Anti-disabled language

I saw yesterday that Mencap have successfully managed to get Ofcom to review an earlier ruling that basically suggested it was OK for Channel 4 to use the term “retard”. This was after 700 of Mencap’s supporters wrote to Ofcom, a nice example of a successful campaign in action. Here’s hoping that the review eventually sends a strong signal that using derogative terms like this to describe disabled people is just not on.

The equivalent term for deaf people is “deaf and dumb”. I find it incredibly offensive for the obvious reasons that it implies that all deaf people are without speech and/or plain stupid. I can speak and I got my education. As well as being inaccurate, it perpetuates stereotypes about deaf people that don’t help deaf children at school when they’re trying to get the support they need to do well. Thankfully the use of the term seems to be rare these days but I still see it crop up from time to time, usually in some ill-informed rag of a newspaper, and it usually causes me to erupt violently at my desk like Pompeii the sequel. Maybe the next time I see it, I’ll fire off a complaint to Ofcom…

What do others think? Do you find it as offensive as I do? Should Ofcom clamp down on the use of such language?


Whatever happened to… Film 4 outdoor screenings at Somerset House?

Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of

Those with a long memory will remember from two years ago when NDCS campaigns made a fuss about the lack of subtitles in the outdoor screenings for the prestigious Film 4 outdoor screenings at Somerset House. This followed a complaint to NDCS by a deaf young girl and her parents. So whatever happened next?

Well, sadly, not a huge amount. We met with Channel 4 earlier in the year who explained that they’ve still not been able to find a way to show films with subtitles. Part of the problem is apparently that Film 4 show lots of ancient films for which a subtitled version has never been made. A bigger problem is the perception by the organisers that hearing members of the audience will complain and make a fuss. How far this assumption has been tested remains unclear.

A small step of progress was made this year when it was agreed that a pilot would be done involving a palantypist in a separate area of the audience for deaf people. RNID have been involved in this pilot and I’m waiting to hear the results of it. The hope is that a palantypist will be available in future on request to any deaf young people who want one.

It’s not ideal, far from, and we still want to see full access. However, with our attention focused on our Sounds good? campaign for better acoustics, we didn’t have the capacity to make a huge fuss about it this year. But it remains an issue that we’ll be continuing to keep an eye out for…

What are your thoughts on the matter and the way forward?

Celebrity endorsement of NDCS’s acoustics campaign

In a quiet moment in the office many months back, I was daydreaming about how great it would be if we could get Kevin McCloud, design expert from the Grand Designs programme off the telly, to give us a celebrity endorsement for our campaign on acoustics in new school buildings and speak a bit about schools need to be designed so they sound good.

A few weeks back, I was given an unexpected opportunity to ask if this might be possible when I went along for a catch up meeting with a Channel 4 disability advisor. I though it would be a long short, but gave it a try and mentioned it anyway.

Well, it turns out that if you ask, you may well get. Kevin’s agent sent us over a quote giving his support for the campaign. Wowzers. The quote is now helping us get lots more coverage of our campaign around the UK. It’s a bit of celebrity stardust but hopefully it will will help us grab and keep the Government’s attention until we have persuaded them of the need for urgent action.

Shameless deaf character says goodbye

So the deaf character on Shameless said farewell last night in typical Shameless fashion – by bludgeoning his Dad to death. I guess it just goes to show that deaf people can be troubled psychotic murderers too though maybe I won’t try and add that to NDCS’s key messages.

So that now’s he gone, what did we think? Some thoughts from me:

1) Without falling into the trap of assuming that a deaf character isn’t “properly” deaf because he/she isn’t deaf ‘”like me”, there was a few bits where Danny seemed to be able to follow what other people were saying with relative ease. I find it impossible to lipread people unless they’re arms length away and I can see their whole face. Danny seemed to be able to do it whilst a nose length away. I think they could have expanded on the communication barriers deaf young people face, but Shameless is a drama, not an educational programme.
2) The jokes around swear words in sign language were all too predictable.
3) It was disappointing he wasn’t on screen that much. But when he was, he was shown integrating well with the various Shameless locals and modifying his style of communication. In last night’s episode, it was revealed he could actually speak, but only when he needed/wanted to. He was a very likable character (apart from the bludgeoning his Dad bit but, in his defence, he did have his reasons).

It was a great performance by Louis Kissaun, who is still 16 and attends Mary Hare school for the deaf. One of my female friends has suggested he has definite heart-throb potential. Hopefully, we’ll see more of him in the future.

