Why hearing aid cuts in North Staffs should be reversed

N Staffs blog header

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!

Clarence Darrow header

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.

Clarence Darrow_Frank Underwood

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

Total communication in action at Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle header

In many ways I feel incredibly lucky and grateful to have recently had a cochlear implant. I can hear and communicate so much better than before. I can now have a conversation with my wife and family, which was a real struggle for me before. That means the world to me.

But having a cochlear implant is not the miracle cure to deafness that some people think it is. As a late-deafened adult I have a very good knowledge of sound from before and I can hear much better now, but I cannot differentiate between all the different complexities and layers of sound. It is a world apart from hearing natural sound and I still struggle to hear, especially when there is any background noise.

When I go to the cinema or the theatre, for instance, I still always go to a captioned or subtitled performance, as I would struggle to follow it without them. I also use the hearing loops now with my cochlear implant, which is a new experience for me, as when I wore a hearing aid, they didn’t work for me at all.

Last year I went on a BSL and lipspeaking guided tour of Clarence House, organised by the Royal Collection. At the time I was profoundly deaf and was undergoing the assessment for a cochlear implant. Although I wore a hearing aid I was very reliant on the sign-supported English and lipspeaking provided by the interpreters. It was a brilliant tour and I really enjoyed it, but I still had to ask my wife Joanna to fill in the gaps to follow it, as my lipreading and signing was still limited.

Yesterday I was really excited to go on another BSL and lipspeaking guided tour of St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. This was fully accessible to all deaf people. I have met Lesley, the lipspeaker, and Stephen, the BSL interpreter, before, at other events and they are both very passionate about full inclusion and access for deaf people. I was really pleased that they were providing the communication support.

Windsor Castle blog_Lesley + Stephen

It was a very small group there, and I was lucky that Lesley was able to personalise my communication needs. Her lipspeaking was very clear and natural to me, and she also used some signing, which I could follow very easily. For me, it is important to be able to use “every tool in the box” when it comes to effective communication and working out the information given to me. It’s like putting together all the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and just seeing bits of the picture until finally you can see the whole picture when you put together all the pieces you need.

Everyone is different when it comes to communication needs and preferences but for me, using total communication through a combination of listening with my cochlear implant and being supported by an interpreter like Lesley lipspeaking and signing, is the best way for me to follow people and understand the whole picture.

For instance, when we were in St George’s Chapel, there was a young organist practising on the organ really close to us. At first my heart sank and I wanted to ask him if he would mind stopping for a while as I was really struggling to hear over his beautiful, but noisy, choir music. The guide apologised for the organ music and carried on telling his interesting stories about the Chapel and its history.

Windsor Castle blog_St George's Chapel outside

I was really lucky, though, that I could still follow what the guide was saying through Lesley’s clear lipspeaking and very visual language. Without her support, even with the cochlear implant, I would have struggled to follow anything and get the enjoyment that I did from his storytelling.

The tour of the grounds and St George’s Chapel was fascinating and I saw some beautiful, amazing things. I learned a lot about the history of the royal family, their connection to Windsor Castle and our own British heritage. I learned, for instance, about the origins of the Order of the Garter and its connection to Windsor Castle. King Edward II founded it in 1348 at Windsor Castle. By tradition, the Order takes its name from an occasion when King Edward picked up the Countess of Salisbury’s garter during a social ball, who had very embarrassedly dropped it, and he tried to make her feel better by tying it around his own leg.

The Order of the Garter is the most senior and the oldest British Orders of Chivalry and consists of the Sovereign and twenty-five Knights, who are made members because they have held public office, contributed in a particular way to public life, or served the Sovereign personally. The idea of rewarding chivalry and creating Knights was inspired by the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

Windsor Castle blog_Queen Order of the Garter

St George’s Chapel is the spiritual home of the Order of the Garter, which is dedicated to the image and arms of St George, as the patron saint of England. Its motto is “Honi soit qui mal y pense” which means “Shame on him who thinks evil of it”. The Queen awards new members with their official garters at a special investiture ceremony held at Windsor Castle every year.

