Category Archives: Disability

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!

Yes indeedy

The medical was indeed cancelled. An attentive reader has noticed what ATOS didn’t – that the medical was pointless, timewasting and unnecessary. The DWP certainly thought so, and said they were going to send a note to ATOS to that effect. Me being the paranoid soul that I am, or rather the cynical personality that I have had to adopt in the face of years of bureaucratic wrangling – I once had an argument with the DWP that lasted for a year, going through several appeals, before ending up at tribunal. I won. But I digress.

Being the paranoid / cynical / jaded / battle-scarred soul that I am, I rang the ATOS assessment centre in the morning on wednesday just to make sure we were all on the same page.

We weren’t.

They said the medical was still going ahead. I asked if they’d received anything from the DWP. They said no. I said the DWP had said it was cancelled. They said that if I couldn’t attend, then I would have to fill out an ‘unable to attend’ form and cite the DWP. I got a little bit upset, said that it wasn’t a matter of me being unable to attend, it was the DWP telling me one thing, and why should I fill out a form making it sound like it’s my fault I can’t come and if the DWP deny everything, where would that leave me? It was an outburst that was a long time in coming in dealing ATOS.

They said they didn’t know, they were alone in the office, and they didn’t have the time to explain it to me via text relay, and hung up.

Leaving me stewing and with little option but to go to the medical, if only to cover my back. Luckily though, when I got there, the interpreter turned out to fully qualified, from an agency that I knew of, knew several people that I know, and produced their accreditation without a word of protest. They were if anything, sympathetic.

At the end of it, I picked up a comments / feedback / complaints form. I said that my complaint was going to go for several pages (using this blog as an aid to memory) and asked if they had any more. The woman on reception looked slightly uncertain, but helpfully provided me with a freepost envelope so that I could write as many pages as I like and send them, along with thr form to ATOS. Heaven forbid that it should get ‘lost in the post’ so I’ll be sending it by recorded delivery.

And the final kicker of the day was… The interpreter feedback form. The interpreter started to give it to me, as it had a section clearly marked “to be completed by service user” but the reception woman stopped them, saying they (ATOS) were going to fill it out. The interpreter – quite rightly – pointed out that they, ATOS, the reception woman, the assessor, don’t understand sign language. The woman chuckled, as if it was somehow amusing, but didn’t really have a reply.

Get that. The interpreter has a feedback form, and who’s going to fill it out? ATOS.

So that is how I came to be at a medical that I was told was cancelled. No doubt I’ll get the cancellation letter sometime next week, and the ‘medical’ decision the week after that.

The irony.

As I was forced to go through an ATOS medical last wednesday 11th, thousands of people were marching through London in protest at ATOS bullshit. As part of the Hardest Hit campaign, they marched to Parliament, and many went on to meet their MPs, and had imaginative posters with “ATOS don’t give a toss” and one with braille; “We’re being ……….. by the government!”. Apparently the braille word meant ‘screwed’…

But brilliant that people are rising up against ATOS, hopefully we can draw attention to how hopeless they are, and how completely inappropriate it is to give a company contracts to review benefits and then offer them bonuses for how many people they kick off said benefits. Biased much, anyone?

Their decisions in some cases have been outrageous, and their treatment of those who have mental disorders frankly shocking. How in heck is someone sitting at a computer clicking a mouse for half an hour supposed to assess someone’s mental health, especially if they’re not specifically trained to do so? Don’t we have psychologists for that sort of thing?

As for questions I was asked in the medical – almost word for word the form I filled in… oooh, must be 9 months ago now. That’s right, 9 months from initial claim to medical. And two months after last claim to medical. *Blows raspberry*

And the physical test at the end? Can I stand up? Can I raise my foot? Can I bend my knee? Can I stand on one leg and touch my nose whilst at the same time reciting the alphabet backwards? Well, maybe not that last one, but you get the idea.

I don’t think I have a future as a performing seal, but hopefully I have a future as Students With Disabilities officer at Cardiff University. That’s right, I’ve put my name down, no backing out now. Design meeting for posters this week, and gotta come up with a manifesto by Monday. Watch this space!

Liz Carr, London Pride and Signing Ticket Inspectors

Oof – an interesting couple of days has seen me attend a BSL interpreted performance of Liz Carr’s “It Hasn’t Happened Yet” at the Tobacco Factory, watch a play by Deafinitely Theatre, check out the main stage at London Pride in Trafalgar Square and be pleasantly surprised by a deaf-aware ticket inspector.

On Friday night, I got myself down to the Tobacco Factory, expecting that there would be a decent audience for a comedienne of reasonable fame; indeed Wikipedia describes her as “a British actor, stand-up comedian, television presenter and international disability rights activist”. I was surprised at the low turnout, but those of us who were in the audience enjoyed the show, and it was lovely to have another BSL-accessible performance so soon after Caroline Parker’s / Graeae’s “Signs of a Diva”, held in the same venue a few months ago. I see a bright future for the Tobacco Factory. Whilst it’s true that some of the humour was ‘lost in translation’ – plays on words for example – the show was signed with verve and good timing by the interpreter, who was at one point incorporated into the routine himself. I could identify with having an inner ‘evil’ voice making sarcastic comments and inappropriate outbursts whilst dealing with life, and some comments regarding the mechanics of disabled sex added some spice to the evening. It was just a pity the lighting technician kept dimming the light on the interpreter, making it at times hard to follow, but this is something can easily be improved, and my hope is that as the Tobacco Factory puts on more BSL accessible shows, they’ll get better at it.

Saturday saw me travel to London for a day out at the theatre and London Pride. Deafinitely Theatre’s new children’s play, “The Boy and the Statue” was visual, funny and enjoyable, and I enjoyed chatting to the actors after the show – I’ve known one of them since Uni and haven’t seen him in ages, it was very cool to see him performing in his first full-length play.

London Pride was amazing! Beautiful weather, loads of people, roads clear of traffic – but not of rubbish, despite the best efforts of roaming roadsweepers – lots of colour and a great atmosphere made for a great Pride event, and even better – they had BSL interpreters on the main stage with the performers! They even had their own little corner on the big screen, they’d even set up a little blue screen on stage that the interpreters could stand in front of, so they showed up better. Brilliant. I don’t know who was in charge of organising the interpreters, but kudos to them – and to the interpreters of course, who were signing everything from dance to rap to bitchy drag acts. Wonderful. More, please. Pride events, take note.

All in all, a pretty good day, but it was topped off by an unexpected delight – a ticket inspector on the train who waved a hand to get my attention, signed ‘hello’ and then signed ‘thank you’ after I produced my ticket. Wow! I can honestly say I think this is the first time this has ever happened in all my years of travelling via train, and I can only hope this is the start of a trend. Train companies take heed – start teaching your staff to sign and they might just make a deaf person’s day.