And it was great to see a deaf role model, insofar anyone on Shameless can be described as a role model. Admittedly, I’m not sure I’d want young children to be watching Shameless. But I can safely say it’s the kind of thing I would probably have watched when I was 14 so I’m sure there were lots of deaf young people watching it last night. It may have been the first time that many of them saw a leading deaf character on a major TV programme the first time. Who knows, it may have inspired a few to try acting themselves…

And finally hats off to Channel 4. Here’s hoping, they will continue to show a range of deaf characters on the telly.

Anyhow, what did you think?

Update – Shameless: new deaf character on the telly!

Make sure you watch Shameless on Channel 4 on Tuesday evening at 10pm to see the new deaf character who will be sticking around for a few episodes. The character, Danny, and the actor playing him, Louis Kissaun, both use British Sign Language as their main language. The Guardian had a short interview with the guy last week and the Shameless website has some basic information too.

And I enjoyed an exclusive preview of the showing last Tuesday! By ‘exclusive’, I, of course mean, I watched it on E4, which I forgot sometimes showed programmes a week in advance if you were willing to stay up until the wee hours of the morning. As a result of this, there has already been a bit of chatter about it online. Depressingly, some of it is already nitpicking and missing the bigger point about having deaf role models on TV. Anyhow, without giving away too much, I thought the new character was great and did a good job of showing the communication barriers experienced by deaf people. I’m hooked.

It’s not for the faint-hearted though. This being Shameless, Danny gets to use a few naughty words. And there’s also a heroin storyline going on with one of the other characters. Fun for all the family!

Shameless: new deaf character on the telly!

One of the plus sides of my job is that I sometimes find out some juicy gossip or really exciting news.

The downside is often I’m not allowed to talk about it for ages without fear of being on a receiving end of a visit from from the Maguires from Shameless.

Happily, I’m now allowed to tell everyone what I’ve been keeping shtum about for ages. Shameless, the excellent Channel 4 programme, will soon be introducing a deaf character played by a deaf actor!

The new character is called Danny, who is just 16. The intelligence I have is that in episode 7, to be shown on Tuesday 10th March, Danny will turn up in the boot of a car – and in true Shameless fashion crashes into the world of the Chatsworth Estate.

Well, I’m going to be glued to my set. Am very excited indeed. And from a campaigns point of view, it will be great for deaf young people to see deaf people on the telly.

Being unreasonable: Film4 and Somerset House’s outdoor screenings

As a deaf person, there are sometimes times when I wonder if I’m being completely unreasonable or just feel a bit awkward for asking that things are done slightly different for me to accommodate my deafness and allow me to do and enjoy things like everyone else. Like requesting that my hearing friends go somewhere that isn’t quite as noisy as the usual haunts for once. Or expecting my GP to remember that I lipread.

This feeling came back to me as a result of an ongoing saga with Film4. Film4 do a series of outdoor screenings at Somerset House in the summer. Somerset House is often described as one of the most prestigious venues in London which makes me wonder why half of the building seems to be given over to the Inland Revenue but I digress…

Last year, a member wrote to NDCS to complain that her 17 year old deaf daughter couldn’t go to any of the outdoor screenings that she wanted to because there were no subtitles for any of non-foreign language films. NDCS made a fuss on her behalf and Channel 4, which owns Film4promised they would look to make it more accessible this year.

And did they? Apparently not. Only the foreign language films are subtitled. After a whole year, Channel 4 have apparently been unable to find a solution.

I’m sure there are some very good reasons why this is difficult. It may involve spending money. It’s probably something to do with the venue. Deaf children and adults can enjoy access to films in other ways. Why bother going to this effort for a very small group of deaf children and adults who might benefit? It’s only a one-off event, a ‘niche’ event, hardly a big deal. In making a fuss, are deaf people being unreasonable?

I don’t think so. I find it hard believe that a solution could not have been found after 365 days to think about it. It may have been inconvenient or taken money away from the budget for Big Brother but what happened to being serious about providing access? Isn’t there a principle involved here? Deaf children and adults have the same right to access cultural events as everyone else – even if they are just one-off “niche” events. In failing to provide access, Channel 4 have sent a signal that the needs of deaf children and adults are unimportant, do not matter and should not be allowed to get in the way of running these cultural events, out of which Channel 4 is gaining valuable publicity and kudos. Channel 4 could have taken a lead. Instead, they’ve ruined whatever good story they had to tell on access for deaf children and people.

This is the 21st century and with the huge technological developments in place and greater awareness of the rights and needs of deaf children, I resent being made to feel unreasonable.