So what was all the party conference fuss all about?

When the party conferences finished a few weeks back, I was at a stage when I couldn’t look at a MP on the TV without screaming “No! No more!” and looking wide-eyed for a hill to run up. Happily, I’ve now recovered enough to look back and attempt a sum-up of the NDCS experience at the party conferences 2009, bookending all of the daily blogs I did here last month.

Looking at the numbers, altogether, we met 57 MPs, peers and candidates for election. Of these, 27 were Ministers or Shadow Ministers, including:

* Lead on education for each party, and another four junior education ministers.
* Minister responsible for Building Regulations.
* Minister for Disability, and his Conservative counterpart.
* Minister responsible for audiology services.
* 11 prospective parliamentary candidates who are likely to be influential in the next Parliament.

Not bad, if I say so myself. All of these chin-wags helped us achieve cross party support for our campaign on acoustics which, in turn, helped us achieve our recent campaign victory and the new package of measures from the Department for Children, Schools and Families. In fact, the conferences came at just the right time for us, allowing us to do some precision lobbying at the moment it mattered.

Part of the reason why so many MPs wanted to meet with us was Louis Kissaun, our deaf young person with us, who was able to explain the issues in a more direct way to MPs. After all, it’s young people like Louis who suffer most from rubbish acoustics. Louis seemed to enjoy himself: you can read our little interview with him here.

More than anything, the conference was a chance to chin-wag, muscle in on conversations, network and have an informal chat about our work and concerns, which is something you can’t really put a price on. It was one big Mastercard priceless moment if you like. Lots of unexpected opportunities arose during the conference, like a chance encounter with a journalist from ITV Yorkshire, think tank academics working on special educational needs, other charities concerned about new schools, and so on. And not forgetting all the fringe meetings. We attended around 30 and tried to sneak in a question at every one.

By August next year, I will have forgotten how tiring three weeks of schmoozing is, and will be raring to go again…


Lobbying Conservatives on deaf children: day 3

Last day at the party conferences! The travelling circus is coming to an end for NDCS tomorrow morning when we return to London. And hibernate for a month to catch up on our sleep.

Mark HarperBut not before another busy day of meetings between our deaf young supporter, Louis Kissaun, and a range of Conservative MPs and candidates standing for election. Of which a surprising number have a deaf father or grandfather (three, at the last count). One of the highlights for Louis was meeting Mark Harper MP, who is the Conservative Shadow Disability Minister. Mark really took the time to engage with Louis and ask lots of questions. Gratifyingly for us, we had very little need to lobby Mark on our concerns on acoustics and access to examinations for disabled people – he already set out his position, nearly identical to ours, before we’d even said anything. Lovely, I thought.

Richard BenyonLouis also met the MP for his school, Mary Hare school for the deaf. Richard Benyon MP was also very clued up on the needs of deaf children, realising that noisy classrooms will be exhausting and frustrating for deaf children, forcing them to concentrate twice as hard as everyone else. Another supporter signed up in Westminster.

The only downsides of the day were my failure to a) find an opportunity to ask what the Conservative’s think of Access to Work. Alas. Something to take up on our return to London… And b) take decent photos. I don’t think I’ll be giving up the day job.

It’s been a tough two weeks for Louis. But he has really excelled in representing other deaf children and young people, posing for lots of photos and being extremely patient with everyone. Apparently, he hasn’t ruled out a career in politics. So, watch this space…

NDCS campaigns at Labour conference 2009: day 3

Louis has continued today in his determination to make campaigns look easy, lobbying a further three MPs today on acoustics in schools. The MPs were:

Virendra Sharma
Virendra Sharma

Sharon Hodgson
Sharon Hodgson
Iain Wright
Iain Wright

Virendra Sharma: Louis’s local MP in London who affectionately described Louis as an “Ealing boy”. Virendra seemed particularly shocked about what we had to say on acoustics in schools – the reaction we were looking for – and has promised to raise this issue with the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Sharon Hodgson: A strong supporter of NDCS in the past and an even stronger advocate for children with special educational needs, Sharon asked Louis lots of questions about his deafness and his experiences. Louis and Sharon also had a detailed discussion about the merits of Twitter and Facebook!

