feel like there’s some hope for us yet.

If only we could all get along like this without having to have a riot first.

Unusual Skills Week!

A couple of weeks ago, in the last week of July, I was lucky enough to attend Unusual Stage School’s skills week. A Disability Arts Cymru project, and with me based in Cardiff / Wales for my degree, I was able to gate-crash an amazing week with an amazing bunch of people. We worked on script development, performance, voice, singing (yes, singing) movement (where I tripped over the instructor) improv and physical theatre (not, as I had imagined, a sort of hippy wafting pretending-to-be-trees exercise, but in fact a type of improv). My fellow skills week attendees all knew each other with a couple of exceptions, but I was made to feel so welcome it was incredible. Usually, I struggle a lot with socialising with non-signers, but this lot were so patient, apparently happy to repeat themselves ad infinatum, and even better, a few of them knew a couple of signs and the manual alphabet, which in some cases can make or break a conversation. I even ended up staying over during the course, despite my misgivings (leaving my parents unsupervised and I typically don’t handle hearing social situations well) and I can honestly say that at the end of the week I didn’t want to leave. I wanted another week! Hell, I would have stayed for a month. We could call it ‘Big Brother DAC’ and sell the TV rights to the BBC…

One of the happiest moments had to be sitting on a makeshift bench in Cardiff Bay with the usual suspects, nibbling ‘starters’ we’d got from Tesco’s (chargrilled mushroom pasta and three bean salad, mmmm) and chatting in the evening sun while waiting for our accommodation to prepare our (somewhat unimaginative) supper. The less said about Hamgate, the better. But I couldn’t really complain as we were staying round the back of the Millennium Centre, an incredible location, and I was staying with a great bunch of people. Have I already said that? Well they were. From the bass tones of Richard, to the sweetness of Gwilym, to the cuteness of our youngest member, to the outgoing Laura, well you get the idea, I’d better stop here or I’ll make myself sick. But I loved them all, I really did. From my Persian General to the PAs.

And let’s not forget the reason we were all there – skills week! I now know that I naturally sing in a low pitch (no Katherine Jenkins then) that my speech / vocal pitch range is wider than I had thought, that there are many, many ways to say ‘yes’ when really you mean ‘no’, that physical theatre doesn’t necessarily involve pretending to be trees and improv in all its forms can be a lot of fun.

I learned that coffee and toffee are a nice combination for ice cream, that a buffalo burger actually tastes quite nice, and that a Strawberry Capirinha is a lovely cocktail. I also learned that it’s possible to put on four pounds in five days. I’ve lost those extra pounds though, thanks to the virus I picked up as a souvenir. One of those viruses that reduces your IQ level by half and makes it hard to think while you sniffle into your tissue.

It was still worth it though and I’d happily do it again! Love you guys!

 

BSL & Music

Sign language and music. Not the most obvious of bedfellows, I grant you, but when it’s done well, it works. Whether by sign singing (translating mainstream songs to BSL to the music – a la Fletch@) or original work (SignMark and Sean Forbes, step forward please) it can and does work, and is enjoyed by hearing and deaf alike.

Tonight, I am going to perform poetry and sign songs at a BSL music gig in Bath, only the second time I’ve ever done sign songs in public. Belting out 9 to 5 in front of the mirror doesn’t count. Hoping it goes well! I’m confident of my timings, my worst nightmare now is that the music is so loud it overloads my hearing aids and I lose my place – but the vibrations should keep me on track – or I totally forget the words and stand there like a lemon. Probably quite common stage worries, but anxiety-inducing all the same. Am still looking forward to it though – should be a laugh!

Yes, I like music. Yes, I understand music. Most deaf people do at least understand the concept, despite what some hearing people may think. I’m reminded of an incident back in Uni, When a poster in the Deaf Studies dept advertising a similar BSL / music gig was defaced by someone who had written something to the effect of:

“What’s the point? Deaf people and music? How do they hear it?”