The Chapel is very old and incredibly beautiful. It has the widest Gothic arch in England and its stainglass windows are absolutely amazing. We walked into the choir stalls, which were stunning. I learned from the guide that the twenty-five stalls in the chapel all belong to the Knights and Ladies of the Garter. There have been some very famous Knights and Ladies in the past, such as Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Lord Mountbatten and the Kaiser.

Windsor Castle blog_St George's chapel

There are also 780 brass plates in the Chapel, each representing past and present Knights of the Garter. Each Knight has their own banner above their stall, with pictures representing them and their heraldry. They also have carvings of animal heads underneath the banners representing their heraldry. For instance, there were cricket balls and stumps on Lord Major’s banner, as he loves cricket, and a red stag’s head underneath representing his constituency of Huntingdon.

There are also ten British Kings buried in the chapel, including King Henry VIII and his third wife, Jane Seymour, and King Charles I. It was amazing to be standing next to Henry VIII’s plaque, with his remains buried underneath in the crypt. There is so much of our heritage steeped in this place, and I found it all fascinating, especially as the guides were so knowledgeable and entertaining. I also found out that the College of St. George had been founded at Windsor Castle in 1348, and today it still has 350 children boarding there from the age of three.

This was a great tour of Windsor Castle. I think that the Royal Collection provide some great tours of the Royal Palaces at a very reasonable price, which they make accessible to all deaf and hard of hearing people, taking all communication needs into account. We had a wonderful day and left with big smiles on our faces. For me, one of the best things about it was that everyone’s individual communication needs were met. I am really looking forward to their next event. I hope to see you there!

Link to Royal Collection website for future events with BSL interpreting and lipspeaking:

http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/whatson?type=2183

Made in Dagenham: The fight for equality goes on!

Made in Dagenham header

I’ve recently discovered that I really enjoy watching musicals. Perhaps I shouldn’t admit this, but it’s true. I’ve spent years avoiding them and telling myself I don’t enjoy them but actually, they are great fun and when I have been, I have really enjoyed myself. I love watching all accessible theatre.

I’ve seen three musicals over the last few months at the West End and they have all been absolutely superb, in my opinion. Perhaps it’s because I have been lucky to see three of the best musicals on the West End stage at the moment. I know that not all musicals are as good as that.

It’s probably also because I have been rediscovering music and sound since I got my cochlear implant last summer. Going to watch musicals has become a new experience for me. Following the live captioning, combined with being able to hear the words sung and spoken by the actors more clearly than ever before because of the hearing loop, has given me a whole new experience of watching live theatre.

I went to see the West End musical ‘Made in Dagenham’ recently, which was captioned by STAGETEXT. I thought it was fantastic. It’s a really good ‘feel-good’ musical, which lifts you up and has a great storyline, based on a true story. The visuals too were stunning. The stage sets were really creative and colourful, transporting you to the Britain of the late 1960s, complete with psychedelic Swinging Sixties fashions, original Ford Cortina cars and Berni Inns.

Made in Dagenham cast

The story is based on the 1968 strike by the women working as sewing machinists at the Ford car factory in Dagenham, Essex. They made car seat covers for the Ford cars. They went on strike because they were told that their jobs were to be regraded from category B (more skilled workers) to category C (lower skilled workers), and as a result, they would be paid 15% less than the full B rate received by men.

The strike was all about fighting for equality and the right to be paid the same rate as the men, who they were working alongside in the factory. One of the women, Rita O’Grady, played by actress Gemma Arterton, became their unlikely leader and spokeswoman. She was a normal working class worker and mother, who was suddenly thrust into the spotlight. She ended up fighting for them all because she believed that she had to fight against this injustice and do the right thing, even when her husband walked out on her with her children as he couldn’t take the pressure anymore. I thought that Gemma Arterton was fantastic as Rita.

