Tag Archives: deaf awareness

Poor accessibility can lead to isolation, but this theatre company is changing that

Pippa works on Scope’s online community and is also an accessible theatre blogger. The festive season seems to be filled with activities but when they aren’t accessible, disabled people and families are often left out. This can be very isolating. For our What I Need to Say campaign, Pippa spoke to Erin, whose company DH Ensemble is leading the way in accessible theatre.  

Going to the theatre is an experience enjoyed and cherished by many families, especially during the festive season. However, like many other activities, theatres and shows often fail to be wholly inclusive of disabled people.

Although the accessibility of venues is improving, content isn’t always suitable for people with specific disabilities. However, one theatrical company with inclusivity at its heart is The DH Ensemble (previously called The Deaf & Hearing Ensemble). I talked to Erin Siobhan Hutchings about their new show.

Based on Erin’s own experiences of growing up with her deaf sister, ‘People of the Eye’ features Deaf and hearing cast members and uses stunning visuals to create an immersive experience for all.

Accessibility is a forethought, not an afterthought

Accessibility is built into the aesthetic, so deaf and hearing audiences can enjoy the show on an equal basis. For example, we use integrated sign-language as well as creative captioning, so whether you’re relying on that to access a performance or not, it brings so much more to your understanding of the world and the characters. I think that makes the work so much more interesting. It adds layers to the narrative and the way that you tell the story and connect with the audience.

Whilst the show was primarily designed with D/deaf and hearing audiences in mind, we also strive to ensure that venues where the show are performed are wheelchair-accessible. The production team also take precautions to ensure that audiences are aware of the visual effects beforehand, by sending out resources including descriptions of lighting effects and images of the projections used to those who request them.

Two women on a stage in front of the words '2 player mode'

Being excluded can be really isolating

The story is about myself and my sister growing up but it could easily be replaced with many other disabled people’s stories. The crux of the story is about families, relationships and isolation, and how important it is that we accept each other.

Deafness isn’t necessarily a disability that cuts you off physically or intellectually, but it’s isolation that can really affect people who have hearing loss. It’s that inability to communicate in a social situation that can be really isolating and that’s something that I noticed with my sister growing up.

We’ve tried to really show that in a way that puts the audience in that position, so some feedback we’ve had from audience members is that maybe a hearing person might not understand everything that happens in the play but that’s an important experience for them to have, they get some insight into that feeling of isolation themselves.

What I would really like people to take away is a little bit of empathy about the way that other people live their lives, and some idea about isolation and communication and how important that is. Then hopefully they’ll take that out with them into the world and influence the other spaces they go into.

Making theatre more accessible

It’s important that we’re all realistic about the diverse world that we live in. We’re a co-led deaf and hearing company and we strive to maintain that.

People understand that it may not be possible to make every single show accessible for everybody, but if you’re open to discovering what can make your work accessible, that’s a start. It’s better to ask people who really live the experience and get their feedback. I went to an interesting discussion with deaf and disabled artists recently where this was addressed.

Accessibility shouldn’t just be a tick-box exercise – put on a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreted show and do one relaxed performance and that’s it. That’s not really exploring the depth of how we can make sure our theatrical environment and all aspects of our society are welcoming for everybody, and that people can feel equal to everybody else.

As accessible theatre continues to slowly improve, it is the innovative work of companies such as The DH Ensemble that are really making strides in helping to address isolation and ensure that theatre really is becoming more inclusive for all.

The DH Ensemble is led by Jennifer K. Bates, Stephen Collins, Sophie Stone and Erin Siobhan Hutching. You can see People of the Eye in 2018:

  • 23 March Harlow Playhouse
  • 26 March Arlington Arts Centre
  • 7 April Nottingham Playhouse

Find out more about DH Ensemble and People of the Eye and get involved with our What I Need to Say Campaign.

Setting up a disability community gave me a sense of belonging – Sam

30 under 30 logo

This story is part of 30 Under 30.

 

Sam is a student at Oxford and a Scope for Change campaigner. She is the current President of Oxford Students’ Disability Community and a founding member.

