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.

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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.

Deaf Awareness Week 2017: A celebration of collective action | The Friday Article

‘A celebration’ is the theme for this year’s Deaf Awareness Week – something which, to me, suggests that we should celebrate the power of collective action within the deaf community. It’s now that we should celebrate the charities and campaigners, as well as their achievements. At a time when politics has divided Britain, it’s important for us to show society the power of collective action and what we, as a community, can accomplish.

Photo: Deaf Council.

One example is the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) – a charity with which I have very strong connections. In 2014, I was part of their Youth Advisory Board (YAB), a group of 18 deaf young people from across the UK who came together over the two years to discuss issues affecting deaf people. Whilst on the board, I campaigned for better audiology services and contacted key figures in the NHS about the matter, amongst other things. Now, the new YAB have launched their new campaign, calling for sign language to be taught in schools. They found out that 97% of young people want British Sign Language (BSL) in schools, and through the NDCS, they have taken to the local and national press to get their message out there during Deaf Awareness Week.

Elsewhere, Action on Hearing Loss’ Subtitle It! campaign called on on-demand TV services to provide subtitles for deaf and hard of hearing people. Through an amendment to the Digital Economies Bill, the broadcasting regulator Ofcom has the power to ensure on-demand programmes have a ‘minimum level’ of subtitling.

Then there’s the landmark achievement in Scotland back in 2015, where the BSL (Scotland) Bill became an act, calling for its Parliament to ‘promote the use of British Sign Language’. Now, the fight continues to make British Sign Language a legally recognised language in the UK.

Yet, it’s not just deaf people coming together which we should celebrate, it’s the creative talent of the deaf community, too. Entertainers such as John Smith and Danny’s Skits offer funny videos which promote deaf culture at the same time, and, of course, the deaf website The Limping Chicken offers individuals a platform to air their views on deaf issues.

Every year, the theme for Deaf Awareness Week is different (last year’s was ‘a common purpose’, for example). However, whilst these topics are subjective, it can always come down to highlighting the power of the deaf community. As a strong subculture, we can make positive changes in society and ensure our voices are never ignored.

Sign Language Week 2017: The right kind of fascination

This week, I saw a video of a young deaf refugee named Hamza in Aleppo learning sign language. As well as it bringing me joy, seeing the excitement on his face as he learned the sign for ball and shoe reminded me how and why hearing people should learn sign language in the first place.

Photo: Darelle on Pixabay (Public Domain).

 

The primary factor regarding the why is, of course, to break down the language barrier. As for the how, that’s something I think needs to change in the future.

I learned sign language to communicate with new friends I had just met through a charity, after realising that using pen and paper wasn’t entirely practical and fair if these people were to become my friends for life (which they are). A passion for learning new languages, breaking down this barrier and – quite simply – communicating in a way they would prefer all combined to drive me to become somewhat decent at British Sign Language two years later.

However, in this post I want to talk about fascination, as the need to learn BSL to call your best friend a piece of s*** or tell them to f*** off is still of fundamental important to some hearing people (I should stress, that is some hearing people). It’s not the fascination that’s the problem, it’s more the desire to learn.

To go back to the example of Hamza in Aleppo, we need more people who light up when they are taught such a beautiful, visual language. The fact that there is a language which is so expressive and unifying should be which fascinates us about British Sign Language – BSL should not be seen as a gimmick or something shrouded in mystery.

It’s something which has me on the fence regarding Ed Sheeran’s music video for You Need Me, I Don’t Need You. Whilst I will always value deaf awareness, there is a part of me which agrees with some people’s concerns regarding it being seen as a party trick. It shouldn’t be ‘I can sign this song in sign language’ – the individual should appreciate the language and visualisation behind the lyrics.

In other words, it’s time for a shift in intrigue. The language’s visual beauty should fascinate us, not the fact that it could be used as a simple party trick or way to insult our friends. The fascination should return to the wonder and excitement possessed by six-year-old Hamza from Aleppo.

This post was inspired by the fact that this week is Sign Language Week. For more information, you can visit the British Deaf Association’s website. 

