Have you contacted your MP yet? Reminder no.3

The campaign for better acoustics in schools is reaching a critical phase. In around a month, we will be hosting a parliamentary event where we will be asking MPs to come along and listen to a simulation of what bad acoustics sound like to a deaf child. And we will also be publishing our findings from some requests for information to local authorities. We’re still collating the replies – but initial findings suggest that way too many local authorities have schools which have not met the government’s standards on acoustics and that urgent action is needed.

The aim of all of this to try and maximise the pressure on the Government to take this urgent action and specifically, introduce a new requirement for testing of schools for their acoustics.

The letters that our supporters are sending to their MPs are really making a difference because these same MPs are writing to Ministers at the Department for Children, Schools and Families to ask them what’s going on. The hope is that a bit more pressure will help us get what we want.

So if you haven’t already, now is the time to contact your MP! As always, it’s easy, quick and you don’t need to know your MP is.

At the time of writing, 295 people had already contacted their MP. It would be fantastic to push this over 300 and to start to edge up to 350…. A few quick clicks is all you need, starting here.

I’m now on leave for a week, but I’ll be blogging about attainment data and the latest on our acoustics campaign when I get back – so watch this space.

Are we too nice to cinemas?

There was an interesting comment (see, I do read them!) to my blog about subtitled spectacles suggest that we’re too nice to cinemas and that deaf people should be demanding the right to watch subtitles films at convenient times, not just at quiet times when hearing people don’t want to go.

On the one hand, cinemas say that the UK leads the world on accessible cinema and they provide more and more subtitled films – even though low attendance numbers mean they rarely make a profit out of it. It’s claimed that hearing people won’t see subtitled showings. Their line is that cinemas need to make a profit at the end of the day and they can’t do so if they show subtitled films at peak times.

On the other hand, if access means anything, it means being able to go and see a film at a reasonable time, maybe on a Friday or Saturday along with my hearing friends. There is very little meaningful choice. If I happen to be busy on the one Tuesday that a subtitled film is showing in central-ish location, I may find myself never getting an opportunity to see a film I really want to see. As Alison said, the policy of only showing subtitled films at twilight zone times rather feels like forcing a wheelchair to come in by the backdoor.

My conclusion is that if the cinema industry is serious about providing access, it needs to find ways to provide meaningful choice. If they feel they can’t do this without driving away hearing customers, then they have a responsibility to come up with innovative ways around this – like subtitles spectacles or rear view windows or whatever, anything that works for everyone.

What do you think? Are we too nice to cinemas? How do we respond to their justifications for not going further?

Data on how deaf children are doing at school

Apparently, there are lies, damned lies and statistics. And then there’s a new category: figures relating how deaf children get on at school.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families have given us the latest figures on the attainment of deaf children and we intend to publish them next Tuesday with some accompanying analysis and a pretty little spreadsheet. I don’t think it will come as a huge surprise when I say the figures will confirm that there is still a large attainment gap between deaf children and all children. We’ll be doing some media work to promote the figures and to call for more support for deaf children at schools.

At the same time, I’m bracing myself for a barrage of tut-tutting. The figures are quite controversial in some quarters because they don’t include all deaf children, only those who are getting specialist support at schools. Some have argued it’s misleading to use these figures and that it demoralises professionals.

I take a different view. The figures are not perfect but they are still the best available. No evidence has been provided to suggest the figures are unrepresentative or that there is not a wide attainment gap between deaf children and their hearing peers. If there was, I’d quite happily go home and watch Hollyoaks all day.

I see the point about demoralising staff. Which is why we’re always careful to say that we think professionals are dedicated and doing a good job with a lack of wider support and funding from their local authority and central Government. In any event, should professionals working with deaf children be exempt from wider discussion and scrutiny about how deaf children are doing?

Finally, the data is used for an important end – to shine the spotlight on the education of deaf children and to persuade Government to take action. If we held off from ever using data unless it was 100% verifiable and perfect, then we may never be able to make the case for action. And all the time, the education of deaf children would suffer. And that’s not acceptable.

It’s going to be interesting to see the reaction. In the meantime, what do you think? Are we right to publish the data and to use it to shine a spotlight on education of deaf children.

Deaf power at the cinema after another subtitles cock-up

I went along to see a subtitled showing of the new Star Trek film last night with my fellow deaf trekkie geek friend. As is so often the case, it was the only showing in central-ish London this week and not at a particularly convenient time of 5.30pm on a Monday. But I was so keen to see it that I arrived at work at 7.30am so that I could bunk off early from work.

Clearly, I wasn’t the only deaf trekkie in town and the showing was well attended with around 15 deaf people, all very excited.

And then all extremely mutinous and outraged when there was – once again – a five minute delay in the subtitles appearing on the screen. I half considered ripping my chair out and throwing it at the screen.

Instead, a large group of us went outside to berate the man in the projector booth and demand that they restart the film. Initially, he said it was impossible. But we stood our ground and continued to demand what we had paid for – a subtitled film. After around ten minutes, the manager appeared and agreed to restart the film. Clearly, not so impossible.

I was quite proud of the group for making a stand and refusing to give in easily. The error was inexcusable and there should have been no debate about restarting the film and making sure people got what they paid for. One guy remarked that he’d driven 2 hours to come to this cinema to see the film.

