There’s a worrying domino effect impacting deaf young people’s education – it must be stopped | Liam O’Dell

As MPs debate deaf children’s services in Parliament later today, it’s time to introduce more equality into our education system and address this problem at its core.

A series of continuous barriers in education are preventing deaf young people from achieving their full potential. Without the right support, these issues can only worsen as the individual progresses through the system.

The National Deaf Children’s Society has done some incredible work in establishing the issues present throughout a deaf young person’s journey through the education system. Their research has revealed that councils in England are planning £4 million worth of cuts to services for disabled children and young people; that just nine per cent of deaf young people attended a Russell Group university in the 2015/16 academic year (compared to 17% of all students) and now, that over half of deaf students in England in 2017 failed to achieve more than one A-Level before reading 19 years of age. The exact figure, 58.8%, is the highest rate since 2012, The Independent reports.

All of this points to a wider domino effect at play in our education system which sets deaf young people down a path where they are unable to achieve the results of which they are capable. The cuts to deaf services mean that deaf pupils are not as supported by Teachers of the Deaf and other professionals as they should be.

As such, these individuals fail to receive full access to an education in the classroom, which could explain why we’re currently seeing a rise in the number of deaf young people failing to achieve more than one A-Level. This then impacts their chances of entering Russell Group universities. It shouldn’t be allowed to snowball like this.

While all this unfolds, the Government is making slow progress on introducing a GCSE in British Sign Language (BSL) – a qualification which would not only help to break down communication barriers between deaf pupils, their peers and their tutors, but also greatly improve their access to education.

Education is as much about support networks as it is learning. These cuts should not only be stopped, but more work must be done to establish connections between parents, students and teachers.

Having on individual who can understand a child’s needs in an educational environment can help a lot with navigating through education. At present, the cuts to deaf services are so significant that while I received support from a Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator, not every deaf child is so lucky.

With so many barriers facing deaf children in education, it can feel isolating and confusing. Transitions between school can only exacerbate the obstacles if strong communication networks are established. We must not only challenge the damaging cuts proposed, but work to improve connections so deaf children are supported as much as possible.


‘Exit the King’ review – Rhys Ifans delivers a respectable performance in this absurdist comedy

A 400-year-old king (Rhys Ifans) is refusing to die. It sounds promising and above all, absolutely ridiculous, but with hit-and-miss humour, you do start to wish that he’d get on with it – ★★★☆☆

A madcap play about existentialism has the potential to be both hilariously daft and incredibly thought-provoking. At its smartest, it can raise intelligent points about life and dying. At its most bonkers, it can have Harry Potter star Rhys Ifans rolling and floundering around the stage as a crazed monarch.

Photo: Simon Annand.

In a production which is completely off the rails, it’s Ifans’ performance as the King which really stands out. Handed some impressive monologues in his role, the actor recites them with a Shakespearean air – something which is perhaps one of the play’s many jokes which isn’t quite apparent on the first try.

Other notable performances include Indira Varma’s role as the impatient Queen Marguerite, who shines in the final scenes, and Doctor Who‘s Adrian Scarborough offers most of the intriguing remarks from this production as The Doctor (no, not that one).

Outside of these three characters, the rest of the cast’s talents are wasted. Derek Griffith’s role as an over-enthusiastic royal guard revolves around the same repeated joke, while Amy Morgan plays a devoted lover that doesn’t have much to offer in terms of dialogue. Debra Gillett’s part as a nurse, although brilliantly acted, fails to pack either an intelligent or comedic punch.

Granted, absurdist comedy is very much an acquired taste, but in a weird way, there must be a method to the madness. Interesting ideas about death are raised in one of Ifans’ many poetic monologues, but the final comment towards the end of the play is lost in Eugène Ionesco’s flowery language. The great big moral of the story – the opportunity to make the underlying point far more apparent to the audience – is the final punchline. As one approaches the end of the play, one expects there to be one remark which undermines the sentimentally – yet it never arrives.

Slightly underwhelming in nature and with a bag full of light jokes that don’t quite land, Exit the King is missable, but sees Rhys Ifans deliver an impressive performance.

Exit the King is now playing at the Olivier Theatre until 6 October.

‘The Lehman Trilogy’ review – Sam Mendes directs this fast-moving and poetic tale of Western capitalism

Adam Godley, Ben Miles and Simon Russell Beale deliver phenomenal performances in this three hour-long epic exploring a detailed history of Western capitalism through the lens of one Bavarian family – ★★★★

They say the best things come in threes. In the case of the National Theatre’s sell-out show, The Lehman Trilogy, actors Godley, Miles and Russell Beale navigate Es Devlin’s incredible office space set with marvellous elegance and professionalism. Unique as individual actors and powerful as a group, the trio flow between multiple characters seamlessly in what is an incredible theatrical feat.

Photo: Mark Douet.

