Wine tasting and fundraising: a perfect combination!

When I first found out about a wine tasting event for Action on Hearing Loss, I immediately thought this was my kind of event! I don’t claim to be any sort of wine expert, apart from enjoying drinking it, but finally here was a fundraising event that even I could manage.

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My usual experience of wine is buying whatever is on offer at my local supermarket, which is invariably hit and miss! I also liked the fact that this event wouldn’t involve me having to spend months training to run a marathon like my wife or having to climb up Mount Kilimanjaro. All I had to do was turn up, donate and enjoy a fun evening of drinking fine wine with great company. Right up my street!

So last Thursday evening I went along with my wife Joanna to the event in a wine bar in the beautiful, historic Leadenhall Market in the City. When we arrived there were quite a few people there I knew and it seemed a friendly, mixed group. There was also a BSL interpreter there to make it fully accessible for deaf people, and she was brilliant.

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After a welcoming glass of Prosecco, Neil, who was taking us through our wine tasting journey, introduced himself and started to talk to us about the first wine. Over the course of the evening, we tasted lots of white wines from different wine grape varieties, followed by lots of different red wines. He talked us through the history and descriptions of each one and its country of origin.

Thankfully, he told us we were supposed to throw out what was left of each wine in our glass before we moved onto the next one, as it was getting difficult to keep up!

Neil told me afterwards that he had worked in the wine trade for many years and had a real passion for wine, which had taken him to many interesting places around the world. He was involved in fundraising for deaf children through the NDCS but he wanted to fundraise for adults and share his passion and knowledge about wine with other people, while having a fun evening, at the same time. He approached Action on Hearing Loss about his idea of having a fundraising wine tasting event for them, and was delighted that they were really enthusiastic about it too. So that’s how the idea started.

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Neil also wanted to bring a group of people together without any barriers to enjoyment. He wanted it to be a fun, fully inclusive event. Anyone can enjoy wine tasting regardless as you don’t need to have your hearing to appreciate the tastes, smells and textures of the different wine varieties. The most important senses you need for it are those of taste and smell.

Many of us were also surprised at how much we enjoyed wines that we had dismissed before, perhaps due to our own prejudices about them or previous bad experiences of them. Neil had chosen the wine selection very well, I thought, and I was amazed to find that I enjoyed tasting most of them.

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I was particularly surprised how much I enjoyed the taste of the German Riesling. I had images of my parents drinking cheap Riesling wine in the 1970s, accompanied by an Abba soundtrack and flared trousers. Very retro! I remember the taste being particularly sweet and cloying, but the Riesling we tasted last week was crisp, dry and very drinkable.

I thought that Neil’s descriptions of the different tastes of the wine were really good too and they showed the complexity and depth of the flavours and colours of the different wines. I have never really got it when a wine expert talks about a wine tasting of damsons, plums or blackberries before but when he described it, I felt I really could start to appreciate the flavours.

I was also surprised to find out that I had enjoyed the Romanian wine, which I thought I would not like at all. Neil said that Romania was one of the biggest wine producing countries in Europe, which I had no idea about, and the wine we tasted was really subtle and pleasant.

It was great to chat to some really nice people in a friendly, relaxed atmosphere that night. Well done to Neil and Maddy from Action on Hearing Loss for putting in the hard work to organise such a great, fun event while raising money for the charity too. I hope there will be more events like this in the future!

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Time to act now on hearing loss

I felt honoured to be invited to the launch of Action on Hearing Loss’s ‘Hearing Matters’ report recently at the House of Commons. It was launched at a cross-party reception for MPs hosted by the MP Lillian Greenwood, a strong supporter of Action on Hearing Loss and advocate of their ‘SubtitleIt!’ campaign.

Lilian Greenwood

It was great to meet other deaf and hard of hearing people there who I have connected with on social media and who share a passion for campaigning on important issues affecting our lives such as improving the provision and access of subtitled video-on demand and catch-up TV services and trying to reverse NHS hearing aid cuts. It was also great to meet Lilian Greenwood and have a really good chat to the Labour MP Steve McCabe.

There are still so many barriers to access for deaf and hard of hearing people to lots of different areas in society, as well as employment and education and continued discrimination. We need to keep raising awareness of these issues among the wider public and campaign to improve them if we are to make a difference and strive for equality and inclusion in society.

The ‘Hearing Matters’ report is an important report, which covers lots of different areas related to hearing loss. It highlights the fact that by 2035 there will be one in five of us living with some form of hearing loss compared to one in six now.

Steve McCabe

They highlight how important it is, therefore, for our national government to work together with local authorities to implement local, community-based action plans to support people living with hearing loss.

