The Twelve Days of Christmas at the Chickenshed: a magical, inclusive adventure

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I never imagined that the Twelve Days of Christmas carol could take on a whole new meaning until I saw the Chickenshed theatre company’s performance of it in North London last week.

I went with a group of friends to the Chickenshed to see this captioned and BSL interpreted Christmas play. The storyline focuses on four children’s quest to find the fifth gold ring in the Twelve Days of Christmas carol, and during their journey, they come across all the characters from the carol in various scenes, such as two turtle doves and three French hens, in a crazy Alice in Wonderland type of adventure.

The performance was so colourful and surreal that at times I felt like I was in the middle of a gigantic bizarre Acid trip. The sheer energy and powerful emotion shown by the actors on stage and their huge supporting cast was electrifying and thrilling to watch.

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The set was also highly creative and magical. It was designed like a giant Willy Wonka-type slot machine, with the different numbers for the Twelve Days of Christmas flashing up to let the audience know when we had reached a specific number from the Twelve Days of Christmas.

This was definitely a unique production with a twist. None of the characters in the carol were how I remembered them or imagined them to be. For instance, the two male French hens spoke English with a French accent and confessed that they couldn’t speak French. The ’eleven pipers piping’ were shown as eleven plumbers dressed in boiler suits fixing the pipes in someone’s bathroom while he sat in his bathtub. Hilarious!

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I loved the crazy singing and dancing too. In one scene there was a ‘Strictly Formation Dancing’ ballroom dancing contest going on where the contestants were all amateurs and none of them could dance very well, so it all looked messy and chaotic, but very funny. Other scenes had circus acrobats, beautiful singing and fast, energetic dancing as the cast threw themselves across the stage.

What the Chickenshed really excels in though and makes them truly unique, is their totally diverse and inclusive ethos, which came across in bucket-loads in this production. Careful planning and attention to detail ensures that everyone in the audience and cast are included and made to feel part of their unique community.

They have a cast of more than 800 people in four different rotas, which includes children and adults of all ages, disabilities and ethnic backgrounds. No-one is excluded. In some scenes I saw about a hundred children, teenagers and adults crammed onto the stage. They all looked like they were having a great time. It was brilliant to watch and feel part of it.

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As well as being captioned in-house by the excellent captioner Beverley, there were two BSL interpreters on stage the whole time, who integrated their signing fully into the performance and interacted with the actors to tell the story in an effortless, seamless way. Their signing was beautiful to watch and because it is such a visual language, it added something extra to the performance, as well as making it totally accessible to the deaf people in the audience.

The show built up to a fabulous, show-stopper of a finale involving all the members of the cast on stage singing and dancing along to the lyrics of the Twelve Days of Christmas carol. The Rayne theatre, which was packed that night, was rocking as the audience clapped along to the lyrics of the song with the cast. At the end the entire cast were signing the words ‘A Partridge in a Pear Tree’ and as I looked around me, I saw children and families in the audience copying them and signing the lyrics. It was a heartwarming experience.

As I left the theatre that night, I had the lyrics ‘And a partridge, a partridge, a partridge in a pear tree’ ringing in my ears. Like a constant earworm that refused to go away, I had that tune ringing in my ears for days afterwards. That carol will never sound the same again.

Merry Christmas everyone!

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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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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why the Human Rights Act matters to all of us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They concluded that the proposals do not stack up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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

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)