Is the Government telling deaf people to PIP off on disability benefits?

It took me a while but I finally read through the Department for Work and Pension’s consultation on the eligibility criteria for the new benefits for disabled people, Personal Independence Payments. Otherwise known as PIP. To be fair, there were three, rather long documents, to read through to understand what was being proposed. And I’m still not sure I’ve got it.

For those that don’t know, PIP is the new DLA (Disability Living Allowance), a benefit for disabled people to fund the various additional costs associated with being disabled. Though the Government keep implying otherwise, it’s not linked to employment status. PIP will be introduced from next spring for disabled young people aged 16+. Disabled children have a stay of execution and will remain on DLA for now.

The Government have confirmed that when the move to PIP happens, 500,000 disabled people will lose their PIP. Yup, that’s half a million people who will be worse off. And looking at the guidance, it seems that many deaf people will be among the losers.

This is because in order to get the new “standard” rate of PIP, a deaf person would have to show that they couldn’t understand “basic” information when communicating out and about. Difficulties in understanding anything more than basic information will, on its own, not get you the points you need to qualify. Examples given in the document seem to suggest that only deaf people who communicate entirely and solely in sign language will be eligible for the new PIP. Everyone else, it would seem, nothing.

Ministers at the Department for Work and Pensions recently said that deafness was a “moderate” disability. The policy intention is that funding needs to be taken away from deaf people and given to those with more severe disabled needs. This is obviously a rather narrow way to frame political choices. It’s also an approach that treats deaf people as being less “deserving” of support, regardless of any additional support that may be needed to understand more than just “hello” and “bye bye” and which ignores the additional costs and disadvantaged associated with being deaf in a hearing world.

The National Deaf Children’s Society have drafted a short guide on what the changes might mean for deaf young people. This also include some tips and suggestions on how to respond to the consultation. If you think the changes are unfair, I would encourage you to have your say and ask the Government to raise the threshold of support to make sure deaf people get the help they need.


What an ill chicken tells us about deaf access to universities and colleges

Sorry, I didn’t do a blog yesterday, my chicken was ill.

If you haven’t a clue what I’m talking about, then clearly you haven’t yet watched the BBC3 documentary, Deaf Teens: Hearing World, nor been aware of how a sequence involving a notetaker explaining she couldn’t support a deaf student for a whole 2 hours because her chicken was ill exploded onto the deaf community’s consciousness. Charlie Swinbourne’s blog explains how this quickly went viral, with a Facebook group attracting 1000 members in less than 24 hours and tweets abound using the #deafteens hashtag.

How did it pick up so much attention? Well, frankly it’s the most ridiculous (and hilarious) excuse I’ve ever come across for communication support failing to come through. Secondly, behind every brilliant joke is a regrettable knowing truth. In this case, that knowing truth is that deaf young people are rarely in control of their communication support at college and universities and too often are left to fend for themselves. The sequence hit a real nerve.

On the programme, this was the deaf teen’s first day at university and somehow they still managed to cock up (no pun intended) her communication support by not checking whether her notetaker could stay for the full 2 hours. Not exactly an auspicious start. In a further epic fail, another student on the programme at a different university on her first week was forced to lipread a lecturer in a dark room. My own experiences at university weren’t much better – I had to arrange my own provision and my “communication support” were often other students trying to make a quick buck. It also took around 9 months for my council to sort out my Disabled Students Allowance.

I’m sure there are a lot of good intentions out there. But a lot needs to change before deaf young people can be confident they’ll get the help they need at colleges and universities, without having to rely on the good health of chickens or other random occurrences.

The documentary, by the way, was brilliant and must-see viewing for anyone wanting to understand the experiences of deaf young people.

Funky new website for deaf young people

Exciting times. The National Deaf Children’s Society has now formally launched “The Buzz“, the first ever website dedicated to deaf young people.

Clearly, I’m now too old to use the website, as demonstrated by my use of the term “funky”, for probably for the first time since 1994. But for deaf youngsters aged 8 to 18, there’s now a new opportunity to meet other deaf young people, speak out and to get information about being deaf, presented in an accessible way.

This matters because 90% of deaf children are born to families with no experience of deafness. And around 85% attend mainstream schools. In many cases, they may be the only deaf child in the school. In my school, there was one other deaf person but that was my sister but she was way too cool to hang out with me. So the Buzz is filling a massive need for many deaf young people out there.

I am told that if you’re over 12 and register, you get a free t-shirt and some other freebies. The whole thing is also intended to be deaf-led, so deaf youngsters will be using the website to have their say and tell everyone what’s important to them.

If you know of or work with any deaf young people, please do spread the word and encourage them to “check it out” (as I believe the youngsters say, these days).

For real. Word out.

Making audiology youth-friendly

Image courtesy of NDCS

Confession time: until I was around 25, I didn’t have a clue how to read an audiogram. If you asked me as a child, how deaf I was, I probably wouldn’t have been able to tell you. Ask me to retube my hearing aid, and I probably would have gone running to Mummy.

