My Discovery of Access and Human Rights

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I never really thought about human rights issues or equality before I lost my hearing. I didn’t think these issues affected me personally. My life then revolved around making money, watching football, going to the pub and socialising with my friends and family.

But then I lost most of my hearing and my whole life changed. I suddenly saw things from a different perspective, and many things that I took for granted no longer seemed accessible to me. It wasn’t just the obvious things, like not being able to make a simple phone call anymore, but also things that never would have occurred to me such as not being able to go to the cinema or theatre spontaneously anymore and not being able to go to hospital appointments on my own without taking someone with me. Without them I couldn’t understand what the doctors were saying to me and most of the staff there didn’t have any deaf awareness. Daily problems accessing public services have caused me real stress and frustration.

Through my voluntary work in my local community I became interested in learning more about social care. I did a course in Health & Social Care at the City Lit in London, which was excellent. It was so refreshing because of the good access, which is so important. They provided me with two electronic note-takers in the class to help me follow it and gave me the access I needed. The tutor Rebecca and the electronic note-takers Fiona and Anita were very supportive.  This is an example of equality and inclusion done at its best and I felt equal to the other students in the class.

On the course I learned about equality legislation in social care, which was directly related to my voluntary work. It really opened my eyes to how important it is to understand how equality and access affect our everyday lives. It is also about respecting other people’s values and rights, and how diversity and tolerance of other people’s differences are essential to a better functioning society.

It led me to thinking more about our basic human rights and how they affect us all, so I wanted to learn more. I saw on Twitter that there was a one-day introductory workshop last week on human rights run by the British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR). My wife called them up to ask about arrangements for communication support for me and they told her that they would arrange an electronic note-taker to support me. I was delighted to hear this and really excited about doing the workshop, as I wouldn’t have been able to do it without this support.

There was a mixture of people on the workshop from different backgrounds, but I was the only deaf person there. It was really interesting to learn about what human rights are, how they are the building blocks of a healthy democracy, what the legislation on human rights is about and how it is enforced on governments, which abuse their powers and deny people their basic human rights throughout the world.

I learned about the evolution of Human Rights legislation since its introduction after the Second World War, how it is applied in practice and how it affects all of us in our everyday lives. It was fascinating to learn about a subject which is so fundamental to our everyday lives, but which I knew very little about before.

I learned that human rights are universal protections for everyone and serve as a safety net for us all. In the UK we are protected by 16 fundamental rights in the Human Rights Act, which cover many different aspects of our lives. Human rights relate to the relationship between the State and individuals. Our society hands power to the government to make decisions for us and human rights are there for when it goes wrong, as it has done many times in history, such as during the Holocaust, and even now with the terrible situation going on in Syria.

One of the most interesting things I learned was that the Human Rights Act relates to all levels of government and public services provided, for instance the police force, local government, the courts and the NHS, as well as voluntary and community sector organisations. The situation becomes complex when private organisations provide a public service, for instance when a local authority hands over the operating of a care home to a private company or a charity or a voluntary organisation provides a public service. The net has been spread wide in the Human Rights Act so that any body or organisation, which delivers public services, is included in it.

The Human Rights Act is meant to act as a floor for basic human rights and freedoms, but it works in conjunction with other UK legislation, which is more detailed and specific, such as the Equality Act 2010, which includes legislation on disability discrimination, and the duty to make reasonable adjustments where a disabled person is put at a substantial disadvantage. All these laws are meant to be compatible with each other and work alongside each other.

I was so glad I did this workshop. The communication support provided by Simon, my electronic note-taker, and the BIHR, made it fully accessible to me so that I felt included and equal to the other people in the class. It made me realise that all too often there are instances where both public and private organisations are not taking their duties and responsibilities towards deaf and disabled people seriously and not providing us with the proper access to services that we need. In some cases they are actually breaching people’s human rights, such as the right to be treated with dignity.

I intend to do more accessible courses and workshops like the ones run by the BIHR. I want to learn more about how equality and human rights issues affect us all. This is particularly relevant to people with a hearing loss, as with any disability. I’d like to see more deaf and hard of hearing people attend these courses with good communication support. You learn a lot from them and they make you feel much more empowered and aware of your access and equality rights in an inclusive society. 

You can find out more about the British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR) and their training courses via their website http://www.bihr.org.uk and follow them on Twitter via @BIHRhumanrights

 

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Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom: Access and Equality at the Cinema

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I really wanted to go and see the new film about Nelson Mandela called ‘Nelson Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom’ ever since I first heard about it a few weeks ago. But it proved to be a real challenge trying to find a subtitled show of it that my wife and I could go and see together this weekend.

Last week I looked on the website http://www.yourlocalcinema.com and saw that most of the shows in London were on weekdays at inconvenient times during the day when we wouldn’t be able to attend, especially as my wife works full-time. In fact, there was only one cinema in London with a subtitled show at the weekend, which was on a Sunday lunchtime at the Cineworld multiplex in Enfield.

I was really disappointed that we wouldn’t be able to watch it at our local multiplex, the Vue cinema at Westfield Stratford, and that I would have to drive for half an hour to Enfield, as it is not accessible on the tube. When I was hearing I could just go and see a film whenever I wanted to and it didn’t require so much effort planning it a week in advance because I wasn’t restricted to only one show a week.