The ‘cure’ for deafness is something which could damage the deaf community at its core | The Friday Article

What would you do if you were offered the opportunity to redefine your identity? It’s an existential question akin to that of the blue and red pills from The Matrix, but is something which those in the deaf community may have to consider in the future.

Earlier this week, it was reported that a jab or injection into the inner ear could encourage the growth of hair cells, essentially restoring some of an individual’s hearing. As the debate around cochlear implant users and whether they are a part of the community continues to bubble and boil in the background, a far more serious discussion is set to rock Deaf culture to its core: what does it mean to be deaf?

Photo: Darelle on Pixabay (Public Domain).

After all, the view of deafness within the community has always been about having deafness at some point in your life. Hearing aids (HAs) and cochlear implants (CIs) can only aid hearing, and is not a ‘cure’ (something of which some hearing people need to be reminded). However, this is the first time a cure has been developed, which could see people leave the community as hearing people. Yet, what happens to their identity? Can the exception given to HA and CI users – that they were born deaf and the technology only helps them hear – be applied to those who could be ‘cured’ by this possible treatment? Their original identity was as a deaf person, so would that be completely erased or would that still remain as a small, old aspect of their new personality?

Identity is a very personal thing – we subscribe ourselves to a culture and say we are a member of a community ourselves, as most subcultures welcome anyone who shares that same ‘label’ or characteristic in society. Yet, the deaf community feels more exclusive. A restricted code in the form of sign language prevents some individuals from accessing the culture and, as previously stated, the community is constantly arguing over whether to accept certain people on the deaf/hearing spectrum. It’s certainly one of the negative discussions amongst what is otherwise a very passionate and loving culture, which could be made worse when the deaf community has to decide whether a ‘cured’ deaf person can still join the community.

There’s a slight hostility in the deaf community over certain issues, and this will no doubt be a future topic up for discussion as more news emerges. If the Deaf culture wishes to be more inclusive, it must respect everyone’s individual decision should this new treatment be offered to them and lower its guard when it comes to British Sign Language. The community has somewhat created poor deaf awareness, division and separation by failing to recognise hearing and deafness as being on a spectrum – instead seeing it as more black and white. A big challenge to Deaf culture is coming, and we must be prepared to have a civilised and respectful debate about its repercussions.

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On a more personal note, I would consider the treatment, should it get to that stage. As an aspiring journalist looking to work in an industry which is very audio-based (eg. transcribing interviews, ringing contacts on the phone, taking down shorthand notes and so forth), there’s certain barriers caused by deafness which is quite a nuisance. That being said, a human life is more than just what happens in the workplace, and so it’s a question of how being ‘cured’ of my hearing loss would impact relationships – would my connections with deaf people and organisations working with them feel genuine? As I mention above, it’s a question loaded with existentialism, forcing deaf people to consider whether to reinvent themselves.

There are also two other things to consider: we must not let this possible future treatment become the presumed option. A current issue in the community at the moment is when parents decide to give their child HAs or CIs before they are old enough to make that decision themselves. We must remember that we should allow the individual themselves the opportunity to choose whether they want to be deaf or not. Assuming that everyone wouldn’t want to be deaf is harmful, dangerous, and poses an existential threat to the global deaf community.

Lastly, I’ll be curious to see if this ‘cure’ could also pave the way for treatment for tinnitus. Whilst I would have to consider the decision to have the jab and ‘cure’ my deafness, I wouldn’t hesitate in taking a drug which can get rid of the annoying ringing in my air.

I shall keep an eye on the study with interest.

Silence isn’t always golden | Tinnitus Awareness Week 2017

My life is never silent. You may believe that my mild deafness would provide me with some tranquillity in a loud world, but when those opportunities arise, thinking occurs. Moments when you can observe the environment around you always leads to your mind quickly searching for something else to focus on – be it someone in the distance, the wildlife, whatever. Unfortunately for me, my attention always shifts to the same place.

taw2017
Photo: British Tinnitus Association

Everything is silent. Where is the noise in the room? Things are too quiet. At that point, the ringing starts.