As part of 30 Under 30, Sam talks about the difficulties she faced when she started university, feeling isolated and how setting up a disability community changed things. 

For as long as I can recall, I’ve had a hearing loss. I remember my mum telling my teacher on the first day of school that I couldn’t hear well, and I got my first pair of hearing aids when I was 7. Despite my hearing loss I’ve always been in mainstream education, and coped pretty well. I never had any trouble with the work, made friends easily, and my hearing loss was largely an afterthought. This changed drastically when I left for university.

For the first time I began to think of myself as disabled

The switch from a small classroom environment was jarring, and I found I couldn’t hear at all in lectures. At school I’d been taught by the same teachers for years, but at university I had new tutors every term and not all of them understood my hearing loss. The majority of socialising took place in pubs, bars, or at dinner with the rest of my year group – I had a great group of friends, but spent most of our time together desperately trying to pick out their lost words from a solid wall of sound.

I didn’t know how to ask for help, and I felt like I was the only person struggling. At the same time my hearing began to deteriorate faster than it had ever done before, and at the end of my second year I found out I was now profoundly deaf. For the first time I began to think of myself as disabled.

I was becoming increasingly isolated

I’d never known anyone with a disability growing up. I’d met one other deaf person at university, but nobody in our social circle was disabled. I found myself becoming increasingly isolated – I couldn’t talk to my friends about losing my hearing as they had no experience of it themselves, and it was less upsetting to stay in on my own than to go out and struggle to hear the conversations. I was desperately unhappy.

Sam smiling, holding up a sign that says We Unite

Setting up the Oxford Students’ Disability Community

About a year and a half ago, one student at the university sent round a Facebook message inviting other students with disabilities out for a drink and a chat at a local bar. I didn’t know anyone, but I decided to go. About 20 other students turned up, and when we got talking and it was like a light had been switched on.

All of us were having a hard time, with tutors and peers not understanding our disabilities, and some of us had been experiencing discrimination because of this. Before, we’d all been convinced our troubles were individual, but it was now strikingly clear that this was a problem for many other disabled students at the university. We banded together, forming a working group of disabled students – the Oxford Students’ Disability Community (OSDC).

We began to spread the word, communicating with the university to improve support for disabled students, running social events, and starting a Facebook group where students with disabilities, mental health conditions and specific learning difficulties could ask each other for advice or support. We became the student union’s official disabled students campaign, and before long we found ourselves with a community of more than 400 people.

I no longer feel alone

For me, that sense of community is so important. So many of us had found ourselves isolated by our disabilities and the way others responded to them. I had never felt more alone than when my hearing began to decline, but once I began to meet other disabled students I realised I was anything but.

We have a wealth of shared experiences and whilst our disabilities are different, I’ve found we can relate to each other in ways no one else has done before. That understanding is so important in a culture that so frequently ignores and alienates the disabled, and I feel so grateful to have found it. OSDC has given me some of my closest friends, helped me find my voice as a disabled person, and fostered an overwhelming sense of belonging.

To find out more, visit the Oxford Students’ Disability Community’s website. 

Sam is sharing her story as part of 30 Under 30. We are releasing one story a day throughout June from disabled people under 30 who are doing extraordinary things. Keep up to date with all of our new stories on our 30 under 30 page.

Recruiting personal assistants means I can live my life how I want to – Nadia

Nadia is 24 and lives in West Yorkshire. She’s a student and a campaigner with Scope for Change – Scope’s training programme for young disabled campaigners. Nadia employers her own personal assistants and last year, she won an Employer of the Year award.

She told us what this meant to her, what she looks for in her employees and how they support her to live a busy, independent life.

I’m profoundly deaf and I have cerebral palsy. To communicate, I use a communication aid called DynaVox. I can also sign British Sign Language but my body physically limits my signing. I’ve been employing personal assistants with the help of my family since I was eight years old. I started off with two or three and now manage a team of eight, as well as one volunteer and a communication support worker.

