My thoughts on Tom Shakespeare’s talk: “Can disabled people fly high?”

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We seem to live in a society with very polarised attitudes towards disabled people. On the one hand, disabled people are often told that they are “brave” or “inspirational”, even when they are just doing normal, everyday things non-disabled people take for granted. On the other hand, they are being stigmatised and labelled “scroungers” by a government increasingly determined to slash the welfare bill by driving through cuts to disability benefits and scrapping and limiting funds designed to enable disabled people to work, study and lead independent lives.

I recently went to a fascinating talk by Tom Shakespeare, the academic, disability rights campaigner and sociologist, who explored these themes about social attitudes towards disability and why some disabled people become high achievers, but so many others don’t.

When I first read the title of his talk “Can disabled people fly high? Removing barriers to achievement”, I must admit that I thought that it sounded a bit cheesy. But I wanted to find out more. I have heard Tom Shakespeare speak before about disability and I have found him really insightful and knowledgeable about the subject.

I had spoken to the organisers at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine beforehand about what communication support they could provide. I am really grateful to them and STAGETEXT for being able to provide live speech-to-text reporting of the event at the last minute, as well as providing a BSL interpreter. It meant that the event was fully inclusive to all deaf and hard of hearing people, including non-BSL users like myself.

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Tom spoke about a lot of areas related to the social and medical models of disability, as well as barriers to achievement and what makes a successful disabled “high flyer”. I just want to focus on a couple of things he said which I could really identify with and which really seemed to resonate with me as a deafened person living with a disability myself.

He spoke about disability being diverse and complex. Disabled people are not alike and they differ in many ways. Even people with the same disability or medical condition do not have the same experience of it and often react to it in different ways. We cannot compare “apples with pears” so we shouldn’t generalise and make assumptions about different people living with a similar disability.

He explained that this is why the work capability assessments introduced by the Department of Work and Pensions do not work because they make assessments about disabled peoples’ capability to work based on general assumptions and criteria, which don’t match their individual complex medical and social care needs.

He also talked about the “paradox of disability”, which I can really relate to. When you first get an impairment or disability, especially if it’s unexpected, it’s understandably very difficult for most people to deal with it. Unsurprisingly, you feel really depressed and people often find themselves having panicky, suicidal thoughts. You think that life couldn’t possibly get any worse and go through a whole spectrum of emotions, just as if you are going through a grieving process.

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Then you get used to it and after a while, you find that living with it is not as bad as you thought it would be. Human beings are incredibly resilient and you often adapt pretty well to your new disability and changed circumstances. He said that according to academic studies, most people with a disability report a “high quality of life” against the odds, as long as you are not living in constant pain.

I can definitely relate to this and think that although I went through a very difficult time in my life when I lost my hearing unexpectedly, eventually I learned to adapt to it, although it was very difficult to communicate with other people.

Now I think my life has changed to such an extent that there have been a lot of positive things, which have come out of my experience. I have met some really great people along my journey, have changed a lot as a person and I am now looking forward to the future with renewed positivity and confidence.

Tom also talked about the common factors, which tend to make a disabled person become a ‘high flyer’. Having a good education was a big factor, according to his research. But the other common factor driving the success of disabled high achievers was they had worked incredibly hard to get there. They have struggled so hard against the odds that they are more determined than anyone else to make it.

For example, look at the hugely successful Paralympic athletes. These are clearly exceptional people, who have pushed themselves beyond their limits and exceeded everyone’s expectations of them. They are incredibly positive role models for disabled people. But are their achievements also achievable for the majority of disabled people? Do non-disabled people think all disabled people should be more like these role models?

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Tom said that the majority of disabled people, like non-disabled people, just want to lead ordinary lives. They just want to have a normal job, a family and all the things that non-disabled people want too. ‘

We need to recognise that ‘high flyers’ are exceptional people in any walk of life, whether disabled or non-disabled people. They do not represent the majority of people like us in our society.