Away from the stage, adapter Ben Power, director Sam Mendes, designer Devlin and pianist Candida Caldicot’s collaboration gives this production its final classical polish. Power’s vibrant writing Live piano melodies from Caldicot heighten the  while Mendes’ direction feels suitably methodical on Devlin’s revolving set. It’s fast-moving – both in sense of chronology and choreography.

Such is the pace of the production that it can at times feel a lot to take in – the two intervals allowing the audience time to process each part of the time-travelling tale. This may sound worrying for a play exploring as complex an issue as the progress of Western capitalism, but explored through the lens of The Lehman Brothers, the wider points about economics, marketing and finance become clearer and more anecdotal.

Another grounding aspect of the trilogy, which also provides some wonderful charm and humour, are the little motifs which appear regularly throughout the production. Tightrope walkers, card dealers, shop signs and the announcement that one is about to “take my leave” are wonderful bursts of eccentricity which, together with incredible performances from the cast – breathe life into the financial world in which we find ourselves.

Three hours and three parts later, and there’s three well-deserved bows for a sensational trio of performers. Truly classical in nature, The Lehman Trilogy is a fine piece of immersive, three-dimensional theatre.

While standard tickets for The Lehman Trilogy at the Lyttleton Theatre are now sold out, day tickets can still be bought on the day of the performance and Friday Rush tickets are also available every week at 1pm. 16 to 25 year olds can also purchase tickets through the National Theatre Entry Pass scheme.

If Facebook wants to be completely transparent, then its time for them to reveal their algorithm | Liam O’Dell

With the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s Select Committee calling for more transparency around the business models used by social media platforms such as Facebook, the rise of data politics means that the algorithms can no longer be kept a secret.

It’s a system so mysterious that it’s become a game to content creators and data miners – a series of hoops to jump through that can get them to the audience they want. Crack the algorithm, and you crack a system which is, in essence, the hive mind of those which use said platform. Cambridge Analytica have shown that it can be done, which is why it’s time that the inner workings of social media sites are revealed to the public.

Photo: Anthony Quintano/Flickr.

This level of transparency was also called for by a report by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s Select Committee (DCMSC), along with a new definition for social media websites which are “not necessarily either a ‘platform’ or a ‘publisher'”.

There has been ongoing talk about Facebook’s precise role in the tech and media industries, and whether it is indeed a ‘publisher’. Yet, as the DCMSC notes: “Facebook is continually altering what we see, as is shown by its decision to prioritise content from friends and family, which then feeds into users’ newsfeed algorithm.”

More importantly, it’s time for social media platforms to fully disclose what exactly their algorithm is. The Cambridge Analytica scandal has shown that this is a serious ethical issue. It’s essential that something so impactful and manipulative is out in the open, so the public knows just how they are being influenced.

Recently, Channel 4’s Dispatches investigated how Facebook moderates content on its platform, and questions are being asked about what sort of content the site decides not to take down. Monika Bickert, Facebook’s Head of Global Policy Management, told the DCMSC that “our community would not want us, a private company, to be the arbiter of truth”, yet their systems display content in a particular way, and they still have to make decisions about what content they do not allow on their platform.

In turn, social media sites may claim that publishing extensive details about their algorithms may harm their company when it comes to competition, but this issue covers freedom of expression and democracy – two things which cannot continue to be sacrificed for protecting ‘trade secrets’.

Granted, knowing how such a system works may be a gold mine for those who seek to exploit it (clickbaiters, data miners and so forth), but when the general public know how a system can be cheated, they can also know how others can use it for monetary gain. Those who publish fake news will be faced with a fresh wave of scepticism when people know the tactics that they use.

If Facebook doesn’t want to be seen as an “arbiter of truth”, then the solution is simple: make the algorithm more transparent, and then the people can decide the truth for themselves.

Funding for an inclusive transport network is good news, but long overdue | Liam O’Dell

A £30 million boost to public transport – combined with continuous improvements in technology – means we’re one step closer to a fully accessible and inclusive network for disabled people.

Public transport already comes with an air of traditional British awkwardness. Eye contact with fellow train passengers is heavily discouraged, conversations with your taxi driver never extend beyond small talk and if you play hardcore dubstep too loud through your headphones you’ll be met with 22 death stares from commuters on the Circle Line.

Now imagine this experience as a disabled person. For many autistic people, the loud noises of the London Underground can be nothing more than overwhelming. For wheelchair users, some train stations come without step-free access. Then, for a deaf young person like me, all it takes is an announcement over a tannoy on a train and I start to feel lost and confused.

Photo: Department for Transport.

I turn to the commuter next to me.

“What did they say?” I ask.

Except I don’t.

For one thing, I’ve come to assume that the train coming to a halt and the garbling voice of the driver in an announcement means that the journey is most likely delayed. A quick look at Trainline on my phone confirms it, and saves me from breaking the eerie silence that returns once the driver has finished talking.

While technology has helped to improve accessibility on public transport for me and other disabled people, the inclusivity of a bus journey or taxi ride is significantly enhanced when tech combines with physical improvements – which is why I welcome the Department for Transport’s announcement this week that up to £300 million is to be invested in making transport networks in the UK more inclusive.