I think it’s ironic that I couldn’t see it at the new big multiplex in Stratford because they only show two subtitled films a week there. This is the home of the Olympics and the Paralympics, where in 2012 millions of people across the world came together and saw how our society was changing into a much more equal and inclusive society to people with a disability.

Now that my choice of watching accessible, subtitled films is so limited, even in a major capital city like London, this makes me even more aware of my hearing loss. If I had the same choices and opportunities to watch an accessible film at the cinema as everyone else, this would make me feel equal and included, whereas now I don’t feel like I am treated equally.

Deaf and hard of hearing people in this country have a really raw deal when it comes to accessibility at the cinema. There should be a greater choice of subtitled films at reasonable times in the evenings and at the weekends.

According to http://www.yourlocalcinema.com, less than 1% of films shown at the cinema are subtitled. They state that there is not a huge audience for subtitled films and that cinema operators need to consider the wishes of all their audience, with some members of the audience finding the subtitles inconvenient. Cinema operators argue that there is just not enough demand for subtitled films and therefore they are unprofitable.

I believe that there is demand for subtitled films at the cinema from deaf and hard of hearing people, who are all paying customers. According to the charity Action on Hearing Loss, 1 in 6 people in the UK currently have a hearing loss, meaning that there are an estimated 10 million people who are deaf or hard of hearing. If we take a conservative assumption that say 50% of these people would like to go to the cinema if it was accessible to them, that is still an audience of 5 million potential paying customers who would watch subtitled films. With the ageing of the population, there is potential for this number to increase much further.

Instead of only 1% of films shown in the cinema being subtitled, I think this should be increased to 10%. I am sure that if there were a greater choice of subtitled films shown at more convenient times, more deaf and hard of hearing people would go there more often.

Going to the cinema is not cheap, particularly in Central London, so the cost of the ticket may be another barrier to many people. Perhaps the cinema operators could consider introducing special ‘access’ tickets at reduced rates to attract more people, like the theatres do for deaf and hard of hearing people attending captioned performances, which are very popular.

Becoming a member of a film group such as the Subtitled Cinema Group London or forming your own subtitled group, is another good way to secure tickets to see subtitled films at reduced rates. Recently, I went to see the film ‘Gravity’ at a cinema in Soho with this big group and it was a great sociable gathering where I met new people. I also think people should contact cinema managers directly to ask for more subtitled films at their local cinemas. I’d also recommend using Facebook and Twitter to contact cinema groups directly to ask for better access, as I find using social media like this is very effective.

However, there are plenty of other arguments given by cinema operators about why there is not enough demand for subtitled cinema, which are not directly related to profits. They say that the majority of deaf and hard of hearing people don’t need a film to be subtitled because having a hearing loop is a reasonable adjustment to provide access to them. I think that it depends on your level of hearing loss. They are not suitable for people with a severe to profound hearing loss.

Also, I found that when my hearing was better and I could use a hearing loop, the sound quality of the loop varied greatly from cinema to cinema and the volume of the soundtrack often fluctuated up and down, which I found really frustrating. I think hearing loops can be great if they are working properly and you only have a moderate hearing loss, but they didn’t work well for me personally. Subtitling is much better because it is universal and is accessible to people with all levels of hearing loss.

Another argument against subtitling is that in the future with new technology, there will be no need for open captions on the screen because people will be able to wear personal subtitled glasses, which will show the subtitles inside the individual wearer’s glasses. This means that the person wearing them will be able to see any film at any time with their own personal subtitles. I participated in a recent trial of these glasses at a cinema showing and personally, I did not like them. I found them heavy and irritating. I much prefer to watch a film with subtitles on the screen, which I find easier to watch. I would also feel really self-conscious wearing these glasses in the cinema. Maybe the technology will improve in the future and they will become lighter and easier to wear, but I didn’t like them. I also don’t think they would work if the user had a visual impairment too.

I really enjoyed the film today. It was one of the best films I’ve seen in a long time. The cinema screen was quite busy, despite the fact that the film was shown on a Sunday lunchtime and it was subtitled. The audience seemed to mainly consist of hearing people and young people. I don’t think anyone was distracted by the subtitles or found them inconvenient.

It was a really powerful and very moving account of Nelson Mandela’s struggle for equality and freedom against the backdrop of a repressive, apartheid regime in South Africa. It is so hard for a film to do justice to the life of Nelson Mandela but it got close and the actor Idris Elba played him excellently. It also showed the very human, vulnerable side of his character and how much fighting for the freedom and equality of his people cost him in terms of losing 27 years of his life in prison and the effect this had on his wife and not seeing his family grow up.

I find it such an enjoyable, sociable experience to go to the cinema with your friends and family and such a shame that I cannot go more often or more spontaneously like I used to. I would like to see large deaf-related charities campaign for better access to subtitled films at the cinema for deaf and hard of hearing people, and cinema operators championing equality and inclusion at their cinemas for anyone with a hearing loss, as with any disability. I also think cinemas should promote accessibility more. I would welcome your views and ideas on this and how we can campaign for better access.

In the words of Nelson Mandela himself “Social equality is the only basis of human happiness”.