He also talked about how disabled people are often told by non-disabled people that they are “brave” or “inspirational” etc., often just for doing normal everyday things that most people take for granted like getting dressed. This can come across as being incredibly patronising to a disabled person, when all they want is to be accepted by people and treated no different to anyone else.

On the other hand, I do think that some disabled people do some incredibly inspiring things and I am truly in awe of them. I don’t think that most non-disabled people mean to sound patronising at all. They just can’t imagine themselves doing the things disabled people are doing, if they were in their shoes. The problem is when they praise disabled people for doing normal things that they themselves take for granted. They should just treat disabled people as they would others.

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What about the barriers to achievement for disabled people? Tom talked about some of the external barriers to achievement, such as society’s attitudes towards disabled people and barriers to employment. According to government figures, 48% of disabled people are in employment, compared to 79% of non-disabled people. But the gap between the employment rate of disabled people versus non-disabled people has remained static, at around 31%, for over a decade.

It is clearly more difficult for a disabled person to become employed than a non-disabled person but the reasons for it are complex. Employers’ attitudes towards disabled people during the recruitment process remain a huge barrier, despite the existence of the Equalities Act. But Tom also said that there were also internal barriers holding disabled people back. This is due to psychosocial factors such as a lack of confidence in themselves or a doubt that they could actually do the job, despite having the necessary qualifications and experience.

Disabled people also don’t push themselves when it comes to seeking a promotion or a better skilled job. They often stay in low skilled, lower grade jobs. This is because they feel comfortable and accepted in the work environment they are in, so they don’t want to risk a new environment where others might not be so accepting of them and their disability.

During the Q&A session at the end I asked Tom what he thought about the impact of the government’s recent cuts to communication support for deaf people on the ‘Access to Work’ scheme. He replied that it was a “no brainer”. By limiting deaf people’s access to the communication support they need to carry out their jobs, it is obvious that they wouldn’t be able to do their jobs in the same way. It would reduce their chances of being successful in their careers and increase unemployment among deaf and disabled people. He said he thought the government’s decision was “blinkered”.

Overall, I agree with Tom that in terms of how and why some disabled people reach their potential and achieve great things and others don’t, we can’t just blame it all on external factors such as society and employers’ attitudes towards them. It’s a complex situation. To put it in his words “We need to strike a balance between recognising the role of oppressive barriers and celebrating individual personal qualities”.

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Running for Sound Seekers

My wife Joanna will be running in the Vitality British London 10K run through Central London next Sunday, 12th July. She’s really looking forward to it and has been training hard, not only because she will be running with thousands of people past iconic London landmarks such as Big Ben, The Houses of Parliament, St Paul’s Cathedral and Buckingham Palace, but also because she hopes to raise money for a really fantastic charity, which we both love to support.

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It’s a small UK-based charity called Sound Seekers, but the work they do makes a huge difference to people’s lives. They help deaf people, particularly children, in the poorest communities of the developing world, particularly Africa.

Deaf children in Africa haven’t got access to the services that we take for granted in the UK such as a good education, the provision of hearing aids and cochlear implants on the NHS and access to audiology and free basic healthcare. For instance, in Zambia, one of the countries where Sound Seekers have been working, there is only one trained audiologist in the entire country, which has a population of 16 million people.

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With over 50% of the population living in poverty there, there is no money and little incentive to provide deaf children with the help that they need to get an education, stop them feeling socially isolated and unable to communicate with others, improve their life chances and employment prospects. Most of them end up being the poorest and most disadvantaged in their society.

But also, people living in Africa are much more likely to be deaf or have a hearing loss than in developed countries like ours because they are much more likely to have ear infections and health conditions, which go untreated. This often leads to significant hearing loss and deafness. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) up to 50% of hearing loss cases could be prevented, and many very early on, through early hearing screening and basic ear and healthcare.

Sound Seekers works in many areas to tackle these issues. They partner with hospitals, usually government hospitals, to develop audiology services in many African countries. They also partner with schools for the deaf to provide specialist teacher training and sign language training, as well as upgrading their teaching facilities and the infrastructure.

