Making deaf children matter

Musings and blogs from a deaf campaigner

Posts Tagged ‘discrimination’

Pushing the disability ministry to take disabled access seriously

Posted by Ian Noon on July 17, 2013

A minor little campaign victory achieved at NDCS the other week: the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) accepted that deaf people should not be forced to use the phone to make a claim for the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP) benefit. Usually, I do a little jig and get the Bucks Fizz out when a campaign victory has been achieved. But this was a very small, unsettling one and which left an unpleasant taste in the mouth.

How come? Because the only real concession is that deaf people have been given a postal address that they can write to to ask for a paper form instead.

And why is it an unsettling one? Because it was such a small issue that should absolutely never have been an issue at all. And because it’s revealed some rather interesting things about how the Department for Work and Pensions, which has responsibility for disability issues across Whitehall, seem to approach issues around access for disabled people.

For example, who at DWP thought it was OK to propose that the only way that a disabled person could make a claim was via a telephone?

If an online system is being created, why not wait until this is developed before rolling out the new benefit so that more people can access?

And, the worse one of all for me, who on earth thought it was acceptable to suggest that if a deaf person couldn’t use the phone, it didn’t matter too much because they could ask a family member to call DWP for them?

Something has gone very horribly wrong when the Minister and officials responsible for disability have to be hectored at some length and for some time to take a tiny step to improve access.

Official were seemingly operating in ignorance of the Equality Act 2010 and its central tenets to remove discrimination and promote access for disabled people. Throughout the whole exchange with DWP, it was abundantly clear that the needs and the convenience of their ‘system’ was far more important than the physical access needs of disabled people.

And this is before we’ve got to the raft of spending and welfare cuts that are going to impact on disabled people (and which the Government refuses to assess the impact of – another legal requirement). This was a small issue. But it said big things about the Government’s wider attitude towards disabled people.

I despair. It makes me angry and depressed. But equally it makes me more determined to keep challenging the Government. And I hope others do too.

P.S. If you’re not sure what this new PIP benefit is all about, both the National Deaf Children’s Society and Action on Hearing Loss have recently produced some information resources on PIP for deaf young people, parents and deaf adults.

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Deaf access fail at the Department for Work and Pensions

Posted by Ian Noon on August 10, 2012

Imagine someone telling a wheelchair user that the disabled toilets are just up the stairs. You’d think it bonkers. Well, the Department with overall responsibility on disability policy seem to be on well on their way to pulling a similar trick with deaf people.

There’s been lots of discussions about how the process for claiming the new Personal Independence Payments benefit will work in practice. In a nutshell, you have to make a pre-claim before you’re given a personalised form for your proper claim.

And how do you get a pre-claim form? Easy, you give the benefits team a call and they will do a short interview over the phone. And if you have problems using the phone? No worries, you’ll get a paper form to complete. And how do you get a paper form? You give the benefits team a call.

Frankly, it’s more than just a little disconcerting that the people looking after benefits for disabled people haven’t quite twigged that not every disabled person can use a telephone or have a textphone. So much for the new digital age and for the Government leading by example when it comes to access for disabled people… Am told that Department officials are working on trying to get an online form set up for the new PIP benefit… but it may not be ready in time when the new benefit launches in April next year.

They’d better get a move on. It’s not only just bonkers and ludicrous, but discriminatory.

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Love film but hate lack of online access for deaf people?

Posted by Ian Noon on March 1, 2012

I got an email the other day at work about Lovefilm and the lack of subtitles for deaf people who sign up to their online film streaming service. A father of a deaf daughter was angry that she wasn’t able to watch any films online with subtitles. It quickly became apparent via Twitter that this wasn’t an isolated issue and that loads of other similar companies are equally poor. Another example of access failing to keep pace with technology and incredibly frustrating.

I would say that Lovefilm and other companies that fail to provide full access to deaf people are acting unlawfully under the Equality Act 2010. Their defence? Lovefilm would probably use the get-out clause that it would be an “unreasonable burden” on them to provide access. Ultimately, someone would have to take Lovefilm to court so that a judge could decide who was right.

In the meantime, there are a few things that can be done to make a fuss about this.

1) Complain. If your beef is with Lovefilm, you can contact them via their website. You could ask them to justify why they don’t provide access and whether they think they are acting lawfully under the Equality Act 2010. Other companies should have a “contact us” page on their website tucked away somewhere. If lots of people complain, this will start to get noticed internally.

2) You could also raise with the Equality and Human Rights Commission – who can look into companies that are not complying with the Equality Act.

3) Ofcom are responsible for regulating telecommunication companies and setting access requirements. For example, they require mainstream TV companies to provide a certain level of access according to their size. Currently, they don’t (I think) regulate online TV or media access. But you should certainly feel free to tell them you think they should.

4) Finally, tell the Government to sort it. The relevant Ministry is the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. A new Communications Bill is expected soon-ish and this offers an opportunity to get the law changed on things like online access, if enough people say it’s needed.