I think it is wonderful that deaf and hard of hearing people from around the country have come together and got involved in Action on Hearing Loss’s recent campaigns, such as the ‘SubtitleIt!’ campaign and the campaign against NHS hearing aid cuts in North Staffordshire. It is amazing what we can all achieve together when we feel passionate about a common cause and empowered to do something about it.

Action on Hearing Loss is also involved in carrying out lots of medical research on hearing loss and tinnitus. I am particularly interested in what they are doing with the cochlear implant manufacturer AB to improve cochlear implant technology. From my personal perspective as a deafened adult, I feel incredibly lucky to have received a cochlear implant last year. It has been truly life-changing for me!

Without it, I would not be able to communicate with my family and friends like I can now. It has also given me the confidence to find work and do the job I’m doing now, which I feel really passionate about.

As our society ages, the problem of age-related hearing loss among the over 65s will only get worse and we need to take action and address it now before it is too late. We need to have more health screening programmes for the over 65s. We also need to think in a holistic way about how we can provide more community-based projects to support people living with hearing loss.

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For instance, I work on the ‘Hear to Help’ service in my local Borough of Redbridge, run by Action on Hearing Loss. We support people living with hearing loss in my local community by showing them, their carers and family members how to maintain and care for their NHS hearing aids and how to communicate effectively with someone with a hearing loss.

I used to be a volunteer on this service for over four years before I was employed by them and I have seen the numbers of people we see grow over those years. It is still mainly run by trained volunteers, many of whom are hearing aid users themselves. As well as running regular drop-in hearing aid clinics, we also visit people in their homes, care homes and hospitals in the community.

Many older people suffering from hearing loss feel vulnerable and socially isolated. They find the support we give them invaluable. We help them get better use out of their hearing aids when they may be reluctant to wear them because they are not used to them or they don’t know how to maintain them.

We often see the same clients coming back to us regularly and telling us how much better they feel since we have helped them with their hearing aid problems.

Most of the clients we see have moderate hearing loss and before they had their hearing aids, they were struggling to communicate with their family and friends and felt reluctant to leave the house and socialise with other people as they felt isolated and vulnerable, missing out on everyday conversations. I can see how much they have improved and gained in confidence after accessing our ‘Hear to Help’ clinics.

This is why it is so important that older people living with hearing loss feel supported in their local community and are not denied the basic hearing aids they need on the NHS. North Staffordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) has become the first CCG in the country to stop providing hearing aids to most people. Under the CCG’s new policy, people with mild hearing loss will no longer receive hearing aids and people with moderate hearing loss will have to pass an eligibility test to get them. Four other CCGs are proposing to follow in the steps of North Staffordshire, meaning the cuts could affect over 145,000 people.

Kate Green

These people have paid their national insurance all their lives and it is cruel that they are denied access to hearing aids when they really need them, which results in them being cut-off from their friends and family and excluded from society.

It is a very short-sighted approach, aimed at saving paltry amounts of money, but over the long-term it will end up costing our already overstretched NHS much more as a result of increased mental and physical health problems brought on by their untreated hearing loss, resulting in reduced wellbeing and a lower quality of life.

I really hope that more people read this important report and share it widely. We all need to take more action to improve equality and inclusion for deaf and hard of hearing people in our society.

Instead of cuts to funding and NHS hearing aid provision, we need more community-based support services and holistic approaches to stop more problems building up in the future as a result of not planning properly for our rapidly ageing population and adopting short-term thinking.

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Link to Action on Hearing Loss ‘Hearing Matters’ report:

http://www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk/supporting-you/policy-research-and-influencing/research/hearing-matters.aspx

 

Latitude 2015: much more than music!

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The last music festival I went to was Glastonbury in 1997. I went camping with a group of friends and despite being covered in mud and not being able to have a shower all weekend, we had a fantastic time.

I was a lot younger then with a lot less responsibility and a bit more stupid! I’ll never forget my excitement at watching Radiohead and The Prodigy playing live to thousands of people and having a really great time.

But after I lost my hearing a few years ago, I couldn’t see any point in going to a festival anymore. I thought that if I can’t hear the music, it would never be the same again. I still had the memories of the bands and songs I loved in my head though even if I couldn’t hear them anymore.

Since I had my cochlear implant operation a year ago, I was wondering what it would be like to go to a festival and hear live music again. A friend of mine, Carole, then told me about Latitude Festival in Suffolk, which was held every July. She also told me that she would be involved in working with the BSL access at the event.

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The festival was made accessible for deaf and disabled people by the organisers, Festival Republic. Also a charity called ‘Attitude Is Everything’ were involved in making the festival accessible and inclusive.