Iain Wright: Another DCSF Minister, this time responsible for policy for children aged 14 to 19. Iain is familiar with our acoustics campaign having previously worked at the Department for Communities and Local Government. Again, Iain asked lots of question and also took the time to listen to our simulation of poor acoustics in the classroom. He seemed shocked by how difficult it was to make out what the teacher was saying.

With all MPs, we’ve been preparing local press releases to send out in the hope of getting some local media coverage highlighting our concerns on acoustics. Despite being camera shy, Louis has gamely posed for lots of photos with MPs!

As Louis has been a superstar, we took some time out from the conference to treat him to a game of crazy golf on the seaside in Brighton. For someone who has never played before, he managed to beat my interpreter and get a hole in one. Worringly, there seems to be no end to his talents…

Louis has now headed off back home, but we have another day of lobbying to do at the Labour party conferences tomorrow, so pop back tomorrow for another daily update.

NDCS campaigns at Labour conference 2009: day 2

Louis Kissaun with MPs Ed Balls and Mary Creagh
Louis Kissaun with MPs Ed Balls and Mary Creagh

Every now and then I get paranoid that deaf young people want to steal my job… Louis Kissaun has now joined that list of people to fear. Here’s what Louis had to say at lunchtime today about his first morning of the Labour party conference:

“I am Louis Kissaun, a 17 year old student who is now studying his last year of A levels at Mary Hare School for the deaf. I am studying Art, English Literature and Media Studies. I have also recently taken an opportunity to work and appear in a TV series called Shameless on C4.

Because of my experience of Shameless, I have been asked by the National Deaf Children’s Society to act as a representative for deaf children and young people at the Labour party conference. They have also chosen me because I went to a mainstream primary school before Mary Hare which had very bad acoustics which affected my English and Maths grades. So it’s nice to campaign for something and help others like me avoid the same struggles in lessons.

My first morning has been interesting at times. Particular the first moments with the MPs which was quite nerve racking. At one point, we met with 3 MPs at the same time, one of which was Ed Balls, the Children’s Secretary. After a few moments, I felt more relaxed and confident in explaining why acoustics is important. I feel that almost all the MPs agreed with the issues we talked about. I think we have certainly got a few more MPs on board with the campaign.

We are meeting more MPs today. I feel tired but am looking forward to it!”

What makes me fear Louis even more that he’s being somewhat modest. He did a fantastic job of explaining to MPs what it’s like for deaf children to be in a classroom with rubbish acoustics, referring back to how he used to get headaches because of the noise in his primary classroom and how he had to move to a specialist school for deaf children to be able to listen and learn effectively in the classroom.

Impressively, in a chaotic morning with MPs either being late or early, he managed to hold court with three MPs at the same time. And one of them was the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, Ed Balls, and another was the Minister responsible for special educational needs, Diana Johnson. Louis also later met Jonathan Shaw, Minister for Disability and Phil Hope, Minister responsible for audiology services. And if that wasn’t enough, he also met two other MPs and two people likely to become MPs at the next election. All of them seemed interested in our work and campaigns, thanks in no small part to Louis. We feel pretty confident that it will help move our campaign for better acoustics in schools forward in a big way.

Thanks to Louis, my role was pretty much limited to fetching the tea. Pah! Not bad for a 17 year old… A few more meetings tomorrow where I shall be watching out to see if Louis goes for the kill…

Young deaf celebrity pops into NDCS office

I caused a minor frission of excitement in the office on Wednesday when Louis Kissaun, who had a leading role in the Channel 4 programme, Shameless, earlier in the year, came into the office. My colleagues hadn’t been so excited since the Helpline team bought some Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

What was he doing here? After a successful turn last year by Laura Bolter, we were thinking a few months back what young deaf person we could bring along to the party political conferences this year. And then Louis turned up on Shameless and the answer fell into our laps. We contacted his school and the rest is history.

It was great to meet Louis and to have him on board. It’s clear he’s going to do a great job. We know that MPs are going to be keen to meet with him to learn about his experiences growing up deaf and, of course, being on Shameless.

Our prep for the party conferences now starts in earnest – so look out for more details in coming months.

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?

NDCS interview with Shameless deaf actor

The NDCS website has an interview with Louis Kissaun, the actor who plays Danny, the new deaf character in Shameless. Has some interesting comments on what it was like being deaf, working on the Shameless set. No exclusives on what his character’s hidden agenda is though…

Seems like a great role model for deaf children and young people.