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They also work with mainstream schools to train teachers on deaf awareness and what they should do if they suspect a child in their class has hearing loss, to avoid them dropping out of school altogether.

They have introduced targeted paediatric hearing screening services in Sierra Leone and Zambia, and they have a new project in Zambia on primary ear and healthcare, aimed at trying to prevent ear infections and conditions leading to permanent hearing loss.

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One country where they have done a lot of work is Malawi. They launched their ‘Hear in Malawi’ fundraising appeal and project last year with the help of Sam Evans, a former ‘Big Brother’ contestant, who has been involved in filming their project. Through their fundraising, they are currently building a comprehensive audiology unit in Blantire, Malawi, with the building of the clinic already underway.

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Dr Courtney Caron, a qualified audiologist from America, is volunteering in Blantire for four years and is apparently brilliant. She and her team have already helped many deaf children there such as Happy, who you can see in the photo below. Happy is a ten-year old boy, who lost his hearing three years ago. He was bullied at school and felt completely isolated as a result of his hearing loss. He remained in the same class at school for three years.

Dr Caron recently fitted him with two donated hearing aids. From being really withdrawn, Happy now feels much happier and more confident in himself. He has even moved up a year in school. They hope to help thousands more Happys in the work that they’re doing out there.

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Dr Caron and her team have also managed to bring about the first two successful cochear implant operations in Malawi carried out by the British cochlear implant surgeon Dr David Strachan last year. Joyce, a nine-year old girl, and fifteen-year old Richard, both became profoundly deaf a few years ago as a result of illness. In Malawi no surgeon is trained to carry out a cochlear implant operation and the children’s parents couldn’t possibly have afforded it anyway, so it was really great that MED-EL (the company which makes the cochlear implant devices) donated the cochlear implants and Dr Strachan agreed to carry out the operations.

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They wouldn’t have agreed to it if they hadn’t been convinced that Dr Caron and her team would give Richard and Joyce all the rehabilitative support they needed both before and after the operation and switch-on.

I was pleased to hear that Joyce and Richard’s cochlear implant surgeries went really well and that they are both now hearing much better and getting used to their new hearing environment. I am really pleased for them both and wish them both well. It’s wonderful for them to have been the first people in their country to have this life-changing surgery.

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It’s really important that the projects Sound Seekers are involved in are sustainable and support the local communities there. That’s why capacity building of African people is at the charity’s core. Wherever possible, they delegate project administration to local people, providing employment opportunities. Examples are training existing nurses in Cameroon, The Gambia and Zambia to provide audiology services, providing them with equipment and using volunteer audiologists from the UK and abroad to help train them. They are also supporting Dr Alfred Mwamba (the only audiologist in Zambia) to set up a diploma training course for local people in audiology in Lusaka, Zambia.

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It is really important that everyone living with hearing loss throughout the world has equal access to the same basic standards of education, healthcare and audiology that we take for granted here. That reality may seem a long way off but I think that the work that Sound Seekers is doing in Africa is helping enormously. As a small charity, though, they rely on our support and donations to keep it going and develop it further, helping to lift people out of poverty and isolation, as well as providing local training and employment opportunities.

It would be really wonderful if you could help support their work by donating whatever you can via my wife’s online fundraising page (link below). We would really appreciate it a lot. As for me, I’ll be there cheering her over the finish line!

Joanna’s fundraising page: http://bit.ly/1RmhoqA

Sound Seekers website: http://bit.ly/1LPqnST

Sound Seekers Twitter handle: @SoundSeekers

Thanks very much to Sound Seekers for permission for me to use their photos!

The Pride at the Trafalgar Studios: equality, diversity and inclusion

Richard Turner:

This was a great play and is worth a Reblog on Pride in London day. Enjoy

Originally posted on Richard Turner:

This week I saw the captioned performance of ‘The Pride’ at the Trafalgar Studios with my wife Joanna. I had been really looking forward to seeing this play for a long time, and I knew that this Jamie Lloyd production had been well received with excellent reviews. It is the third play in the four-run play of the ‘Trafalgar Transformed’ season of plays there.