With support from my team, I can enjoy a busy life

I volunteer at a college and I like to meet friends, go to concerts, festivals, weekends away, travel and go for cocktails. I also need support to go to conferences, events and college. My team help me to be independent. For example, I’m planning a backpacking trip around Europe. They also help with everyday life including personal care, showers, writing and communicating, feeding and dressing me. All of these responsibilities are done respecting my autonomy.

I like to recruit personal assistants myself

I find staff through advertising on the internet. I also use Facebook groups, Twitter, Gumtree, the deaf community and students learning sign language.

I’m often pre-judged so I feel it’s better to meet people myself. I like to meet face to face and assess their skills. Employing my team myself, as opposed to through an agency, means I can plan my life how I want. If I want to socialise until 2am, I can arrange it. If I plan something that others may think is impossible, I have a fantastic team that will work with me to make it possible.

I look for people with similar interests, open personalities and honesty. I welcome diversity. I like people with skills in deaf awareness, signing and good receptive body language. I also need people who understand my thoughts and how I process language, someone with a good sense of humour, who can think quickly if problems arise. My team have supported me at the best times, but also at some of my worst times.

Working together with my team, we get to know each other well. I support my team emotionally, with advice and through training. I also plan nights out which my team are welcome to join and this builds relationships.

Nadia on a night out with a group of female friends all smiling

I’ve had moments I will always remember

In 2015 I visited London. I was going to the Houses of Parliament to give a speech with Trailblazers. Afterwards, we were at St Pancras station and there was a man playing the piano. He was an old Italian man and he sang a song called ‘That’s Amore’. My personal assistant, Sam, signed and I danced with my electric wheelchair. We were in the middle of the train station. I felt so happy and free.

Then we went to King’s Cross Station and I saw what looked like a big birdcage lit up with different colours. We went to have a look and saw that it was a swing. I told Sam to go on it and she said “No, you get on it!”. I felt safe so I agreed. She got me on the swing and held me while pushing. I felt excited and it was so different. Every day I’m sat in my wheelchair. I felt air on my legs while I was swinging and I laughed so much. I will always remember that experience.

I was so proud to win an award

This year I was nominated for an award – “Best individual employer who employs their own care and support staff”. The event organisers were Skills for Care. On the night of the awards I had a headache, felt so sick and I wanted to go to bed. My clinical support worker persuaded me to stay for the results. When they announced that I had won, I was surprised, happy and proud.

If you have a story you would like to share, get in touch with Scope’s Stories team.

 

Deafness doesn’t have to be a disability – Abbi

30 under 30 logo

This story is part of 30 Under 30.

 

Abbi was born with a genetic bone disease called osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as ‘OI’ or brittle bones. Following learning BSL, she has set up a YouTube channel where she covers popular music in BSL.

As part of 30 Under 30, she talks about losing her hearing, how she started her YouTube channel and recalls surgery she had to regain her hearing.

Both my mum and I have OI which, aside from making our bones fragile and prone to fracture, has also led us to develop a plethora of related disorders. We both underwent scoliosis fusion surgery as teenagers, we both have arthritis and limited mobility (although my mum walks, I now use a wheelchair), and we both have otosclerosis, a degenerative hearing impairment.

I began wearing hearing aids around the age of eight. Within six years, my hearing had deteriorated to what’s classed as a ‘severe’ loss. I could no longer hear male voices at all, even with powerful hearing aids, and survived life in the hearing community through lipreading, guesswork and a bunch of magnificently patient friends. I was a huge fan of music and played several instruments, even though I had no hearing in the lower frequencies and could only understand lyrics if I saw them written down.

My mum grew up in a world where disguising her disabilities made life easier, so when it came to teenage rebellion, I embraced my disabilities as much as possible. I spent a lot of time learning about sign language, deaf history and the deaf community, and eventually signed up for BSL evening classes at a local school. I even convinced mum to come along, too!

Abbi, a young disabled woman, smiles as she sits in her wheechair

Songs and signing

To tie in with Adele performing at Glastonbury, Abbi has created a BSL cover of one of her most popular songs.