Made in Dagenham strike

Eventually, the strikers ended up stopping all car production in the UK for a few weeks as stocks of car seats ran out. The MP Barbara Castle, who was the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity in Harold Wilson’s Labour government at the time, stepped in by inviting the Dagenham women to tea with her at Westminster. I thought the actress who played Barbara Castle, Sophie-Louise Dann, was excellent. She played her as a very feisty, red-headed, strong-minded and determined woman.

Made in Dagenham_Barbara Castle

In one scene she sang a song called ‘In An Ideal World’, where she was telling them that in an ideal world, everything would be great, but we live in the real world, “where sacrifices have to be made”. She told them that the Ford bosses had agreed to give the women 92% of what the men were paid, and they would be given full category C status the next year. She said that in politics it was all about compromises and they should be grateful for what they had been offered.

The women decided though, that they didn’t want 92% of what the men were paid, so Rita decided to go to the TUC conference in Eastbourne, where she gave an impassioned speech to the Trade Unionists gathered there to a standing ovation and huge round of applause. Eventually, this led to the introduction of the Equal Pay Act in 1970, a huge milestone in the history of women’s campaign for equality.

Made in Dageham_TUC speech

This is a great story but because of the seriousness of its message, it could have made the musical very heavy. Instead, it was very funny and entertaining, with some powerful messages behind it about fighting for justice and equality for women. There was a fantastic scene where Ford was unveiling their new Ford Cortina in Essex to the media, complete with an Austin Powers lookalike in a purple velvet suit, glamorous models in white plastic thigh-high boots and sparkly mini-dresses in the car against the backdrop of a flashy, psychedelic car showroom. Brilliant!

Made in Dagenham_Ford Capri scene

It’s amazing that this all happened almost fifty years ago. In terms of equality, a lot has been achieved since then but there is still so much more to be done before we ever reach full equality, not only for women, but also for many other groups of people, including disabled people, ethnic minorities and homosexuals.

Women are still fighting to get equal pay now, even with the Equal Pay Act, much as disabled people are still fighting to be treated equally in the workplace, despite the Equality Act 2010. It should not be about saving money and cutting costs as it is for some companies, but about treating people equally and fairly.

‘Made in Dagenham’ is a great musical based on a really powerful true story. I had a great night out and would recommend anyone to go and see it!

Made in Dagenham final scene

Deafness and Hearing Loss Hustings: why doing nothing is not an option

Action on Hearing Loss Hustings panel

I find it really sad that so many of us feel disconnected, mistrustful and disenchanted with our politicians at the moment. People feel that they are too professional, too aloof and do not represent the society we live in. This is especially the case for many people in the deaf and hard of hearing community, who feel so frustrated and disempowered by the political establishment. Some even wonder why they bother to vote at all.

I recently attended Action on Hearing Loss’s Deafness and Hearing Loss Hustings debate at Westminster. To me this represented a great opportunity for deaf and hard of hearing people to redress the balance by questioning MPs about the issues we really care about in the run-up to the general election and to try and get some answers about the many barriers and inequality we face in our society.

This was a free event and there were about two hundred people in the audience, representing the full spectrum of deaf and hard of hearing people, including BSL users, cochlear implant and hearing aid users, all with different communication needs. It was made fully accessible to all through the use of lipspeakers, BSL interpreters and speech-to-text reporting, as well as a hearing loop.

The MPs on the panel included Mark Harper, the Conservative Minister of State for Disabled People, Lord German, the former Deputy First Minister for Wales and Co-Chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Committee for Work and Pensions and Kate Green, the Labour Shadow Minister for Disabled People.