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Ever since I watched the first Jamie Lloyd production there of ‘Macbeth’ earlier this year, my first ever captioned performance, I have really enjoyed going to the theatre again and watching his plays, which have universal themes, but are often acted in a surprising and different way. They always seem to make you challenge your preconceived ideas and assumptions about things, which I suppose is what watching good theatre is all about. I am so glad that I can enjoy these wonderful plays with Joanna on…

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Why the Human Rights Act matters to all of us

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A couple of weeks ago, on the evening before the Queen’s Speech, I went to a ‘Human Rights Act Bootcamp’ in Westminster. It was a free event, organised by the British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR), in order to raise awareness of what the Human Rights Act is and what it does, as well as informing us about the government’s plans to scrap it and replace it with a British Bill of Rights.

When I saw it advertised I immediately contacted the BIHR and explained that I would like to attend with some of my deaf friends. Very quickly they organised a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter, live speech-to-text reporting and a hearing loop, making it fully accessible to all deaf and hard of hearing people. The communication support was brilliant, so I would like to thank the BIHR for organising such great access.

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The hall in Westminster was packed that night with people of all ages and backgrounds. There is clearly a lot of interest in this issue at the moment.

The speakers told us about what human rights are and the history of human rights in Europe and the UK since after the Second World War through to the present day with the Human Rights Act. They also told us about how the Human Rights Act works with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and how it is applied in practice.

I also learned about how the Human Rights Act works in conjunction with many other laws such as the Equalities Act 2010, whose equality and anti-discrimination laws are underpinned by the rights in the Human Rights Act (HRA). In fact, all UK laws should be compatible with the human rights in the HRA Act and the government has to make an assessment on any proposed new Bill about whether it meets the rights outlined in the Human Rights Act.

Modern human rights were first legally defined after World War II in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of US President Franklin D.Roosevelt, was instrumental in drafting these basic human rights for everyone living in a democratically elected state. She was known as “The First Lady of the World” in tribute to her human rights achievements.

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After the atrocities committed in the Holocaust in the Second World War by a democratically elected state in Germany, where people were massacred and treated as less than human, these new rules established basic standards below which the state must not go and provided basic protection for all of us from our governments, to avoid another Holocaust like this ever happening again.

This idea of human rights being universal and applicable to all of us has remained fundamental to our human rights legislations and protections since 1948. In 1950 The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) was established by the Council of Europe in response to World War II in order to help build the “foundation of peace, democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights” across Europe.

The Conservative Prime Minister Winston Churchill was one of the founding fathers of the ECHR. He saw this as a response to the barbarity of fascism in the Second World War and in order to protect the sinister threat to human freedom posed by the Soviet Union in the post-war period.

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But it wasn’t until 1998 that we were able to access these rights here in the UK when Tony Blair’s Labour government established the Human Rights Act (HRA). This brings the ECHR into our domestic law. There are 16 rights included in it, including the right to life, the right not to be treated in an inhuman or degrading way, the right to freedom of expression and the right to liberty.

Not only should all UK laws be compatible with the HRA or if they are not, Ministers must make a statement on the front of any proposed new Bill declaring that it is incompatible, but public authorities must respect these rights in everything they do. Any person can ask the UK courts and tribunals to look at whether a public authority or individual has breached their human rights.

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In real life, there have been numerous examples of peoples’ human rights being violated by public authorities in this country and they have been brought to account by the affected parties or their families for breach of their human rights. For example, there was the notorious recent case of serious neglect of patients by Mid Staffordshire NHS hospital, where many patients died. Article 3 (the right not to be tortured or treated in an inhuman or degrading way) was invoked and the NHS settled 100 cases out of court.

Other cases have involved the safeguarding and protection of disabled, elderly or vulnerable people with mental health problems and those who have been trafficked where their right to liberty, not to be treated in an inhuman or degrading way, or right to liberty have been breached. The rights protect people from harm, abuse and neglect and offer a vital safety net based on universal minimum standards.