Be really interested to hear any other nightmare stories or how others have got on when making complaints like this. Or of any solutions that people have stumbled across.

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University access for deaf students fail

Posted by Ian Noon on May 26, 2010

Image courtesy of the Northern Echo

An interesting article appeared in Guardian yesterday about Rosie Watson, a deaf mature student, who took Durham University to court for breaking disability discrimination laws.

On the one hand, it’s a very inspiring story about a gutsy deaf person who refused to let the university get away with it. On the other hand, it’s appalling what she went through what she did. The Guardian also reports that disabled students at Oxford are twice as likely to drop out and that the Students Loans Company is failing to approved Disabled Students Allowances quickly enough.

It all reminded me of own experiences at university (many years ago), which I blogged about ages back. Back then I speculated whether this was a one-off experience. I’m beginning to think that it probably isn’t.

It all raises a lot of questions. Are these one-off cases or widespread problems across all universities? Why? Do deaf students know their rights? Are they making a fuss about it or are they just “coping”? Were universities having a sick day when the Disability Discrimination Act was passed? Do they think that deaf young people are so thick that they would never think of applying, or even going to university?

What are your thoughts? Do you know of any cases where deaf students have been let down at university? Be good to hear about it.

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Funding for deaf access to cinema to be cut?

Posted by Ian Noon on February 8, 2010

I spotted last week that the UK Film Council are doing a consultation on their future priorities, and I’m glad I did.

There’s no mention of access to the cinema for deaf children and adults in it. For a moment, I suddenly thought that we now live in a world where deaf children and young people can go and see any film they like with subtitles at any time whenever they like . But then I saw the pigs flying by the window and I realised I hadn’t missed an important memo somewhere. We don’t live in such a world and cinema access for deaf people, whilst much better than it used to be, could still be a lot better. So it’s pretty depressing to read that it’s not a priority for the UK Film Council.

And it’s get worse. There’s no mention of funding for existing initiatives that aim to widen access. As I understand it, existing UK Film Council funding for the award-winning one-stop shop website is being cut. If I didn’t have access to the website, it would be a lot harder for me to work out what subtitled films are showing where. I probably wouldn’t bother in the end. On top of that, capital funding to allow cinemas to buy equipment to show subtitles is also being cut. In fact, according to the consultation, only around 0.5% of the UK Film Council’s future expenditure will go towards “diversity and inclusion”, and there is no mention of anything of direct benefit to deaf children and young people. Nada.

I know I’m not alone when I say there is insufficient choice of subtitled films at convenient times at local cinemas. A lot of cinemas seem to think that deaf children’s schools are quite relaxed about them bunking off to watch a film judging by the times they schedule some subtitled films. Instead of making cuts, shouldn’t the UK Film Council should be looking at ways to widen access, by funding research into on-demand technology for subtitled films?

The consultation closes tomorrow so if you’d like to respond to their online survey, you need to be very quick. NDCS’s response can be dowloaded from here.

Be good to hear your thoughts. Are you surprised / disappointed that the UK Film Council are not making access to the cinema for deaf children and adults a priority? Leave a comment below to say what you think.

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Downing St petition on Government’s failure to ensure equality in exams

Posted by Ian Noon on February 2, 2010

I am still angry about the debacle over the Equality Bill last week when the Government decided that, actually, you know equality in exams and qualifications for disabled people, isn’t all that important, like.

So angry, that I have created a No.10 Downing Street petition to vent my anger.

If you’re angry too, please add your name as soon as you can to the petition. And tell your friends, families, random acquaintances, pets, etc.

The more people who sign it, the more the Government will realise that they cannot, in the 21st century, get away with denying full access to GCSEs, A Levels and other general qualifications for deaf and other disabled people.

I’m off to find a barracade to chain myself to.

PS The Downing Street website will send you an email to check that you want to sign the petition – so please check your email afterwards!

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No equality for disabled people in exams

Posted by Ian Noon on January 29, 2010

I thought the Government had a goal of equality for disabled people by 2025 but, when it comes to exams, it turns out that just “minimising disadvantage” is the highest goal the Government will aspire to.

Yes, I’ve slipped back into angry deaf man mode. On Tuesday, Lords were debating the issue of accessible exams for disabled people and possible new laws as part of the Equality Bill. NDCS, Skill, Afasic, RNIB, the Disability Charities Consortium and the Equality and Human Rights Commission all wanted the Government to strengthen the law. But the Government decided to side with the views of exam bodies. The same people who removed all support for disabled people in 2005 on the basis that reasonable adjustments were unfair and took marks away from deaf students when they were unable to hear tapes in oral exams. If a deaf person wanted a test on ability to hear, I think most of us would prefer to go to an audiologist. Anyhow, NDCS led a coaition to get that support reinstated but still, we come across sporadic examples of problems. Anecdotally, my colleagues report still going to meetings where exam bodies discuss whether someone reading out text for blind people is “unfair” to non-blind people.