Why? Because nobody ever really explained it to me. I’ve blogged before about my unhappy experiences at the audiology clinic as a child. Audiology services fitted me up with a hearing aid as a child and then pretty much left me to it. Rarely was I asked for my opinion or views. Rarely did a trip to the clinic go without my audiologist trying to talk to me when he had just taken my hearing aid off. Worse of all, the hearing tests used to give me terrible tinnutis, and the audiologist had the nerve to tell me off when I incorrectly pressed the buzzer during the hearing test because my ears were beeping and ringing all over the place.

For these reasons, I’m really excited about the National Deaf Children’s Society Over to You project. It’s looking to improve deaf young people’s experiences of audiology services through a project in Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Newham, my old hood in London. I think it’s a really important job and it’s great that audiologists in this area have stepped up to the challenge, to make their services youth-friendly and to work to empower deaf children and young people.

Luckily, I now have a great audiology clinic. What makes them special is that they take the time to explain things to me and to ask me questions and get my views. Best of all, they NEVER try and talk to me when I haven’t got my hearing aid on!

Watch this space for more info about the Over to You project. In the meantime, if you want to share your good/bad audiology experiences, drop a line below!

Deaf young people reach for the stars

Who are these shiny faced youngsters you see to the right? Well, if last weekend is anything to go by, they may will be the future.

Image courtesy of NDCS

The youngsters were part of a group of 17 deaf young people who attended a pilot training weekend, run by the National Deaf Children’s Society, for deaf young people on campaigns and media, the first of its kind. I was there to dispense my hard-earned wisdom on how to campaign effectively and create a campaign plan. The whole weekend was called “Reach for the stars” which was a bit unfortunate for someone of my generation who spent their university years in a sweaty club practicing the dance moves to said S Club 7 classic.

Anyhow, the 17 deaf young people were all fantastic, very clever and quickly grasped the key principles behind both campaigns and media and gave their views on what the National Deaf Children’s Society should be campaigning on. They also got to meet CBBC Newsround presenter, Ricky Boleto (centre, light blue t-shirt, in photo), who came and gave a talk about how he became a journalist and the challenges he faced being deaf in one ear. The youngsters were also inspired by a talk from Nadia Clarke, a young deaf person with cerebral palsy, who’s been campaigning for years and has produced an award winning DVD.

The whole weekend was a useful learning experience to me too: how to (or rather, not to) keep a group of deaf young people interested and engaged in campaigns. But overall, a really enjoyable weekend and hopefully one NDCS will be repeating in the future.

Out with the old: Apprenticeships Bill becomes law

Image courtesy of

The parliamentary year ended earlier this month on the 12th. Squeaking its way into law on the same day was the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill, which aims to make a range of changes to post-16 education. After several days of long debates as the Government tried to get this Bill through Parliament, all hurdles were cleared and the Queen was kind enough to give the Bill the royal seal of approval, turning it into the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009.

I’d been taking a fairly close interest in the Bill for several reasons. Firstly, NDCS had been using the Bill as a vehicle for pressing for action to support our Sounds good? campaign on acoustics. In the end, we successfully got a package of measures without having to push for a change to the law on acoustics. Result.

Secondly, we’d been working with a range of other charities to make sure that deaf and other disabled young people would not be disadvantaged by the proposals in the Bill. One key issue was over access to apprenticeships. The Government wanted to create a new entitlement to apprenticeships for suitably qualified young part as a part of a new government scheme. However, it was decided that if you wanted to take part in this scheme, you would need to hold GCSEs in English and Maths to access this scheme. Considering the legacy of under achievement by deaf children by a system that fails to meet their needs, and considering that GCSEs in English and Maths may not be a necessary requirement for all apprenticeships (do you need to know how to do pythagoras to do a hairdressing apprenticeship?), NDCS felt this was unfair and discriminatory.

So, after a lot of emails from us to the Department for Children, Schools and Families and lobbying of Ministers, largely via the Special Educational Consortium, we finally got the Government to agree to relax this requirement. Now, deaf and other disabled young people will be able to provide a ‘portfolio of evidence’ if they do not hold these specific qualifications as a means of entering the government apprenticeship scheme. Double result.

A good result to end off the parliamentary year. Wonder what the next parliamentary year will bring?

Greenwich youngsters win campaign victory on cinema access

Odeon GreenwichI heard a nice little story last week about how a group of deaf young people in south London decided to do something useful over the holidays and take action on one of my personal bugbears – lack of access to the cinema at convenient times.

The young people from Shooters Hill College and one of my colleagues from NDCS got together with the manager of Greenwich Odeon cinema to say how fed up they were that subtitled films were only being shown at rubbish times. And the result? They managed to win an agreement to a trial of more weekend screenings with occasional later screenings too. The trial will kick off in the week beginning the 5th September and you’ll be able to see times by going to the Odeon website or Your Local

A great result and well done to the young people involved. I’m looking forward to seeing the outcome of the review of the pilot in November. Hopefully a model for other groups of deaf children around the UK to folllow?