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We then had a talk and discussion about the government’s plans to scrap the HRA, curtail the role of the European Court of Human Rights and replace it with a British Bill of Rights. The BIHR said that they had assessed the proposals using a set of criteria to determine whether the new rights in the Bill would be universal human rights applying to us all, accessible via UK independent courts and the European Court of Human Rights, or whether they would be seeking to restrict certain groups or behaviours and conditions.

They concluded that the proposals do not stack up.

The new Bill of Rights will not introduce any new rights and it is not progressive. It is not universal because it seeks to restrict certain groups, suggesting that human rights are a “gift” that the government can take away or change according to government policy. They would prevent certain groups of people from accessing independent courts to determine whether they have a legal case. It would damage the protection of universal human rights here at home and abroad.

A member of the audience asked the speaker the question that was probably on all of our lips. Why does this government want to scrap the Human Rights Act then? What is the motivation behind it? The answer was that human rights legislation limits government powers, so it is no surprise that the government wants to scrap it, because they find having their powers restricted “irritating”. They are there to protect us from our government.

I think these proposals are very worrying for all of us. My deaf friend asked a question about who would be restricted under the new Bill of Rights and who would get to choose. How would universal rights apply to deaf and disabled people? The response was that there was a question mark over who would be included and excluded but the proposals were moving away from universal human rights.

I asked a question about how scrapping the HRA would affect the rights in the Equalities Act, which came from the HRA. Again there is a question mark over that as it has not been tested. I think that the future for deaf and disabled people could be very uncertain under these new proposals as I don’t think the impact on these groups has been considered.

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The next day I found out that the new government plans to scrap the HRA were not included in the Queen’s Speech as they were pulled at the last minute. Instead, the Queen announced “my government will bring forward proposals for a British Bill of Rights”. Widespread political opposition was believed to be behind this decision.

Let’s hope the government abandons its plans to scrap the Human Rights Act. It is there to protect us all. No government has the right to pick and choose who should be included in human rights legislation and who should be excluded. No-one should be stripped of their rights because of their behaviour, identity, race, gender, sexuality or disability.

We can all make our voices heard by becoming a friend of the BIHR, signing their Human Rights Charter, getting in on the Twitter conversation and spreading the word with our friends, family and colleagues. We can also contact our local MPs about it, who are meant to represent the views of all of us.

No doubt the road ahead of us to keep our basic human rights will be long and difficult, but in the words of the BIHR “Once we’ve lost the Human Rights Act, we have lost the debate on why human rights matter”.

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Shakespeare meets Two-Tone at the Chickenshed

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I recently went to see a brilliant, totally unique captioned performance of Shakespeare’s ‘The Comedy of Errors’ at the Chickenshed theatre in North London.

I’ve seen quite a few different productions of Shakespeare plays over the last couple of years, but this was unlike any other I’ve seen. It was set in the late 70s/early 80s period of Two-Tone British Ska music. The actors were dressed in black and white suits with porkpie hats and kept breaking into songs by The Specials and Madness, while hurling themselves frenetically and dancing across the stage.

Listening to the cast singing songs I knew well from when I was at school, such as ‘Ghost Town’ and ‘Too Much Too Young’ took me back to the days of cheesy school discos or spinning around in a fairground Waltzer car singing my heart out to the sound of the Ska music being played in the background. Happy days!

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As soon as we arrived in the studio theatre, we were met with the cast walking around the small stage in front of us, shouting and demonstrating, holding up placards and protesting really noisily. They were interacting with the audience and seemed really fired up. I knew we would be in for something totally different that evening.

The studio theatre itself is really small and intimate. Being “in the round” and only seating about 40-50 people, it meant that I could see the faces of the audience clearly. They all looked delighted and surprised at the liveliness and energy of the actors running around the stage in a very physical way as the plot unfolded before them. Both the audience and the actors looked like they were having a lot of fun.