Denis Campbell, who writes for the Guardian and the Observer, chaired the event. He is a hearing aid user himself and understands many of the issues and barriers faced by hard of hearing people. At the beginning, Kate Green talked about how things are getting tougher for deaf people as a result of cuts to public services and welfare reforms in a climate of hostility and suspicion being created against disabled people. Mark Harper, on the other hand, spoke of how he wanted to give disabled people greater access to employment in a more inclusive society. Lord German spoke of dignity, consideration, understanding, self-esteem and inclusion.

The questions asked by audience members were very topical and represented some of the key issues that deaf and hard of hearing people are particularly concerned about at the moment, such as the Access to Work 30-hour rule review, the problems we face accessing the NHS due to communication barriers and lack of deaf awareness on the part of many NHS staff. There were also questions about cuts to hearing aid provision by CCGs around the country and changes to welfare reforms, which are having a particularly detrimental effect on deaf people.

There were also questions about the lack of subtitling provision at the cinema, on video-on-demand services and the need to improve the quality of subtitling on TV programmes. Apart from the Access to Work problems these are all issues that I feel very passionate about and experience on a regular basis, particularly the communication difficulties in accessing doctors and hospitals, and the lack of subtitling provision and varying quality depending on which provider and platform you are using.

Mark Harper said that they were in the process of reviewing the Access to Work provisions and they had to balance the costs of providing the interpreting service with the needs of Deaf workers. Kate Harper said that she was disappointed because the needs of Deaf people in the workplace were not being met. She talked about using a personalised, holistic approach when consider the communication needs of individual Deaf workers, rather than a “one-size fits all” rule.

A cochlear implant user in the audience then asked a very topical question about why the fundamental principle of providing free hearing aids to those who need them was being challenged by NHS Trusts in reducing provision to people with mild or moderate hearing loss (following the recent decision by the CCG in North Staffordshire). She said she wanted a guarantee from the Government Minister that no more cuts to hearing aid provision would be made.

Kate Green explained that Andy Burnham, the Labour Shadow Health Minister, had said that this was “unacceptable”. She said that we need to deal with hearing loss early on and that people needed support to prevent further problems later on. She said that poor health outcomes were related to barriers to communication and access to treatment.

I know from my own personal experience how difficult it is to access NHS healthcare when you cannot communicate with your doctor or healthcare professional due to your hearing loss and you cannot understand what they are telling you about your own health or treatment. Lack of deaf awareness and understanding how to communicate with deaf people is a massive problem in the NHS.

In fact, according to the “Sick of it” report published by the charity SignHealth last year, there was a shocking inequality in the treatment of Deaf people compared to the population as a whole. They said that some Deaf people may be at risk of reduced life expectancy, as potentially life-threatening health conditions are being missed and poor treatment offered when a diagnosis is made. According to them lack of information, poor communication and unnecessary difficulties were costing the NHS £30m a year.

There is clearly a need for deaf awareness training, more BSL interpreters to be available to Deaf people, better communication, signposting and less ignorance among NHS staff. Their findings influenced the NHS’s forthcoming Information Standard report, which Mark Harper explained would be published in the spring, and would provide guidance on the reasonable adjustments outlined in the Equality Act 2010 and would make it better. Kate Harper said that we needed an Enforcement Act to make it work because public bodies like the NHS thought they were now “off the hook”.

Another question was whether the panellists would provide regulation to compel high quality subtitles on TV, on-demand services and the cinema. While Mark Harper said that Ofcom have a code and they will prepare a report in April, Kate Green mentioned the possibility of looking at EU legislation, but the UK government was resistant to this. Lord Green said that we need legislation to make it work. The Chair Dennis Campbell then put the motion to the audience of whether we thought we need legislation to make subtitling work better. In response, the audience gave an overwhelming show of hands in support of legislation. This shows how important improving subtitling provision is to deaf and hard of hearing people.