My tinnitus reaches boiling point as two whistling kettles scream into my ears – at least, that’s what it sounds like. It’s the common description I use, yet to every sufferer, the sound is different. A specific tone we can only hear in our heads is hard to convey, but for me, by far the most annoying thing is that a simple thought about tinnitus can lead to it being at the forefront of my mind.

Even as I type this article now, the whistling is going on in the corner of my head (or in my ears, wherever). I can pay attention to it, in the hope that that will make it go away (it doesn’t), or I try to ignore it. Both have the same problem, though: I’ll look over there and try to distract myself from tinnitus and I’ll pay attention to my tinnitus to make it go temporarily mention the word tinnitus, and that is all you need.

It’s this weird thought process that continues ad infinitum until an important activity or task distracts you. However, when in bed and trying to get to sleep, I don’t have anything to use to divert my attention. For me, silence isn’t always golden.

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This week was Tinnitus Awareness Week, and ran from February 6 to February 12. Unfortunately, a busy seven days full of university assignments, lectures and other commitments meant I couldn’t create a YouTube video sharing my thoughts. It would have been perfect (since my channel is somewhat orientated around sign language, deaf awareness and so forth) but I just couldn’t find the time. Then again, this blog post allowed me to flex my writing muscles and hopefully it gave you somewhat of an insight into what life with tinnitus is like.

I’ve never really known what caused my tinnitus or indeed my mild inner-ear deafness, but what I do know is that the former is a pain in the backside, and something you wouldn’t want others to suffer from.

The British Tinnitus Association has lots of useful information on their website, including this page on how to prevent tinnitus from developing.

Action on Hearing Loss also have some helpful resources available on the topic. These can be found here.

Working in Deaf Media: My Placement at BBC See Hear

In October last year, I was offered an opportunity which combined two of my biggest passions: media and deaf culture. I had found out that I was chosen to have two weeks’ work experience in Bristol with BBC See Hear – the broadcaster’s deaf magazine programme.

Photo: BBC.
Photo: BBC.
I have been working with the deaf news website, The Limping Chicken, for a while now, but deaf media from a broadcasting perspective is something I’d never experienced before, so I couldn’t wait to start my work experience at BBC Bristol earlier this month.

Straight away, my placement started with an incredible three days. On the first day, I had managed to arrange an interview for See Hear’s next programme, and I would be going down to London with one of the programme’s reporters later in the week to film it. Tuesday and Wednesday were spent watching interviews and reports being filmed – the ability to go behind-the-scenes and see professional reporters work on packages was really insightful and intriguing.

One of the many things I will be thankful for was some of the responsibilities I was given during my placement. From drafting the script for the show’s news segment, to being one of the voiceovers in the final episode, I had never expected to have been handed such amazing opportunities, and so I was immensely grateful for that.

Speaking of voiceovers (or ‘dubs’, to use the correct terminology), another thing which fascinated me was how so many things came together to form the final output.

As well as working with those producing the content, I was also fortunate to help out with research and a variety of other technical details which are all part of the production process. Ringing up contacts to obtain information was something I was used to doing before at university, but to call them on behalf of the BBC was incredible.

img_1680With that in mind, my placement at BBC See Hear was truly an experience which allowed me to explore all of the different workings of such a great group of people. Seeing a show gradually develop over the two weeks I was there was an incredible thing to witness. From raw footage being edited, to it being transcribed (something which I helped with during my time there), to it being dubbed by voiceovers on my last day, the fast progression of the programme was very impressive indeed.

As I handed in my visitor’s pass for the last time, I left the lively and friendly atmosphere of BBC Bristol feeling a little sad that the experience was over. However, that was nothing compared to the extreme sense of gratitude I had for the BBC for an insightful two weeks working on such an incredible programme.

Therefore, I would like to say thank you once again to the BBC See Hear team, the BSL interpreters and everyone at BBC Bristol for being so welcoming during my two weeks’ work experience. The episode I helped out with was aired on BBC Two today at 8am and is now available to watch on BBC iPlayer.