The plot is all about mistaken identity and the chaos and hilarity that results from that. It is a light Shakespearian comedy with the plot centred on two sets of twins separated at birth, who people confuse for the other one, and just to make it even more confusing, they each have manservants, who are also twins.

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There is also a merchant who has come in search of his son, who’s looking for his brother and mother, who were both lost at sea many years ago. To cut a long story short, the whole town called Ephesus ends up mistaking each for the other, but it all gets resolved in the end when the two sets of twins become reunited and the merchant finds his sons.

I was really grateful for the captioning done by the STAGETEXT captioner Bev so that I could follow the dialogue. I was there with my wife and some deaf and hard of hearing friends. We had great seats for reading the captions, which were directly opposite us. Even though there was a good hearing loop there I needed to read the captions too, especially because the dialogue was in old Shakespearian English and also because some of the characters had strong Caribbean accents, which were difficult to follow.

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My wife told me that she was following the captions too, because even though she can hear, she would have struggled to understand the language without the captions. I think many people in the audience found them helpful too.

The very young cast all gave brilliant performances. There were some great moments, such as the scene when the rather feisty, cherubic-looking Luciana, played by Sarah Connolly, was talking to her sister Adriana, played by Tessa Ryan, while doing her aerobics routine dressed in a 1980s Jane Fonda style leotard, tights and leg warmers with the song ‘Fame’ blaring out in the background.

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I love the friendly, relaxed atmosphere and the inclusive ethos at the Chickenshed. They train and support children and adults of all abilities and backgrounds to get involved in their company and productions. They don’t turn anyone down to become a part of their theatre company, which is totally inclusive to all, regardless of their ability. They also have a lot of volunteers, who willingly give up their time to help out and be part of the whole experience.

I have some deaf friends, who have been involved in the Chickenshed since they were small children. They have grown up with it playing a big role in their lives. It is like being part of a large extended family, which welcomes them and offers them hope and encouragement in a friendly, warm environment. It is theatre, which changes people’s lives by giving them the confidence and tools they need to go out into the world and pursue their dreams without being afraid of rejection or discrimination.

I left the theatre that night with a big smile on my face against the sound of the cast singing “Enjoy yourself” by The Specials ringing in my ears. Even the ushers were singing along to the catchy tune. It was brilliant that they had made Shakespeare so fun and accessible to all through this lively, Two-Tone production. It makes me want to dig out my old Specials and Madness albums and start reliving the soundtrack of my youth!

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Why hearing aid cuts in North Staffs should be reversed

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I was completely shocked by the recent decision by North Staffordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) that from September this year they will no longer provide hearing aids on the NHS to adults with a mild hearing loss, and that adults with a moderate hearing loss will have to complete a questionnaire, which is unnecessary and inappropriate.

Since North Staffs CCG first announced they were considering this proposal, the charity Action on Hearing Loss and a wide range of professional and patient groups opposed those plans. Over 6,500 people signed an online petition against them and local scrutiny committees rejected them, including the Healthy Staffordshire Committee.

Previously, the CCG had announced that no restrictions would be introduced until financial year 2016/2017, but on February 27th they announced that they had brought forward their meeting to 4th March and that they were allocating just ten minutes in the meeting for a discussion and decision to be made on the cuts.

The timing of this decision is particularly cynical. It seems like they brought forward the date to hide bad news when everyone is focused on the upcoming general election, and ten minutes is not enough time to consider all the evidence.

The meeting went ahead without proper consultation from the public, healthcare professionals or the wider hearing loss community. It also ignored the evidence presented by various charities, patients groups and organisations, who wholeheartedly disagree with the CCG’s decision that there is not enough evidence to support their provision for people with mild to moderate hearing loss.

There is, in fact, a wide body of evidence about the impact of this level of hearing loss on the individual and the benefits that hearing aids bring to people with mild or moderate hearing loss. This decision is estimated to potentially affect 2,500 people in North Staffordshire, for whom hearing aids are a lifeline, and without them, their quality of life will undoubtedly suffer.

