Post-adrenaline amnesia

I wonder if other public performers have experienced this particular phenomenon.

As I stand on the red spot, ready to give a TEDx talk, a combination of others’ expectation and my desire to deliver a good form of entertainment is enough to banish the nerves and summon the adrenaline. What follows is a focus on delivering the task at hand, with no time for panicking about how exactly said task is presented to the crowd.

Adrenaline is a bizarre auto-pilot. The peripheral present is forgotten as I look towards the end goal. Such a distraction from what’s currently unfolding creates this sense of amnesia whereby once the experience is over, one can remember the beginning and end, but never the ‘during’ unless I’m able to remind myself later.

How did it go?

It’s a particularly interesting question to be asked by fellow TEDxYouth speakers after having lost yourself in the moment. Naturally, my perfectionism/pessimism led to me questioning whether I had talked for too long and wondering why I said the words ‘the important thing’ far too many times than was necessary.

Today, as I’m told that my TEDx talk is now available online, I’m met with a strong feeling of excitement – not least because it’s finally out for the wider world to see, but because I can watch the talk back without the adrenaline I experienced at the time. The memories of the day itself come flooding back as I watch myself talk about societal labels. As much as I am feeling a sense of pride as I see myself on my computer screen, the fading of my ‘post-adrenaline amnesia’ offers a blissful euphoria of its own.

I guess this is why people take photos…

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A Deaf-Friendly Experience at Go Ape

It’s been a while since I’ve been high up in a forest scrambling through an obstacle course like some budding adventurer. So, when the team at Go Ape got in touch asking if I’d like to see how deaf friendly their activity is, (and bring some friends along too) of course I said yes, ready to relive some nostalgia that the experience may bring.

Young man in blue jumper holding a certificate next to a monkey statue

For those who don’t know, Go Ape! is a high-wire treetop course full of fun obstacles and challenges, swings, zipwires, and more soggy bottoms than an episode of The Great British Bake Off (let’s just say that some of my zip wire landings were far from graceful or heroic).

As well as knowing that it would be a grand day out, I was intrigued to see what changes Go Ape had made to make the activity more accessible to deaf people. I remembered reading an article about some deaf customers being refused entry to Go Ape last year, and so was curious to see what new procedures were now in place.

Even before I set foot on the site, I was sent some videos of the training that’s given to customers, with a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter in the corner of the screen. Granted, whilst I only know a little bit of BSL and am certainly not fluent, one imagines that the videos are quite a useful resource for profoundly deaf visitors. I definitely felt a reassuring sense of déja vu when I was shown the ropes – quite literally, in fact – in person when I went to the Woburn site on Monday.

So, after going through a brief training course – with instructions given by a nice chap named Adam – myself and my friend Josh were ready to do the real thing. At this point, I should mention just how great a job the instructors do at making sure the rules are clear and that everyone is confident with what they are doing. Again, after watching the videos I mentioned and going through it in person, it’s likely that fellow deaf people will feel pretty confident about things when they take on the course for themselves.

This brings me on to a discussion I was having with another member of staff whilst we were putting our stuff in a locker. I had seen that there is a whistle available on the belts we have to wear, but I saw that if you needed help and assistance, you could also shout down to people on patrol below you. However, for deaf people who are unable to speak, I was interested in finding out what exactly happens when they find themselves in a pickle.

It turns out there were a few cases where people had come to the course in advance to get a sense of things, or had an instructor follow them around the obstacles. Whilst it may be worth Go Ape having a think about a go-to policy for this, as mentioned above, all the extensive training beforehand does a good job of making people comfortable and confident – thus reducing the chances of any mishaps.

Also, a quick thank you must go to Kieran, another staff member at the Woburn site that let us skip ahead one course so we didn’t have to wait behind some slower customers. We blazed through the course like the true adventurers we are, and it certainly didn’t feel like an hour and a half since we were putting on our harnesses. Time flies!

Speaking of the course, I’ll keep my description vague (so that there’s still that sense of surprise should you wish to go yourself, and because it’s far better to describe these things in video form instead), but the pictures with clear instructions certainly help participants get to grips with each activity/obstacle, which is fantastic. Highlights included the zipwires, pulling several muscles whilst trying to conquer the stirrups, and The Tarzan Swing – where for a brief second, you can experience a sense of freefall which is incredible.

I would like to thank Go Ape such an incredible day out – I really appreciate it. The company is certainly making some great steps towards making Go Ape more accessible for deaf people, and that’s great to see.

Whilst I was offered this experience for free, the opinions within this post are my own and this post is not sponsored by anyone.