At the end the panellists each made closing statements on their views about the two-hour debate. Lord German talked about reducing the stigma of disability, getting more people back into work and understanding how universal health and social service policies are applied locally. Mark Harper said that it he had found it useful and he and had understood that the “reasonable adjustments” stated in the Equalities Act were not always working in practice. Kate Green, on the other hand, said that the government was increasingly making constraints on people with hearing loss, who needed to start using the language of their rights to address those constraints. She also said that she had gained useful insights about what really concerns people with hearing loss and that some of the questions weren’t what she was expecting beforehand.

Even though some people think that politicians often don’t give us the answers we want from them the audience asked some very important questions, which I thought were representative of the issues affecting deaf and hard of hearing people today. Highlighting those important issues raises awareness in itself, but I believe that this debate was a success and I found it really insightful and interesting.

I hope that there will be more debates like this in the future. I think that engaging with politicians and other decision-makers is essential in the run-up to the general election if we want to campaign for change and achieve better equality and inclusion in our society. Doing nothing is not an option.

Action on Hearing Loss Youtube video of the event:

The Ruling Class at the Trafalgar Studios: in a different class

Ruling Class blog_header

I first saw James McAvoy on the stage nearly two years ago in March 2013. He was playing the lead role in Macbeth at the Trafalgar Studios. It was Director Jamie Lloyd’s first season of his ‘Trafalgar Transformed’ seasons, with the second one on now. It was also the first time I had ever seen a play captioned by STAGETEXT to make it accessible to me, and it changed my life.

At the time, I had been progressively losing my hearing for over three years, which had left me very hard of hearing. I was struggling to hear anything and to be able to communicate with people, so it was a difficult time for me. When I saw my first captioned performance, it was a complete revelation to me. It opened up my eyes to the joys and wonders of seeing live accessible theatre. I could actually enjoy it on equal terms to everyone else in the audience.

James McAvoy was incredible in this raw, bloody production, giving a truly captivating performance as the powerful but flawed Macbeth. He ended up being destroyed by his own blood-thirsty ambition and tortured by his own guilt at the murders he’d committed in his relentless quest to be King. His gripping performance left a lasting impression on me.

Ruling Class blog_Macbeth

As soon as I found out that James McAvoy would be returning to star in Jamie Lloyd’s new production of The Ruling Class at the Trafalgar Studios, I knew I had to buy tickets to see it. I rushed down to the Box Office the same day and bought tickets for my wife and myself, along with some of my deaf and hard of hearing friends, to see the captioned performance.

When I arrived at the Trafalgar Studios last Monday night, the place was packed. I think the combination of the popularity and fame of James McAvoy and the fact that tickets are priced at only £15 every Monday night to appeal to a more diverse, younger crowd of theatregoers than the usual West End crowd, added to the busyness of the theatre.

Ruling Class blog_Richard + ticket

Right from the start, I was hooked. The opening scene was shocking, showing the accidental death of the pompous 13th Earl of Gurney in a bizarre sexually-motivated hanging scene, with him dressed in a ballet tutu and three-corner cocked hat. James McAvoy, as his son Jack, the 14th Earl of Gurney, then inherits his title and all his estate, but the problem is that he is a paranoid schizophrenic, who thinks he is Jesus Christ and has just spent the previous seven years in a psychiatric hospital.

McAvoy is brilliant as the psychotic, deluded Jack living in his fantasy world believing he is God. He rushes around the stage dressed in a white suit with a carnation, telling his horrified family that the is “The God of Love”, and when they ask how he knows he is God, he replies “When I pray to Him, I find I’m talking to myself”. He comes across as a flower-power hippy sort of God living in a trippy, psychedelic dream where everyone loves each other, and he even sleeps on a cross, which was in the middle of the stage. He seemed to have a magnetic presence on the stage, mixing boyish charm with weird, psychotic undertones.

Ruling Class blog_JC

The plot then focuses on his family scheming to have him sectioned so that they can take control of the family estate, but not before having him married off to the local floozy, who his uncle has had an affair with, so that he can produce an heir first. The whole thing is really surreal but very funny, in a very dark sort of way. The dialogue is crazy but very cleverly crafted too, mixing very old-fashioned, aristocratic language with weird gobble-de-gook that spurts out of McAvoy’s mouth when he is ranting psychotically, like verbal diarrhoea. At times the cast also spontaneously burst into song, singing away like they are in the middle of a pantomime. It was hilarious.