Even people with a mild or moderate hearing loss often struggle to follow conversations and communicate with other people, especially when there is loud background noise. Hearing loss cuts you off from people and if it is not detected early and you are fitted with hearing aids, you are much more likely to withdraw from society, feel isolated, lose your confidence, suffer in the workplace and in many cases, experience depression and other mental health problems. There is also increased risk of dementia among elderly people, as the hearing loss worsens and remains undetected.

The recent ‘Action Plan on Hearing Loss’ report by the Department of Health and NHS England clearly stated: “Early diagnosis and intervention are key actions that should make a real difference in reducing risks and attaining better hearing health outcomes throughout life”. One of the key objectives of this Action Plan is to ensure that all people with hearing loss are diagnosed early and that they are managed effectively once diagnosed.

North Staffordshire CCG’s decision clearly contradicts the findings and key action objectives outlined in the NHS’s own Action Plan on Hearing Loss. It also contradicts its own objectives, which include improving prevention, early detection and effective management of those at increased risk, enhancing quality of life and improving health outcomes for people with long term conditions and ensuring people have the right care in the right place. Cutting hearing aids goes against all this.

I know from my own personal experience what a frightening and isolating experience it is to lose your hearing. When my hearing first began to drop about five years ago, my hearing loss was first diagnosed as moderate. At the time, I was in complete denial of my hearing loss. It took me a long time before I began to accept it and started to wear my hearing aids.

It was only through the support from my deaf and hard of hearing friends that I started to wear them and slowly realised how much they were improving my quality of life as my confidence started to grow. As my hearing loss deteriorated further, I became completely dependent on my hearing aids for everyday living and communication.

I wonder if I was diagnosed with a moderate hearing loss now, whether I would also be denied NHS hearing aids? If so, how would I possibly be able to afford expensive private hearing aids?

I also work as a volunteer, supporting NHS hearing aid users in my local community. I see a lot of elderly people coming to our clinics. Most of them have a mild or moderate hearing loss and often come to us with fairly simple hearing aid problems, but it means so much to them when we fix their hearing aids or give them advice on how to look after them. We also talk to them about the limitations of their hearing aids and how to manage their hearing loss.

I have seen these volunteer-led local hearing aid clinics grow in size and the people who use them grow in confidence over the weeks and months as they get used to using their hearing aids and feel more supported. It is important to adopt an holistic approach to supporting hearing aid users, encouraging them to use ‘every tool in the box’ to help them communicate better and not just consider them from an audiology point of view.

Most of these elderly people simply couldn’t afford costly private hearing aids, and their overall health and wellbeing would undoubtedly deteriorate rapidly without them.

As our society is ageing with more and more people over 65 years old, hearing loss is an inevitable part of the ageing process. We should embrace the needs of our older generation and support them to feel like valuable members of our society, not cut them off from the basics.

By saving money in the short-term, North Staffordshire’s CCG will find themselves facing much greater costs over the longer term, as the knock-on effects caused by increased social and mental healthcare problems accumulate. It could also set a precedent for other CCGs around the country to follow suit. Let’s hope that they see sense soon and reverse this decision.

Kevin Spacey as Clarence Darrow: spellbinding!

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I recently saw one of the finest, if not the finest, pieces of acting I have ever seen in my entire life!

It was Kevin Spacey playing Clarence Darrow at the Old Vic Theatre in London in the play of the same name.

I have always admired Kevin Spacey as an actor, ever since I first saw him in such amazing films as ‘The Usual Suspects’, ‘Seven’, ‘LA Confidential and ‘Swimming with Sharks’. At the moment, I’m completely hooked watching him play the evil, manipulative American politician Frank Underwood in the Netflix series ‘House of Cards’. He is without doubt one of the greatest actors of our time.

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My wife and I were both really excited at the prospect of seeing him perform live on stage and we couldn’t wait to see this play.