A Thousand Words: Journalism for Change

This Tuesday and Wednesday, I stepped inside Amnesty International’s Human Rights Action Centre for their Student Media Summit run in conjunction with the National Union of Students (NUS). A jam-packed two-day event, the conference aimed to inspire the next generation of young journalists to campaign for change in their work.

The Student Media Summit was a collaboration between NUS and Amnesty International.

It was something that got me thinking throughout the event. Journalists are supposed to be seen as completely impartial, dedicated to reporting straight-up facts (whether they are actually doing this at the moment is a debate for another day) without bias. How can we campaign in our articles without readers firing accusations of bias at us?

It’s a question I asked Buzzfeed’s Emily Dugan on Tuesday, where her session on Digital Reporting soon descended into a discussion on getting this balance right. It was interesting and gave me food for thought ahead of starting my journalism degree again later this month.

As I write this now, I’m considering the aims we all have when creating content and putting it out there for others to see. On YouTube, it’s about creating a community around my channel and either entertaining or educating them, or both. For this blog, it’s a mixture of the same. But, when it comes to journalism – an industry which holds so much influence thanks to our digital society and its structure – are reporters right to harness this tool to push their own agenda?

I’m not going to answer that in this post, but what all this has reminded me of is a mindset I used to have ahead of my first year of university. Frustrated with the emotion and bias of the right-wing press and having read up on the hypodermic needle theory, I approached my degree with the aim of being a completely impartial journalist once I entered the industry, devoid of all the bias and political viewpoints which the national press currently possesses.

Instead, I remember something one of my lecturers told me during a politics session, which is that whilst newspapers and the media are biased, it’s necessary for a functioning democracy and political debate. Although some people may despise it, the Mail‘s hyperbolic and hateful headlines prompt a discussion about right-wing politics and it’s important that we have those debates in society.

Now, that doesn’t mean that I won’t aim to be impartial, balanced and unbiased in my reporting (of course not, these things are essential), but media bias is something which most journalists appear to admit just… happens, and I’ve come to accept that too.

Anyway, to revert back to journalism for change, I only need to look at my work on The Limping Chicken for an example of this. A Freedom of Information request in January revealed that 200,000 people have signed up to the 999 text service, which when you compare it to the 11 million people with a hearing loss (as Paul Breckell from Action on Hearing Loss mentions in the linked article), is a small amount. As well as informing people about the service, one can hope that it encouraged a few people to sign up.

As well as new contacts and plenty of tips, the Student Media Summit left me thinking for a while about what journalists hope to achieve in their pieces. After all, in a post-truth world, reporters nowadays do more than just share facts…

UN’s ‘human catastrophe’ verdict is the latest dent to the Tories’ disability rights record | The Friday Article

How a Conservative government can even begin to dispute the damning report by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD) this week beats me. After numerous disability organisations complained to the UN about the Tories’ treatment of disabled people, the Chair of the UNCRPD, Theresia Degener described it as a ‘human catastrophe’.

Photo: Pixabay.

“The austerity measures that they have taken – they are affecting half a million people, each disabled person is losing between £2,000 and £3,000 pounds per year, people are pushed into work situations without being recognised as vulnerable, and the evidence that we had in front of us was just overwhelming,” said Degener, as quoted in an article by the Mirror.

Yet, when one looks at the government’s response to the comments, a spokeswoman said it ‘fails to recognise all the progress we’ve made to empower disabled people in all aspects of their lives’, before going on to mention statistics such as them spending ‘over £50 billion a year to support disabled people and those with health conditions’, that they’re a ‘recognised world leader in disability rights and equality’, and that ‘almost 600,000 disabled people have moved into work in the UK over the last four years’.

It is a response which can be picked apart in a rather hilarious fashion, even when the data appears positive. With regards to the 600,000 disabled people in work since 2013, they fail to mention the recent news that the disability employment gap has remained stagnant at over 30% since 1998, despite launching a commitment to halve the gap in ten years.

As for being a ‘recognised world leader in disability rights and equality’, one does not need to showcase the biggest disability news stories of the past decade to show that this is completely laughable. A UN inquiry last November had some harsh words for the Conservatives, a disabled student took the government to court in 2015 due to it failing to consult with disabled people over changes to Disabled Students Allowance (DSA), and without a doubt one of the most appalling statistics which seems to suggest otherwise is that 2,380 people died between December 2011 and February 2014 because they were declared ‘fit for work’ after claiming for Employment Support Allowance (ESA).

The Tories ignoring yet another damning report on their disability rights record would not only show a disregard for any public scrutiny, but it would only prove the lack of consideration for one of the most marginalised groups in our society.