Ruling Class blog_Clare+ Shelly

Eventually, the young Jack goes from thinking he’s Jesus Christ to thinking he’s Jack the Ripper, with tragic consequences. McAvoy transforms himself from God-like and serene to the sneering, nasty, aristocratic Earl of Gurney/Jack the Ripper, who then manages to convince his family that he has become “normal” and been cured. He then takes his place in the House of Lords in a very macabre scene towards the end where the other Lords and judges there are shown as decrepit skeletons, covered in cobwebs.

Ruling Class blog_Jack The Ripper

I hadn’t heard of this play before but I found out that Peter Barnes wrote it in the 1960s. It was the era of the Profumo affair when the aristocracy and privileged elite ruled the country, with the class system being firmly entrenched. Barnes was mocking the class system and political hierarchy of the time, where the aristocracy believed they had a God-given right to rule the rest of us. I think that this has a lot of relevance to today’s society. We still live in an age where the super-rich, aristocrats and political elite class rule our society, and social inequality is greater than ever.

Ruling Class blog_McAvoy as King

The theme of the aristocratic ruling classes looking down upon the working classes is a constant theme running throughout the play. When Jack commits his first murder of Lady Claire, everyone immediately assumes that the murder was committed by his alcoholic, working class butler Daniel Tucker. Also, in an earlier scene, Jack’s uncle, Sir Charles Gurney, thinks nothing of getting his mistress with a broad Cockney accent Grace Shelley to pretend to be the Lady of the Camelias from the opera La Traviata, to con Jack into marrying her. But the artistocratic class is mocked constantly through this play too.

Ruling Class blog_butler

I thought that all the actors played their roles brilliantly, but James McAvoy stole the show with his magnetic presence on the stage. Well done to Alex, the captioner from STAGETEXT too for captioning such bizarre, difficult dialogue. The only problem was that the caption unit was placed high above the stage so it was difficult for us to keep looking down at the stage and back up to read the captions from where we were sitting, as we were seated quite low down. Also, there was a Q&A session with some of the cast and Jamie Lloyd afterwards but I didn’t stay for this as there was no live speech-to-text reporting provided. It would be better if this could be provided next time, if they are thinking of having another Q&A session on a captioned night.

Overall though, this was a great production. I really enjoyed it, and from the reaction from my wife and friends afterwards, so did they. It was surprising, shocking, funny and deliciously dark. It’s well worth seeing, if you haven’t already!

Ruling Class blog_McAvoy + Lloyd

Incloodu: A celebration of deaf creativity and talent

A couple of weeks ago I volunteered at the ‘Incloodu’ Deaf Arts Festival in Bethnal Green, London. I had been looking forward to this event for quite a long time and the Directors and organisers of it had been planning it for at least a year beforehand.

Incloodu blog_header

Incloodu was first held at the Rich Mix arts centre in 2013, so it was in its third year. It is one of the country’s biggest events celebrating deaf and hard of hearing culture, bringing together a diverse mix of artists, musicians, dancers, actors and comedians to perform on stage and run various workshops during the day.

The idea of this festival is to bring together and showcase the incredible creative, diverse talent within the deaf and hard of hearing community. It was a free, fun family-friendly event during the day and a ticket-only event for adults in the evening. It was also intended to be fully accessible and inclusive for everyone, whether deaf, deafened, hard of hearing or hearing, as there was captioning and live speech-to-text reporting done by STAGETEXT, as well as British Sign Language (BSL) interpreting and a voiceover.