We had a wonderful BSL teacher, Jill Hipson, and after finishing our Level 1, Jill agreed to continue coaching me and a classmate through to Level 2.

As part of our study, Jill introduced us to sign song, which I instantly recognised as the perfect way to preserve the music I loved so much, even as my hearing continued to deteriorate. The first song I recorded – ‘Lucky’ by Britney Spears, of course – was clunky and awkward, but when I uploaded it to YouTube I received a huge amount of support, both from BSL users and from other learners like me. That was a huge source of encouragement to me, and a great way to broaden my understanding of the language.

I’d finally found a way to reconcile both my deaf and hearing worlds which, as a shy, anxious teenager in an increasingly unreliable body, was a massive boost to my confidence. My YouTube channel really took off just as my physical health declined. In hindsight, having such a positive experience of one disability really helped me in the transition to using a wheelchair full-time.

Since ‘Lucky’, I’ve recorded over 50 videos and gained 8,000 YouTube subscribers. I’m not fluent in BSL and I do make mistakes, especially as my hands don’t always work as well as I’d like, but the YouTube community has been incredibly supportive. Not only have I received lots of really helpful constructive criticism, I’ve also had some truly moving messages from both d/Deaf and hearing people all over the world and established genuine friendships. It’s incredible to think how the internet can facilitate such connections which, twenty years ago, would never have been possible.

An alternative way of experiencing the world

In 2011 and 2012, after much deliberation, I decided to undergo two risky but thankfully successful stapedectomy surgeries, which restored most of my hearing. Learning to hear again after ten years was fantastic, and actually fuelled my desire to keep recording sign songs – the more of the song I could hear, the more I wanted to sign!

I recently began to lose my hearing again. Despite having previously worn hearing aids every day for ten years, now that I’ve experienced the luxury of ‘real’ sound, I’ve found adjusting back to ‘hearing aid sound’ difficult. I wear my aids at work, but as soon as I leave the office, they go straight back into their box.

I consider myself incredibly privileged to have experienced both hearing and deafness; facing hearing loss as an adult, I’m taking my time figuring out what that means to me. Deafness doesn’t have to be a disability; for many, it’s simply an alternative way of experiencing the world. I hope my sign songs demonstrate how enriching and expressive that world can be.

Head to Abbi’s YouTube channel to watch more BSL covers of popular songs.

Abbi is sharing her story as part of 30 Under 30. We are releasing one story a day throughout June from disabled people under 30 who are doing extraordinary things. Keep up to date with all of our new stories on our 30 under 30 page.

“Really? Deaf people can dance?” – Chris Fonseca, the deaf dance teacher

30 under 30 logo

This story is part of 30 Under 30.

 

Chris Fonseca is a deaf dancer and dance teacher. He has performed internationally and recently featured in Smirnoff’s advert – We’re Open #deafdancers.

As part of 30 Under 30, he shares his story and talks about changing perspectives, becoming a dance teacher and why more deaf dance role models are needed.

I became deaf through meningitis when I was two years old. At first I tried hearing aids but unfortunately they didn’t work for me. The next step was for me to try a Cochlear implant which I had when I was about five. In school, I had speech therapy but I didn’t like it because I felt quite embarrassed and quite isolated. The deaf world is really small and I grew up going to mainstream schools which was quite difficult. Eventually, I started meeting deaf people and I realised “oh these people are the same as me”.

Developing a passion for dance

I started listening to music through friends. I could feel the beat through my Cochlear implant and I’d look up the lyrics to understand the words. Then my Aunty gave me a video called Breaking 1984. I was obsessed with it and I taught myself how to dance. Just through repetition and practising at first. Then I decided that I wanted to improve my skills but having no deaf role models made it really difficult. So I stopped, unfortunately, and I just carried on with my life.

Then, in my second year of university, a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to get involved in a deaf dance group. Dance had been my dream for years, so I thought it would be amazing to get involved. It was fantastic because everyone was deaf and everyone had the same passion as me, and it was an opportunity to show both deaf and hearing communities that deaf people can dance. That nothing is impossible. We did a tour, then I left the group to focus on giving back to the deaf community.