The Equality Bill now provides exam bodies and the exams regulator with a range of “get-out” clauses to avoid having to provide full access, even though there are lots of safeguards already in place to make sure that the exams are still rigorous and not watered down.

Perhaps the most offensive thing of all is that the Bill says the regulator only needs to “minimise” disadvantage faced by disabled people in exams. If you’re going to be slapped around the face unnecessarily, it’s not much consolation to be told that the Government did try to “minimise” any harm to you.

You can read NDCS’s statement on this issue here. We’re having a think about next steps. If you’ve got any thoughts on the issue or any ideas on next steps, please do leave a comment below or email NDCS at

UPDATE: There’s now a Downing St petition on this. Find out more…

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Lords speak out about access to exams for disabled students

Posted by Ian Noon on December 22, 2009

If you’re wondering what the Lords were doing on the 15th day of December, they were having a big debate on equality. Maybe leaping around as well.

The Equality Bill had its first debate in the House of Lords last week, just before Parliament closed down for Christmas. The Equality Bill is an important bonzer Bill, aiming to streamline all of the existing pieces of legislation on discrimination into a single piece of legislation. As Michael Jackson might have put it if he was still alive, it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, disabled, lesbian, Hindu, polysexual, anything. The Equality Bill will sort you out.

But in seriousness, it’s a serious Bill that the big disabled charties are welcoming, as a “critical friend”. NDCS‘s main interest in the Bill is in what it says about access to examinations for disabled students.

This is an area in which the exam bodies have very bad form. Halfway through the noughties, exam bodies withdrew all support for disabled students in a bizarre misreading of disability discrimination law. NDCS successfully campaigned for that support to be reinstated but there are still concerns that some of the exam bodies still just don’t get it. Disabled students have the right to be able to demonstrate what they can do through a system of flexibly designed exams. It cannot be impossible to do this without undermining the value of the qualification.

The Government has been listening to our concerns and is proposing that the new exams regulator, Ofqual, will have the power to decide what exam bodies should and shouldn’t do when considering how disabled people can access exams. This is a nice idea in principle, but it does give Ofqual a lot of power. So NDCS is working with a range of other charities to make sure there are checks in place to make sure this power is used for the benefit of disabled people.

We’re looking to get the wording of the legislation changed. For example, currently, it says it would be “desirable” for Ofqual to try and “minimise” the disadvantage to disabled students. I don’t like the word “minimise”; it seems to assume that an outcome in which some disadvantage is present is tolerable or acceptable. We want the exam system to work to eliminate disadvantage. And “desirable”? It sounds as if access to examinations is something I might find on an Amazon wish list.

We’ve been busy briefing Lords and, happily, a few of them agree with us. In the first debate on the Equality Bill in the Lords, Lord Low said:

“… the Minister will be aware of the uncomfortable history in which qualifications bodies have misguidedly chosen to demonstrate their commitment to standards that we all share by taking measures that disadvantage disabled people. They have lost the confidence of many disabled people by doing so. Clause 96 of the Bill explicitly authorises an exam system that disadvantages disabled candidates and says in terms that minimising this is merely desirable, not necessary. The wording does not sit comfortably in an Equality Bill. The Government is usually such a champion of the life chances of disabled people and their foundation on basic qualifications that I hope very much that we will be able to move this issue forward through a process of discussion.”

The Bill is going to be debated again in January, and we’ll looking to get the wording of the Bill changed to something that gives full access for deaf students in exams. Hopefully, it will be our first campaign victory of 2010.

This is going to be my last blog before Christmas – so seasons greetings to everyone and thanks for reading and commenting!

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Out with the old: Apprenticeships Bill becomes law

Posted by Ian Noon on November 23, 2009

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?

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Awarding F for failure to exam bodies on access for deaf children

Posted by Ian Noon on August 21, 2009

It’s the time of year again when lots of expectant young people find out how they did in their A Level and GCSE exams. So we thought it would be a good idea to remind the media about how the exam system is stacked against deaf children.

Legislation requires disabled candidates to be given the necessary support they need during exams. Yet we repeatedly get emails from parents with horror stories about their deaf child being unable to access an exam. Examples include transcripts of audio and video tapes not being provided on time, deaf children being asked questions in English about music and being asked to remove hearing aids in case they whistled during the exam (despite the fact this would cause tinnutis for the affected child).

If deaf students can’t access exams, then they’ll be less likely to get the qualifications they need for a good job that reflects their abilities. There are no excuses for not getting it right.

Exam bodies have very bad form on access to exams. Our bad beef began back in 2005 when the regulator suddenly decided to withdraw all support available to disabled candidates, apparently on the basis that this was unfair to non-disabled candidates. It was around two years, after a big campaign led by NDCS, before this support was reinstated. Since then, exam bodies have continued to grumble. They still don’t seem to really grasp their responsibility to design exams in a way that disabled candidates are able to demonstrate their abilities.

We think a fundamental overhaul is needed and, when Parliament returns, we’re going to be doing some lobbying work on the Equality Bill to try and drag exam bodies into the 21st century.

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