As well as access rate tickets, there was an accessible camping area and volunteers there to support disabled people when needed, providing information and recharging points for mobile phones, cochlear implant batteries and wheelchairs. There were also accessible viewing platforms provided for disabled people and their PAs/carers to watch the performances.

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So, I decided to go there with my wife Joanna. It had been a long time since either of us had camped and we didn’t know what to expect. But we were well looked after right from the minute we arrived, with an accessible check-in area and disabled parking close to the camping area. Two friendly volunteers even carried our stuff for us and put our tents up!

Latitude Festival is set in the stunning Suffolk countryside with a beautiful lake, acres of wild woods and open fields with sheep painted bright pink especially for the festival! It is a much smaller festival than Glastonbury and it had a very creative, colourful vibe to it, with lots of different stages, bars and tents spread around the whole site, which took on a magical appearance at night.

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There was also a huge diversity of music, literature and performance art on offer. It had a really wacky, unpredictable feel to it. We often stumbled upon some really random, crazy stuff going on in the woods or by the lake. I loved it!

Some of the musical performances and comedy acts were interpreted into BSL. I saw a BSL interpreted performance of a live band playing on my first night, which was good, although I think it would have been better if the interpreter had been allowed on the main stage instead of on the viewing platform in the middle of the field. I also wish that there had been more BSL interpreted performances as they seemed to be quite limited.

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I enjoyed listening to the writer Hanif Kureishi reading out one of his entertaining short stories in the Literature tent, followed by a Q&A session with the audience there about creative writing. I have always enjoyed his novels and films ‘The Buddha of Suburbia’ and ‘My Beautiful Launderette’. The tent was packed with people but I was really disappointed to discover that the hearing loop there was not working so I had to rely on my cochlear implant. I managed to catch the gist of what he was saying but had to ask my wife to fill in the gaps.

It was also a shame that there was no speech-to-text reporting or captioning provided at Latitude at all for deaf and hard of hearing people. I think a talk like this and some of the live comedy shows would have been much more accessible with speech-to-text reporting, so I hope STAGETEXT will consider providing this access next year.

I was really looking forward to seeing The Charlatans, one of my all-time favourite Manchester bands. Well they definitely didn’t disappoint! I watched them from the viewing platform in the BBC Radio 6 music tent and they were fantastic. They played all their old songs and sounded just like I remembered them from twenty years ago!

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It was great to be amongst lots of disabled people in wheelchairs or mobility scooters all letting their hair down and enjoying themselves with their families, friends and PAs on the viewing platform.

My other musical highlight was watching The Vaccines play live on the Saturday night. This is a fairly new band I’d never heard before but they were fantastic! The atmosphere was electric in the music tent with the lead singer throwing himself frenetically around the stage and into the audience at one point. I could feel the energy and intensity of the band’s performance, as well as sense the vibrations of the drums and guitars from the viewing platform.

Latitude blog_The Vaccines

One of the best things about the weekend for me was meeting lots of disabled people there, who were just enjoying themselves without having to worry about barriers to access or discriminatory attitudes from some other people. I met a great bunch of people and hope to keep in contact with some of them.

I was so glad I decided to go to another festival again after all these years. Latitude was brilliant! I don’t think I would have gone without the great access and support provided there though. The diversity and inclusion was great. I’m already looking forward to going back next year and will hopefully bring some more deaf friends with me too!

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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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Total communication in action at Windsor Castle

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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.

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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.

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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.

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(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.

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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.

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(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!

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(photo by Amanda-Jane Richards)

Information Age at the Science Museum: The Web Brings Freedom and Equality to Deaf People

Last October I was invited to the opening of the new ‘Information Age’ exhibition at the Science Museum in London. I felt really honoured to be part of this event, which was opened by Her Majesty the Queen, who sent her first ever tweet. It was the culmination of a project I had been involved in lasting several months, with a group of hard of hearing people working with the Science Museum.

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The project’s aim was to help the Science Museum tell the stories of how the World Wide Web has changed the lives of hard of hearing people. We worked together on this project, sharing our ideas about how the Internet has transformed our lives, making it much easier for us to communicate with others on an equal basis, find out and share information and socialise with other people. You can find out more about the project here.

http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/visitmuseum/Plan_your_visit/exhibitions/information_age/participants/web-hearing-project.aspx

The Internet has really opened up the world to many deaf and hard of hearing people. It makes you feel part of a wider online community and support network. I know it really helped me to be able to communicate with other people and seek deaf peer support when I became deafened a few years ago and I felt very isolated.

Some members of this group made short films about how the Internet has had a massive impact on them and changed their lives. These films are now being shown at the exhibition in the Science Museum, as part of an interactive digital screen display, which is captioned and interpreted into BSL. I worked with my friend Andrew on one of the videos shown at the exhibition.