What I love most about dance is the freedom and enjoyment. And it’s a stress release. It’s like when I’m dancing, I just kind of fall into my own world. Dance really is my best friend – it’s always there for me.

Chris dancing in front of a crowd
A still of Chris in the Smirnoff ad

Changing perceptions

I started going to hearing dance classes in 2009. It was my first class ever. I went to the class and looked at all the people there and just noticed that their level was incredibly high. It made my confidence drop because hearing dancers are very, very fast. It’s fast paced and it’s not very accessible for deaf people. So I just focused on my skills and not on my deafness. There were a lot of mistakes to begin with but the mistakes just proved that I was trying. I just kept persevering with it over time.

I went to these classes regularly and when I struggled, I’d go up to the teacher in the breaks and say “can you please give me a cue?”. The teacher was like “You what, sorry?” and I’d say “I’m deaf so I could use a cue” and they’d be like “What? You’re deaf?”. I’m trying to show that, by getting these cues, a deaf person can dance.

I think a lot of hearing people are surprised because there’s a lot of stereotypes about deaf people and dance. They kind of look and go “Really? Deaf people can dance?” because a lot of hearing dancers connect to music through listening. But deaf people can dance in a different way. We feel the beat through vibrations and we look at the visual movement of dance. When I’m looking at choreography for example, I’m looking for visual movements and visual cues and then I feel the beat. And I guess that through telling hearing people that, you change their perception and they become more respectful.

I became a dance teacher to make dance accessible to deaf people

I started trying to get my friends to come to the hearing dance classes I was going to but they were like “no no no, it’s too scary, it’s not accessible”. I’d had the same experience so I encouraged them to just push through the barriers but they didn’t want to. I got home and thought what we really need here is a deaf dance teacher. So I decided to become one.

I went to an academy and learnt the skills and different methods of how to teach, how people’s learning processes work. Naturally, deaf and hearing people have different learning processes. Deaf people are reliant on counts, whereas for a hearing person most of it is sound. So I started teaching my class in 2013 and it’s still going now. It’s a huge passion of mine – teaching and dancing.

Chris performing a dance move next to the quote - dance is not an option it's who I am

Being involved in the Smirnoff advert is one of my proudest achievements

Since I left the dance group, I really just focused on improving my own skills and teaching. Trying to break in as a deaf dancer is hard and you just kind of get ignored, so I really had to push to sell myself and bother a lot of people to get my work recognised.

Then, one day, I got a random email. I read it and I was like “Is this spam or not?” so I emailed them and asked them to clarify the information. I read all the information about the project and I thought “wow, this is incredible”. It was an amazing opportunity to create a platform to celebrate deaf culture and also help to change hearing people’s perspective.

Since then, time has gone really fast. I auditioned, did the shooting day back in January, then we released the advert in March and there’s been lots of promotion through social media and billboards all around the UK. It’s been one of my proudest achievements. The advert helps to change hearing people’s perspective about deaf people and show that they can do anything except hear.

People have said that I’ve inspired them a lot and I’ve received a lot of positive messages which has been really lovely and heart-warming. My aim is to give something back to the deaf community and get more recognition of sign language. I want to show the importance of deaf culture and get hearing people interested.

We need more deaf dance role models

Teaching is my passion. I like sharing my knowledge and my passion with other dancer. I’ve noticed that lots of the younger generations are excited about getting involved with dance, they just need that little bit more encouragement.

When I gave up dancing, it was mainly because there were no deaf role models. Everybody has their dreams when they’re young but the first thing you need when you have that dream is a role model to give you that motivation, something to aim for. I went through a lot of struggles and barriers trying to learn in the hearing world, but now they don’t have to do that. I can pass what I’ve learnt on to them.

The deaf world is quite small and the deaf dance world is even smaller. Over time, I’ve tried to research and go out and perform in different places like Europe. One of my favourite things was when I went to perform at the Click Festival – a deaf film festival in France. It’s an opportunity for deaf people all over the world to come together at this one festival and I managed to meet some deaf international dancers there. It’s a great networking opportunity.