I had promised to volunteer during the day so after an early start on the Saturday morning I arrived at Rich Mix at 9am ready to receive my volunteers’ briefing for the day. The other volunteers were a great bunch of people. I already knew a few of them quite well, so it was really good to catch up with them and I made some more new friends too. That’s one of the things that I like most about volunteering. You get to meet some great new people, who you work alongside, sharing laughs and ideas with. It also helps increase your confidence and makes you feel like you have a common purpose greater than yourself, which is to help and encourage others.

Incloodu blog_volunteers

The event started at 11am so after my initial briefing and making some final preparations I met and chatted to various members of the public as they arrived, showing them to their seats in the main hall and trying to make them feel welcome.

I made some new friends there and I also bumped into some old friends, like my first sign language teacher and some people I had met previously from the deaf community. Joanna my wife arrived, along with some other deaf and hard of hearing friends, who had arranged to meet each other there. It was great to see the place really busy and buzzing with people chatting and signing away with each other. There were quite a few families there too, who seemed to be having a really good time together.

One of my favourite performances on the main stage was by Handprint Theatre. They did a brilliant series of sketches, which were acted and signed in a very visual, creative way. They started off acting as office commuters travelling to work on a packed tube train. They were all dressed in suits, acting very reserved and trying to ignore each other while trying to read a magazine article over each other’s shoulders. This was so realistic as it reminded me of what travelling to work on the tube in rush-hour is like everyday.

Then they switched to acting out a scene in the office itself, with the workers trying not to get disturbed by the noise of other people’s loud conversations on the phone while they were working and people gossiping in the office. But the best scene was where it suddenly switched to the middle of a jungle where the workers were supposed to be on a team-building event. They were all dressed in safari gear, being harassed by mosquitos swirling around them and biting them, much to their annoyance.

Incloodu blog_Handprint
(photo by Lizzie Ward-Mclaughlan)

It then finished off as they all joined in singing to Katy Perry’s song ‘Roar’, while acting out the sounds and movements of lions roaring in the jungle. You had to be there to really appreciate it, as it was a very visual and expressive performance, which I think would appeal to deaf and hearing people alike, as you didn’t need any language to appreciate the humour. I really noticed the actors’ very funny facial expressions and exaggerated body movements.

Handprint also later did a workshop with children upstairs where they were getting them involved in acting out as lions and tigers. I think it’s great for children to get involved in these things as it teaches them to be expressive and creative, while also helping to build their confidence.

I also enjoyed Deafinitely Theatre’s BSL interpreted performance of a few scenes from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. This has always been one of my favourite Shakespeare plays and the young children and teenagers associated with this company acted it in a very modern way, bringing it right up-to-date. Again, it was a very visual performance, with the signing incorporated into the acting in a very natural way.

Incloodu_Deafinitely Theatre

My other highlight was the act ‘Deaf Men Dancing’. This involved two men dancing to music on stage, but they performed in a very visually expressive way, where the focus was on their body movements and interpretation of the music. This was against the backdrop of some very slick, stylish moving images on the big screens behind them, giving the impression of elegant movement and beautiful artwork. In fact, I was very impressed with the artwork and visual images flashing up onto the big screens around the stage the whole day. It looked like a very slick production, which was complemented by STAGETEXT’s live captioning and speech-to-text reporting.

Incloodu_Deaf Men Dancing
(photo by Lizzie Ward-Mclaughlan)

Unfortunately, I didn’t stay for the evening’s entertainment as I had to be somewhere else but I understood from my friends who watched it that there was a really good mixture of comedy, music from a drum band and poetry recital by a deaf poet, amongst other things. They said they had had a really good time and didn’t get home until the early hours, so they must have enjoyed themselves.

This was a really good arts event. Well done to the Directors Mark, Ruby, Amanda and everyone involved at Incloodu, including all the fabulous volunteers and people working at Rich Mix. They all helped make it such a fun, inclusive event and a great success. I’m already looking forward to next year’s Incloodu!

Inclood blog_Directors
(photo by Amanda-Jane Richards)