It’s why, as always, we must support charities in holding the government to account and demanding change. Granted, saying that we need to continue campaigning is a typical call-to-action when it comes to these sort of social issues, but applying pressure on MPs around disability issues has worked wonders before. Aside from the DSA example mentioned above, the British Deaf Association (BDA) has pushed tirelessly for British Sign Language to be given legal status, and after the UN’s latest verdict, it seems as though that is getting closer to becoming a reality.

“We were impressed with the openness of the committee to listen to our evidence and apply their significant legal experience,” said Dr Terry Riley OBE, Chairman of the BDA. “Therefore we are glad to see that the committee has expressly recommended that the UK government finally legislate to protect language rights of deaf people, and that so many of the committee’s remarks related to this. Deaf people have been passed over too long; there can now be no doubt that the government has been taken to task. Without language rights, we have no human rights.”

There are 13.3 million people in the UK. Whether or not the Government will choose to listen to such a large group of people is another matter for debate (this article suggests that for many years, they haven’t), but now more than ever we must support the charities that are giving a voice to a community which is being unfairly targeted – especially when they claim they are being ‘gagged’ by the Lobbying Act 2014.

The incredible young voter turnout in the recent snap election has shown the Conservative government what can happen when they continue to target a specific group of people in our society. Now, they’ve tried desperately to win back students from Corbynism with a right-wing ‘ideas festival’ and most recently, a grassroots movement called Activate which some people have called ‘the Tory Momentum’.

It’s time for disabled people to do the same, and shock the Conservative Party into making long overdue changes to improve our lives for the better.

A Thousand Words: Visiting Southampton

Being able to explore different parts of the UK as part of a job is always an exciting and rewarding thing to do. My final week working for the UK disability charity Scope as an Online Community Intern saw me head down to Southampton to tell people at the city’s football club about the Scope’s wonderful online forum for disabled people to get involved with.

The outside of Southampton Football Club – featuring a statue of a person whom I don’t know, I’m sorry.

Even when I’m not the biggest football fan in the world (I do support the England team and watch a few of their games from time to time, but that’s only out of patriotism), one has to commend the sense of community that surrounds the game. Everyone that came over to my little stall was friendly, and when it comes to fellow stall holders, I was positioned next to some nice people from Autism Hampshire on my left, and on my right were a trio of magicians performing tricks for intrigued individuals.

It made me realise that magic is a wonderful thing. Seeing children gasp and stare wide-eyed at the tricks these three magicians were performing brought a smile to my face throughout the afternoon. I even had my mind blown myself thanks to one particular magician.

On top of this, I was approached from a viewer of my YouTube channel, which made my day. It was completely unexpected and so lovely to chat to them. Thanks so much again for coming over, Sophie!

Four hours later and I was making my way back to Southampton Central to get the train back home. Though, it’s only as I write this that I’m fully struck by the sense of community inside the stadium. A common sight everywhere around the country, the way in which football clubs can bring people together is fascinating – even to someone who isn’t sporty like myself.

P.S. Once again, a huge thank you to everyone at Scope for being such wonderful people to work with over the past few months and for giving me the opportunity to visit Southampton. I’ve had a blast and shall miss the role very much.

 

 

Enough is enough – the Tories must wake up and tackle the disability employment gap | The Friday Article

“We must close the disability employment gap.” It was a simple enough statement made by the Minister for Disabled People Penny Mordaunt on her website last year. A consultation on ‘work, health and disability’ and a commitment to halving said employment gap in 10 years was announced by the government a short while later. From a party that has passed ruthless reforms to disability benefits, it’s likely that it had a few disabled people scratching their heads. Have the Conservatives finally started to care about a group in society which they have cruelly targeted for years?

Disabled person in powered wheelchair driving down the street
The disability employment gap remains stagnant at 31.3%. Photo: Pixabay.

One only has to look at what was announced on Wednesday this week for the answer. The disability employment gap the Tories planned to work on cutting down has stayed at 31.3%, lingering above the 30% mark for a decade. If they really wanted to tackle the issue, then the changes would be visible – be it in the statistics or in public announcements. James Taylor, Head of Policy at the disability charity Scope, said ‘these figures should be a wake-up call to the Government’ and he is absolutely right. The latest data shows the Conservatives’ current approach is indolent, lazy and slothful.

Granted, it can be argued that ministers have 10 years to get somewhere close to closing the gap, but the fact that there have not been any significant updates since the consultation closed in February is a cause for concern. The Brexit argument is likely to be an excuse given by some for this work taking a back seat during the middle of the year (following the triggering of Article 50 at the end of March), but it’s always worth mentioning that there are other burning issues and injustices that need to be addressed whilst also focussing on those all-important negotiations in Brussels. A crumbling NHS, the housing crisis and many other social issues can’t be brushed under the carpet because of our vote to leave the European Union. Ministers are yet to provide an explanation as to why the disability employment gap remains at the current level, but no excuse is valid.