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In it, Andrew, who is hard of hearing, describes how without access to the web, there are huge barriers to communication for him. Asking directions for him, when he is in an unfamiliar area, is a nerve-wracking experience, as, like most deaf and hard of hearing people, he finds it difficult to follow what other people are saying. He describes how it is so much easier for him to search for directions and maps on his smartphone, and to arrange to meet up with people for a drink or to watch the football in a pub, for instance, through instant messaging and texting.

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It reminds me of when I wanted to watch my football team Manchester City play in the FA Cup Final a few years ago. At that time I didn’t want to go out or socialise with anyone apart from my wife and immediate family because I found it too difficult to follow and communicate with anyone, so it was much less frustrating for me to stay at home. But it would be the first time that City had been in the FA Cup final for thirty-five years, so I really didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity of finally seeing my team playing in the Cup Final at Wembley. In the end I was lucky to get my ticket from a friend online and I arranged to meet my friends and family there through social media. It would have been impossible for me to make the arrangements without the web and in the end Manchester City beat Stoke 1-0, which was fantastic! I had a really great day, even though I could hear very little.

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In another video we see Ruby, who is hard of hearing, using Skype to speak to her friends and family. “The web has changed my life, by making me feel equal to everyone”, she says. I think that communicating on equal terms to everyone else is one of the most important and powerful aspects of the web for deaf and hard of hearing people.

In her video Lidia expands on this idea of the web bringing the deaf and hard of hearing community together and empowering them. She describes how empowering it is to get the information you need from the web. “Being given the information you need empowers you in some ways and gives you the chance to take charge of your life”, she explains.

I went back to see the ‘Information Age’ exhibition with my wife last week. It celebrates 200 years of innovation in communication and information technologies and it is divided into six zones, each representing a different information and communication technology network: The Cable, The Telephone Exchange, Broadcast, The Constellation, The Cell and The Web.

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The whole exhibition is completely accessible to deaf and hard of hearing people and in each zone, there are lots of interactive videos, which are captioned and interpreted on screen into BSL. There are also very clear hearing loops throughout the exhibition. The videos explain the stories behind these groundbreaking historic technical inventions and new communication media.

We spent a couple of hours wandering around the exhibition. It was absolutely fascinating and well worth a visit. Some of my highlights were looking at the first telephone inventions, some of the very first radios and TV sets of the 1940s and 1950s, the first computers and mobile phones right up to the present day with social media and the latest smartphones.

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Some of it makes me feel really old! I can remember having a BBC computer in the 1980s, which was state-of-the-art at the time but now looks almost like an antique. I can also remember having a ‘121’ mobile phone in the early 1990s, which now looks like a brick compared to the compact smartphone I have today.

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One section had the original NeXT computer, which was developed by Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple Computers. It showed the original Internet interface from 1990. The display described how British man Tim Berners Lee, who worked at CERN in Switzerland, invented the idea of a ‘WorldWideWeb’ a year earlier in 1989 as a global information management system for CERN. He described a ‘web’ of ‘hypertext documents that could be viewed by browsers. It is incredible how much and how rapidly the web has developed since those early days.

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I also found it fascinating to discover the story of Alexander Graham Bell there, who invented the telephone, and learn about his connection to the deaf community. He was born in Edinburgh in 1847. His mother was profoundly deaf, so he learned to communicate with her through basic sign language. His mother’s deafness led him to become preoccupied with studying acoustics and the idea of transmitting speech by turning electricity into sound.

Later, he moved with his family to the US where he became a teacher at a Deaf school in Boston. There he met a profoundly Deaf student called Mabel Hubbard, who later became his wife. In 1875 after researching and studying the physics of sound technology and transmitting speech he invented a simple receiver for turning electricity into sound.

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A year later, in 1876, he set up the Bell Telephone Co and his device was patented. It became the first satisfactory working telephone and it quickly became a common sight in households across America. Despite this, he considered his most famous invention an intrusion on his real work as a scientist and teacher of the Deaf. He even refused to have a telephone in his own study. I didn’t know his story before and how he invented the telephone as a direct result of his lifelong research into hearing and speech because of his wife and mother’s deafness.

This exhibition makes you realise how much information technology and communication has moved on in the last two hundred years. In fact, it has only been in the last twenty to twenty-five years that digital technology, such as the Internet, social media and mobile phones, has had such a massive impact on our lives. It has been a real game-changer in terms of giving deaf and hard of hearing people the opportunity to communicate with others on an equal basis, giving us a voice and breaking down the barriers to inclusion in our society. Who knows what the next twenty years will bring?

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