Leading politician reminisces on cochlear implants

I admit it, I’m a wibbly-wobbly flip-flopping Guardian reader. And whilst reading the paper on Saturday, I noticed that George Osborne, shadow Chancellor for the Conservative party, was doing some quick-fire questions and was asked: “in your role as an MP, of what are you most proud?”

The answer? “The individual victories for constituents. Recently, my office finally got a young boy the ear implant his family had been campaigning for.”

Image courtesy of Knutsford Guardian

The boy in question is Matthew (pictured left in photo) whose family successfully went to war against local health bosses who had refused to fund a second cochlear implant and dragged their feet on it for an eternity, even though the boy had a legal entitlement to the procedure. A Family Officer from the National Deaf Children’s Society supported the family in their legal battle and the story got featured in the other Guardian – the Knutsford Guardian back in January.

Really interesting to see it’s one of the most memorable local cases for George. And a nice example of how getting a Member of Parliament involved can make a big difference to local campaigns.

PS If you want to make sure that your future MP will support deaf children, why not ask him/her to sign the NDCS election pledge for deaf children?


BBC online video news stories: that deja vu feeling…

Today, I am mostly experiencing deja vu. This is because the BBC news online have put up another online video news story about a deaf child… without subtitles or a transcript.

Like last time when this happened, I am quietly outraged. This is a story about deafness – apparently about hearing dogs for the deaf – and yet as a deaf adult I have no idea what points are being made. I have no way of responding and am disempowered on a matter which personally affects me. I suspect the same is true for the deaf child featured in the news story.

What makes it worse is that the Guardian have shown that it IS possible to have subtitled online video news stories. So if the BBC were pretending before that the technology isn’t available, their cover is blown.

I’m also miffed by the assurances that I received last time that the BBC news online team would work to make sure all the relevant staff were aware of this issue. Doesn’t seem to have worked. It’s not exactly rocket science anyway. If you’re doing a story about deafness, make sure deaf people can access it. Doh.

I have emailed them again to complain so we’ll see what they say. If you’re as outraged as I am, you can complain at: newsonline.complaints@bbc.co.uk

PS Thanks to Tina and Smudge the hearing dog for spotting this.

Deaf children on Guardian online video… and no subtitles

The Guardian is not having a good week.

I’ve already blogged about how an article was published that was derogatory to BSL users.

And now the Guardian have done a very interesting article about a young group of deaf children who have formed a music band… and uploaded a video of an interview with a band to the website. With no subtitles. And no transcript.

I don’t quite understand. The BBC did the same thing a while back. Does it not occur to people doing these video stories about deafness that without subtitles or a transcript, it will be completely inaccessible to deaf people? It’s not as if the technology isn’t out there.

It’s incredibly frustrating. And almost disrespectful. So I’ve written to the Guardian to complain – and will let you know how I get on.

UPDATED: After writing this, I discovered that the Guardian have now put subtitles on the online video. Which is great news, very impressive. I’d like to think it’s all down to my complaint… but I’m sure they had always intended to do so.

I look forward to the day when all online video content is subtitled!

I feel bad for having a go at them now…

Signed interpretation on TV: under attack from the Guardian

A while back, the Guardian did a fantastic set of articles on deaf people. On Monday though, I read a blog on the Guardian’s website which seemed to suggest that the Guardian’s own journalists don’t read their own paper.

This article was about sign language interpretation on a film shown on TV, by a Nick Lezard, called “Sign language strangles cinema”. It’s hard to know where to start – but the whole article suggested a profound ignorance, which was rather worrying to anyone who campaigns on deaf issues.

Nick shows a profound lack of understanding between British Sign Language and English, asking why deaf people cannot just use subtitles. Five minutes of basic investigation would have revealed to him that BSL is a distinct language. It is not just English with signs. It has a different grammar and structure. Asking a BSL user to follow subtitles is like asking a French man to follow a German film with Spanish subtitles. I imagine that most deaf people will in fact prefer to use subtitles to access TV. But there are a sizable minority who communicate primarily through British Sign Language and who will prefer to see sign language on TV.

Nick suggests the film was ‘ruined’ by the presence of sign language interpretation. If he doesn’t like it, that’s fine. And if all programmes were shown with signed interpretation, I can imagine he’d be very unhappy. But this is not the case. We’re talking here about a film that was on in the very early hours of the morning. In fact, most signed interpreted programmes are shown in the twilight zone, deliberating timed to avoid being too intrusive to hearing viewers. BSL users – who pay a full licence fee too – are forced to either stay up to after midnight or record programmes in order to be able to access a small number of programmes and films in their own languages.