The Old Vic theatre is ‘in the round’ which makes for a cosy, intimate experience when you’re sitting in the stalls as we were, although I found it difficult at times to follow the captions and look at the stage at the same time. The hearing loop was excellent too, which is something that I am still getting used to.

This is a one-character play, so Kevin Spacey played the role of Clarence Darrow on his own for a full 90 minutes. His acting was fantastic! He owned the stage the entire time. I found myself being absolutely magnetised by his presence that night.

In real life Clarence Darrow was one of the greatest civil liberties lawyers in American history. In his forty-year career, he defended people who were poor, black and otherwise discriminated against by the American legal system in the early part of the twentieth century. He defended the underdog and people who couldn’t even afford to pay his legal fees, so he didn’t charge them. He was very courageous and had a strong sense of doing what he believed was right to defend innocent people.

Clarence Darrow placard

In his career, he managed to save 110 people from the gallows for being wrongly accused of murder. There was only one person he didn’t manage to save early on in his career, which he deeply regretted.

Kevin Spacey stood on the stage as the older Clarence Darrow preparing to pack up his office and retire. He was looking back on his life and career, telling it in his own words in a very humble but convincing way. It was totally mesmerising to watch him perform so passionately and emotionally just a few feet away from me. He walked around the stage and down the aisles, engaging with and bringing the audience with him as he talked about his most memorable cases and his personal life.

It must be so difficult to act on your own like that all the time and yet keep the audience so gripped. He seemed to totally involve us all in the story as he was telling it. I thought it was really clever the way he used tricks like speaking to empty chairs on the stage as if he were re-enacting his famous courtroom scenes and cross-questioning key witnesses and defendants in the trials and holding up evidence.

kevin spacey

Through his acting we got a glimpse of how eloquent, but humble, Clarence Darrow was, and how he managed to win over trial juries and judges by a combination of logic and his strong sense of right and wrong. Apparently, in real life he managed to reduce some trial judges to tears with his passionate pleas for them to save his defendants’ lives.

He was also courageous because he wasn’t afraid of standing up for what he believed in, even when this made him deeply unpopular. For instance, Spacey as Darrow told the audience about when he was asked to defend the McNamara brothers in 1911 by the American Federation of Labor (AFL). They had been charged with dynamiting the offices of the Los Angeles Times building a year before, which resulted in the deaths of twenty people. This trial attracted a lot of public attention, with the AFL setting up a defence fund from donations to defend the brothers and many people convinced of their innocence.

Clarence Darrow_the man

But before the trial, when Darrow was going through the evidence, he discovered that the McNamara brothers were, in fact, guilty. He described how he didn’t know what to do as he was in such a moral dilemma. He eventually decided that the only right thing to do was to change their plea to guilty in order to spare the defendants’ lives and to plea for a custodial sentence instead. In the end, one of the brothers was imprisoned for fifteen years and the other got a life sentence.

Because of the change in plea, the ALF and other unions turned against Darrow, convinced that he had sold them out. He was also accused of bribing a member of the jury in the trial, which he denied strongly, but he faced a lengthy trial to defend himself of the bribery charge and although the jury did not find him guilty, he was forced to give up practising as a lawyer in California. It was only several years later that he decided to set up a practice again in another state, and he carried on defending people for many more years.

Clarence Darrow trial

Kevin Spacey’s performance was totally spellbinding. At the end the entire audience was on its feet applauding him and giving him a standing ovation. I have never seen such an audience reception in the theatre. After ten years of working as Artistic Director at the Old Vic, this is Spacey’s last season there, so I felt truly privileged to see him in one of his last performances.

I also came away feeling truly inspired by the legendary Clarence Darrow, who I had never heard of before, but I was really glad that I had discovered him. I know that times have changed since his day, but I wish that there were more people like him today who will always stand up for what they believe is right and fair, people who are never afraid to defend the poor, the vulnerable, the sick and disabled people in our society, particularly in this age of austerity and putting yourself first. People like him make our society a much fairer, better place.

Clarence Darrow_end pic