So what could possibly cause a lack of disabled people in employment? As much as it comes down to the current benefits system, a more ideological issue is the stigma, stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding disability that have been generated from years of Conservative policies. Confusing and complex regulations and assessments have degraded disabled people – presenting them as inconveniences or numbers to meet a particular quota.

Whilst assuming all employers see a disabled candidate or employee as a pain in the backside in terms of paperwork and workplace support is a completely inaccurate and flawed judgement, it’s likely that some employers are unaware of how they can support disabled people in their company. The communication between the government, firms and workers about such things is inefficient if not non-existent. It’s part of the reason why I’ve always been reluctant to tick the ‘are you disabled’ question on an application form. Aside from the fact that I don’t really consider myself disabled (except under ‘the social model’), the possible discussion about workplace support if I did mention it always felt daunting – where would I start?

Although the ‘work, health and disability’ consultation intends to look at how health and work interconnect, more needs to be done to address attitudes and improve communication. The communities of disabled people in society must continue to call for better support when it comes to employment – only then will we have the chance to wake Conservatives up from their slumber when it comes to addressing the needs of the community of disabled people.

Now, one can hope that a stat-obsessed government which always likes to shout about increased employment or a stronger economy will notice one of the more concerning pieces of data that has come from the Office for National Statistics’ latest release. If the state of the disability employment gap led to a planned reform of the Work Capability Assessment, then here’s hoping that the gap remaining static will finally prompt the Department for Work and Pensions to take action. Enough is enough.

 

Review: Harry Potter and The Cursed Child at The Palace Theatre

The magic of theatre is a hard thing to describe. With the right play, the story comes to life and it just works. So, when Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – a story with fantasy at its core – makes its way to the historic Palace Theatre in London, one can imagine that the end result is a production wonderfully creative and immersive.

It’s understandable for Potter fans to question how the Wizarding World of Harry Potter translates onto the stage, when there’s certain restraints and no CGI on hand to help. Naturally, Potterheads want to see the Boy Who Lived and his universe accurately portrayed in this new medium. It’s most likely this faith to the story, combined with a curiosity as to how the cast pull off the magical aspects of the plot which has led to hundreds of theatre buffs buying tickets to the play. However, for those who are yet to nab a seat, they can be reassured that the stage has allowed the magic of Harry Potter to be blossom in an entirely different way to the films. Readers who were quick to label Harry Potter and the Cursed Child an embarrassing and cringeworthy fan fiction after the script was released should wait until they have seen the play before they question whether the story should be canon.

It’s a show which makes you recognise the work of those behind the scenes as much as it does of those who are performing. The opening scene throws you straight into the story, which is no doubt helped by Steven Hoggett’s smooth choreography and Imogen Heap’s soundtrack which was stunning throughout. One must also appreciate the use of lighting, too, which certainly helped to set and alter the play’s tone as the story progressed.

The play managed to achieve something which the movies failed to do for me, and that was actually create this feeling that I was at Hogwarts and a part of this world. This is no doubt down to this off-stage and on-stage collaboration, combined with the fact that it takes place in The Palace Theatre, an old building which certainly has a Hogwarts feel to it both inside and out.

Then there’s the actors and actresses. Admittedly, it felt like it took a while before some of the character’s dialogue became ‘genuine’, but one could argue that that was a result of my own apprehension. Nevertheless, Samuel Blenkin delivers an incredible performance as the socially awkward and over-excitable Scorpius Malfoy. Offering both pure emotion and comic relief, Blenkin fleshes out a likeable character the audience sympathises with. When working alongside the talented Theo Ancient (Albus Potter), the two create a tale of friendship that’s uplifting throughout. It’s also worth applauding Thomas Aldridge’s hilarious portrayal of Ron Weasley, Rakie Ayola’s sassy Hermione Granger and Gideon Turner’s performance as Harry Potter, which was exceptionally raw in certain scenes. Yet, as mentioned previously, everyone involved in the production should be given credit for the team effort. The fact that the cast pronounce Voldemort the correct way (Vol-de-MOR) was a nice touch.

However, much like how a magician never reveals their secrets, it would be wrong to unveil all of the technicalities that go into making this play what it is. Audience members were also sent a video from J. K. Rowling after the performance pleading for them to #KeepTheSecrets, so there’s that.

You just have to go and see it, if you’re lucky enough…