Nick has the option of renting or buying a DVD and being able to watch it in English, or waiting till it is repeated on TV again. BSL users do not have this kind of ready access. It is a shame that Nick seems to want to begrude BSL users this small accommodation to their needs.

One of the comments to the blog – from ahumanist – summed up my feelings by saying:

In my understanding, the job of a journalist is to ask questions and investigate when he comes up against an issue. So when he turns on the box and sees “a fat little man” (I prefer not to think what Lezard looks like) gesticulating in the corner of the screen, then he might be prompted to ask some questions and investigate: Do deaf people prefer subtitles or sign language? Is poor literacy more prevalent amongst deaf people? Can one get DVDs film with sign language? Is the BBC filling a gap the private sector ignores? Are there technical problems is using the “red button” to switch on and off? These are the kind of questions I would expect a journalists to see as their task, and they should be paid for that kind of work. Lezard is a lazy man, his column inches of self-indulgence and ignorance are pure garbage.

I couldn’t agree more. The article was ignorant and mean-spirited. To see it appear on the website of a paper which I’ve always thought recognised diversity and the needs of disabled people and promoted inclusion is profoundly disappointing.

A brave attempt to make planning seem exciting

PlanningPlanning is important. It helps you avoid a family like the Gallaghers from Shameless. It also help you to develop effective campaigns. I sometimes say to myself that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. And then I realise I sound like a zany motivational speaker and shut myself up.

Anyway, as a campaigns officer, its my job to plan and roll out campaigns. So what kind of things do I need to think about when planning a campaign? I feel another top five list coming up…

1) Objectives:
If the campaign is successful, what will it have achieved? It seems like an obvious question but I’ve come across campaigns where the answer to this question is unclear or fuzzy. Having a very clear sense of what you want to achieve at the very outset is, I think, really important.

2) Targets:
Who has the power to give you what you want. Or to help you get it? I find it helpful to think of power as being like a series of concentric circles. At the outside, you might have members of the public. And then with circles going further in, you might have the media, think tanks, civil servants, Government Ministers, people with the ear of the Prime Minister and then finally the big man himself at the very centre. Its hard to target the very centre – so you have to think about how the targets in the circles outside can help you get closer to the centre. I think a good campaign should try to target and influence as wide a group of targets as possible.

3) Messages:
Is it clear what you want? Is it simple, easy and straightforward message? Or is it complex, heavy on jargon and full of caveats? I strongly believe that the simpler a campaign message, the easier it to ‘sell it’ and be understood by the wider public and decision-makers.

4) Timing:
Timing really is everything. Sometimes this can be about assessing the political ‘mood’ and whether your message is something that people are going to be interested in. Sometimes its about spotting opportunities, like a Government inquiry or consultation into something that you can build on and respond to. To give an example, Amnesty International are currently campaigning on human rights in China, reasoning that the Beijing Olympics this summer mean that the world’s attention is going to be placed on China – and that the Chinese government may be more likely to take action, if only to avoid any bad news stories.

5) Tactics:
What are you going to do to get your campaign noticed and get people listening? This is an issue I was musing on when I wrote my earlier blog on Greenpeace. Greenpeace’s tactics often involve very loud and visible protests – such as climbing up Big Ben. There’s no denying this gets people’s attention (though there’s a debate to be had about whether this undermined their campaign – do people remember what they were actually protesting about?). Other tactics might involve face to face meetings with civil servants, trying to generate media stories, or trying to get your members to write to their MP about a really important issue. Greenpeace themselves talk about how they do a lot of private lobbying. I reckon a good campaign should flexibly deploy a range of tactics to maximise the chances of it getting noticed.

All of this is, of course, a horrible over-simplification and I’ve barely talked about why it’s so important to get members involved. But I hope its interesting/useful.

Of course, this all means that I now have to set out some of the planning behind the campaigns that I’m currently working on. I’ll be inviting feedback, comments, devastating critiques, etc. on this very blog very soon!

PS On the subject of tactics, check out a recent article in the Guardian on how to campaign without straying onto the wrong side of the law! Again, I should stress I have no plans to do anything that might involve getting arrested… Ahem.