There’s obviously a lot of hearing role models for anyone who wants to be a dancer, but now, I think we need to have deaf dance role models too. My next step is to go on tour. I have more work to do to continue inspiring and breaking barriers. And I have lots of exciting projects to get involved in. All will be announced very soon!

Chris is sharing his story as part of our 30 Under 30 campaign. We’ll be releasing one story a day throughout June from disabled people under 30 who are doing extraordinary things. Keep up to date with all of our new stories on our 30 under 30 page.

To find out more about Chris and keep up to date with his work, visit Chris’ website.

Deaf awareness week – we want subtitles for ‘on demand’ and catch-up’ TV and film!

Johanna Taylor is a Senior Campaigner at Action on Hearing Loss, where she works on campaigns to improve access to TV and digital entertainment, protect NHS hearing aid services and to introduce a national hearing screening programme.

Here she explains why subtitling is so important, as part of Deaf Awareness Week. 

Ed Miller Band instead of Ed Miliband. Ayatollahs instead of toddlers. When we see subtitles in the news, the topic is most likely to be live subtitling ‘howlers’ like these – but they’re not so amusing for people with hearing loss who rely on subtitles to follow dialogue and plot.

“I, and others like me, should have the freedom of choice to watch and enjoy programmes in the same way as everyone else, on any device at any time, with subtitles and audio descriptions provided as standard – and we deserve this choice sooner rather than later.” Tania Le Marinel, hearing aid wearer

Johanna has dark hair, wears glasses and is smiling in front of a Action on Hearing Loss bannerAt Action on Hearing Loss subtitling is the issue that people most get in touch with us about, with inaccuracies and delays being a source of massive frustration. But there’s more going on behind the scenes to improve things than these news stories might suggest.
We have long been campaigning to improve the quality of subtitles, and in 2013 there was a breakthrough when Ofcom announced that it would be launching a two year review of the quality of live subtitling. This has led to closer partnerships between broadcasters, production and subtitling companies and increased sharing and use of scripts to reduce delays and improve accuracy, particularly in programmes like the news.

We’ve also seen a reduction in the number of programmes going out with live subtitles that could have been prepared in advance – the BBC recently revealed to us that while 155 pre-recorded programmes were subtitled live in 2013, 2014 saw this figure almost halved.

Broadcasters playing ‘catch up’ with catch up TV

But what happens when someone with hearing loss wants to get up to speed on the soaps using ‘catch up’ TV or enjoy a streamed film?

The answer? They often can’t. A major factor in this is that unlike traditional TV accessibility of Video on Demand (VOD) services are not covered by legislation, meaning there is no obligation on providers to include subtitles.

While the BBC is leading the way and offering subtitles on iPlayer across thousands of devices and platforms, they are the exception. This is unacceptable to viewers with hearing loss who feel like they are receiving a second class service.

A report by the regulator the Authority for Television on Demand (ATVOD), shows that no subtitles can be found on the ITV player, 4oD or Demand 5 when shown on popular television platforms such as Sky, Virgin and BT Vision (YouView), who have a combined UK customer base of over 14 million people. The same report shows that over 96% of Sky’s ‘on demand’ content has no subtitles.

Subtitle it! Whatever we watch, however we watch it.

But there’s an important opportunity on the horizon for the Government to take action to improve access for the UK’s 7.5 million subtitle users.

Back in July 2013 the Department for Culture Media and Sport promised to consider legislation on access services for video on demand three years from then if it is clear that progress is not being made – and in 2016 it’s crunch time. Access services cover audio description for those with sight loss as well as subtitles for those with hearing loss.

In response to this opportunity we’ll be launching a new campaign which will call on Government and broadcasters to “Subtitle it! Whatever we watch, however we watch it”. With the help of our supporters, after the election we’ll be calling on the new Minister responsible for broadcasting to set progress targets. And if no progress has been made by this December – when ATVOD’s next report is due out – we will be strengthening our call for legislation.

Do you rely on subtitles, or do you know someone who does? Please join the Subtitle it! campaign today. Thank you for your support.