I’ve emailed the cinema to ask what happened. I’m fairly resigned to the fact that it will happen again and again. But at least we know what to do next time. My hope is that deaf children as well will feel equally emboldended to go on a riot in a cinema if something like this happens to them.

Deaf power! Rarrgh!

FM systems a cure-all for bad acoustics?

One of the nice things about our campaign for schools that sound good is the positive response it’s got from other organisations and from individual parents and teachers of the deaf. We seem to have struck a chord and that lots of people feel that our classrooms are awfully noisy places in which our children are expected to listen and learn.

Obviously though, not everyone is supportive and one of the interesting things that has been said is that FM systems or personal microphone devices between a teacher and a deaf child overcome the disadvantage of poor acoustics. The implication always given, whether intended or not, is that you shouldn’t bother spending any money on improving the listening environment just for the benefit of deaf children – just give them a microphone.

One of the reasons why I’m good value for money as a campaigns officer is that I can rebut this quite easily just by talking about me. I had a microphone system in school when I was growing up. It was really important, yes, and allowed me to pick up what the teacher was saying more easily. Teachers would often forget to turn it off and my peers would be amazed that I could hear was going on in the staff room.

Unfortunately, microphones don’t just pick up what the teacher is saying. They pick everything else that was going on the classroom. If it was noisy, I would get a blast of amplified noise that made my head hurt. And the microphones were useless for group work or for picking up what other children were saying. And, like a lot of other deaf children, I used to personally loathe having to give it to teachers and to draw attention to my deafness. I often “forgot” to hand it over in assemblies. To this day, I don’t know how the Lord’s Prayer goes even though my hearing peers used to recite it every morning in primary school in assembly. No wonder I’m an atheist.

Anyhow, it seems like an obvious point. Yes, FM systems are needed. Yes, technology has moved on a bit. And good classroom management and deaf awareness / empowerment go a long way. But FM systems are a complement to good acoustics. They sure don’t solve bad acoustics. They amplify it! And, of course, not all deaf children use FM systems, particularly children with a mild hearing loss. What are they meant to do if the classroom is noisy? I personally dare anyone to makes this claim to speak with deaf children directly and to listen to what they tell them about their experiences.

We’ve made this point to the Government, as have other professional bodies, like the British Society of Audiology. The hope is that they do not use this alternative, flawed argument as a pretext for arguing it needn’t bother doing anything to improve acoustics.

Gagging charities “political” messages

Not contenting with doing a review of parental confidence in provision for children, being chair of the Special Educational Consortium and Executive Director of Advocacy and Policy at RNID, Brian Lamb spoke out last week about silly laws that affect charities. Specifically, charities are not allowed to do adverts on social issues relating to their campaigns due to a law that prohibits political advertising.

The law aims to stop the airwaves being flooded by wealthy political honchos. But it’s also catches out charities that might want to do adverts about social issues. For example, NDCS probably wouldn’t be able to do adverts that calls on the Government to ensures schools have good acoustics and are inclusive. Worse, we couldn’t respond to any adverts by private companies that might, for whatever reason, talk about deafness. And animal rights charities couldn’t do adverts rebutting impressions given by, for example, fast food companies that the chickens that go into a McNuggets live a life of luxury.

It’s not something we plan to do. But it would be nice to have that option. But it doesn’t really feel like a very level playing field…

Subtitled spectacles

I was at a meeting a fortnight ago of a group that brings together cinema industry guys and representatives from the disability sector to talk about access to the cinema. It was a useful meeting and the highlight came right at end when the man from yourlocalcinema.com mentioned some new technology – subtitled spectacles.

The idea is that you wear some special glasses and that the subtitles to the film come up on the inside of the glasses. So only you can see the subtitles. Apparently, RAF fighters already use a similar technology.

The obvious benefit is that the subtitles would not be visible to other people in the cinema. Whilst the UK leads the world in accessible cinema, there is still a lack of choice of films at convenient times for deaf children and adults. Cinemas still tend to show films at ‘quiet’ times when hearing people are less likely to go for fear that they’ll lose too much business if they show such films at more popular times. Whatever the rights and wrongs of this, it makes me think that the existing model of delivering access will never deliver real choice. Hence my interest in technology that allows deaf people to see a film at any time of their choosing.

Has anyone else come across subtitled spectacles? Does it have any potential?

Primary curriculum review fails deaf children?

Sir Jim Rose’s review of the primary curriculum was published yesterday. It promises fairly fundamental changes to the way young children learn at schools. And with one in five children having a special educational need, surely the report will have lots to say about how such children can learn effectively in the classroom?

Nope. Nada. Zilch.

It was painfully depressing and tiresome and predictable. There was nothing in the main report’s recommendations about meeting the needs of children with special educational needs. There was a brief mention later where it said that the teaching of phonics might not work for a “minority” of children and that teachers should seek specialist advice. Note that the onus is on teachers to do this, not on the Government to provide advice and support. And frustratingly, it refers to feedback from parents of “mixed experiences” in schools meeting their child’s needs, but then does nothing to really address this.

NDCS did a press story on this and we’re likely to be banging on about this until we get a government commitment that the curriculum must be accessible to all children, and that guidance must be made available on how to do this for deaf children. Frankly, I think it’s ridiculous that teachers are expected to tailor their teaching on literacy, emotional well-being and languages with nothing in the way of guidance and support.