In their Inclusive Transport Strategy, the Government commits to legislation to ensure that “on-board audible and visible upcoming stop and route information is installed on local bus services across Great Britain” – a reassuring move indeed.

From a deaf person’s perspective, the strategy could also go further, and address tannoy systems on trains and taxis. Granted, the option of taking the front passenger seat in taxis is an option for me when I need to hear the driver, but there’s always been that expectation that you’ll struggle to open the back door, not sit at the front. The end result is having to try and make out the driver’s voice in amongst the hum of the traffic which seeps through the doors.

The strategy also talks about how 75% of rail journeys are now through stations with step-free access, but it could also commit to 100% within a certain timeframe. Similarly, the Government plans to launch a public awareness campaign in 2019 around positively interacting with disabled people “to ensure a supportive travelling experience”. This needs to start now.

Only last week did we hear of a disabled comedian who was “humiliated” for using a disabled space on a train for her mobility scooter when another passenger wanted to use it for a pram. It’s an ongoing issue around priority seats which also highlighted in a campaign by comedian Corry Shaw, who called for Transport to London (TfL) to introduce messages asking people to ‘look up’ and see if someone needs your seat.

As more funding is announced for disabled facilities on public transport, we also need to ensure that such support is not exploited and that non-disabled people are aware of its intended purpose just as much as disabled people.

The Global Disability Summit 2018: Disabled people must be at the heart of change | Liam O’Dell

As the first ever Global Disability Summit – organised by the Department for International Development – gets underway, we must remember that disabled people have to be at the heart of all positive change.

The sheer hypocrisy of having the UK Government host an event on disability following last year’s “human catastrophe” verdict by the UN is more significant than you may think.

With delegates discussing topics such as “tackling stigma and discrimination, inclusive education, technology and innovation” and looking to ways of implementing change, it’s important to consider the actions and attitudes which both underpin and hinder social progress.

Photo: Department for International Development (DfID).

At the centre of all this is media and political representation. Disabled people long for accurate portrayals in film and television of those with similar impairments to their own, devoid of the ‘inspiration porn’ and warped fascination that surrounds disability. In politics, decisions on benefits and support for disabled people stir up negative stereotypes, and in some cases, they aren’t even consulted on government changes.

Both of these issues combine to dramatically limit the power and voice of disabled people in society. Charities launch campaigns aimed at ‘ending the awkward’ around disability because the actions of politicians – supported by the press – create an atmosphere where the only understanding people have of impairments, conditions and disabled people is through government policy and the limited media representation – that is unless they visit charity websites or know someone who is disabled, of course.

However, there’s a possibility that this awkwardness and issue has transferred into education and other areas of society. While my experience at school regarding additional support was absolutely incredible, not everyone has the same opportunities during their time in the education system. For some, if measures are put in place to help them, it’s with little involvement from the disabled person themselves.

So now, as organisations look to implement the Charter for Change, it’s reassuring that one of the ten clauses within it is to:

“promote the leadership and diverse representation of all persons with disabilities to be front and centre of change; as leaders, partners and advocates. This includes the active involvement and close consultation of persons with disabilities of all ages.”

Summits are a great opportunity for discussion and debate – to talk, and to listen. If there’s a global effort to enforce the above pledge, then we can elevate the platforms of disabled people around the world, informing policy and breaking down stereotypes and misconceptions in our society that have existed for far too long.

Are you disabled and between 11 and 30 years old? If so, the Global Disability Summit is inviting you to share your thoughts on some of the issues disabled people face around the world. The survey is online now. I’ve completed it, and I hope you do too.

‘Consent’ review – Nina Raine’s thought-provoking elaborate production raises many questions in a tense blend of love and justice

In a detailed exploration of love, justice and the law, Consent raises a lot of questions for the audience to ponder – both curious and confusing ones.

One would think that such confusion would come from the technicalities of the play being one of a legal nature, but Raine’s research shines confidently throughout in the writing. Instead, in a production which explores the many relationships of the characters on stage, what starts as a straightforward tale expands into something far more complex and puzzling.

From left: Adam James, Stephen Campbell Moore, Lee Ingleby, Clare Foster and Claudie Blakley. Credit: Johan Persson

Thankfully, this doesn’t stop Raine from raising some interesting points in the dialogue of her characters. The History Boys’ Stephen Campbell Moore and The A Word‘s Lee Ingleby are amongst the cast who deliver powerful performances and showcase excellent character development. The atmosphere’s tense, and the individuals three-dimensional – often expressing contrasting opinions throughout, which is particularly interesting to see.

Mix the topic of the play and the characters with a classical score and limited set design, and things start to feel a little more intense. Yet such a tone and pace for a play which explores many ideas does lead to some points being lost. It’s upon re-reading the play text that you begin to see some of the foreshadowing and wider, underlying discussions.

An impressive cast and excellent dialogue feature in Consent, but as the plot develops, some of the production’s underlying points get lost along the way.

Rating: 3.5/5