This is the scribbled conversation that followed over the next couple of days, as far as my memory allows:

“We feel the vibrations!”

“Yeah sure but you can’t hear the words, what’s the point?”

“That’s what the BSL is for”

And then, below that:

“Look up and to your right :)”

Sure enough, when I looked up and to my right, I saw the CCTV camera, little red light winking at me. I couldn’t help but laugh that the idiot would have looked up and realised their ignorance was being recorded for all to see. I don’t know if anyone ever caught up with them, but I hope the moment of realisation that they were being taped and sniggered at had a lasting effect. At the very least, it put an end to the conversation.

I feel the vibrations, when the beat is clear. When the words are clear, I hear them. If there’s no distinguishable beat or words, I’m lost. This may be why I struggle with Amy Winehouse and many, many other so-called musicians – slurring your words into a microphone and yelling indiscriminately over a crashing guitar and an apparently drunk drummer does not help. Is it too much to ask that music sounds and feels like, well, music?

I should have no such issues tonight, the interpreters are booked, so bring it on!

Deafabulous!

Deafab, the UK’s biggest deaf gay pride event, has been held in Bristol for the last three years, and is always great fun. It’s got so big in fact, that deaf gay people flew in from all corners of the globe, from Dublin to Corsica to Moscow, from America to Australia to take a look – how amazing is that? I met the Australian in the pub garden at the Sunday Roast that hails the winding down of the weekend, wrapped up warm against the 19 C sunshine and complaining about the cold. Apparently, in the part of Oz that he hails from, average daytime temp is 38 C and he was absolutely freezing. Bless.

Friday evening was the welcome and performance, and we had the nightclub to ourselves until 10 o’clock, not bad going. I was stationed at the door on shagtag duty – by that I mean I was in charge of sticking labels with numbers on people – whilst my good friend was checking passes. Not the most glam job perhaps, but it gave me ample opportunity to greet people I hadn’t seen in ages as they came in the door, even if only for a few seconds. I managed to stick about 50 labels on people, but don’t know if anyone actually hooked up – they were too busy catching up, having a good chat, and of course, drinking. And dancing. Lady Gaga, anyone?

Saturday was the school trip to the zoo, and the weather was mercifully good, a bit sunshiney and blowy as opposed to the storm-like conditions that had been threatened. Sadly, I didn’t go, although I could have borrowed a complimentary wheelchair from the zoo to go around, I wasn’t sure I could make it. I would have given it a go though, I haven’t been to a zoo in ages but my father, with spectacular timing, chose last week to flirt with genuine illness for the first time in years. I haven’t seen him look that wretched since he broke his collarbone and dislocated his shoulder – but that’s another story. Once I was satisfied my parents would survive a few hours without me (sometimes I do genuinely wonder) I went for the post-zoo BBQ, which became cocktails at the Retreat, which became catching up at the Palace in school-theme fancy dress (I think I cut a dashing figure in my prefect jacket and tie 🙂 ), which became boogie-ing at Flamingos. I had a great time, and from the look of it, so did everyone else, I caught up with lots of faces, and unfortunately, lost track of a few in the confusion but so it goes – hopefully there’s always next time! Walking back to the hotel with my chips and curry sauce in dawn light was somehow incredibly satisfying.

Got up a few hours later for the winding down at the Sunday Roast, a popular nosh-up and opportunity to say farewells and hung out til the afternoon. Great food, great company. We should do this every year. Oh wait – we do 🙂 And long may it continue!

The only downside – I’ve caught yet another cold. Not for the first time I wish I had a tougher immune system, but then again I was in close proximity to over 150 people from all over the place with lots of interesting new viruses – perhaps I should be grateful it’s only taken me two days to bounce back. Hmm. And anyway, Deafab may be a plague breeding ground, but it’s a fantastic event, one that I’m proud to be part of, and that I hope I can help more with next year!

Long live Deafab!