“Yes!” I hear you all shouting. “Yes, of course it is”. But sometimes I wonder whether people in the outside world have their doubts, or at least don’t think it’s quite so serious a disability as some others.
I’m not talking here about people in the Deaf community (capital D), who have been deaf since birth or childhood and use British Sign Language. They would sometimes say that their deafness is not a disability – they just speak a different language and otherwise can do everything a hearing person can. I can understand and applaud that stance but I don’t share it. Being an adult onset deaf person feels very different. Having a sense and then losing it is a different kettle of fish to never having had it at all, which is why I suspect that most of the followers of this blog (those of us who are adult-onset lower-case deaf) have no problems with the term disability. We’ve lost the ability to do something that we used to be able to do.
Moving on from that issue, though, what sometimes gives me pause for thought is when the outside world seems to have trouble accepting deafness as a disability.
To start with a small example (except it’s what got me thinking about this blog post) the other week I was telephoning a big Manchester theatre (using Next Generation Text) to book to see War Horse. When the choice of seat was sorted out the Box Office person said “OK…that will be £55” (an expensive seat in the front stalls because I wanted to maximise hearing chances). “Ah” I said “but then there will be a discount because of my deafness”. I’d already explained that I was deaf and I was, after all, using a deaf person’s phone service. I was told very clearly that no, there was no such discount. “Are you sure?” I persisted. “I’ve booked tickets with you several times in the past and got a discount”. But no, she was sure “unless you mean the disability discount perhaps……..” I replied that yes I did indeed mean that, trying to curb my eye rolling even though she couldn’t see it.
She would have to check with her manager. I was put on hold.
What seemed like a long time later she came back, to explain that the disability discount only applied when someone was buying two tickets, when it’s a case of buy-one-get-one-free, so that a “carer” can be present. I only wanted one ticket this time, but the manager could offer me £10 off. Hurrah! But should it have been so hard?? Surely anyone can see that being deaf at the theatre is a problem? (At the performance I caught only about 50% of the dialogue, even though there was a loop system). Surely in a theatre of all places there should be a clear policy about deafness that is fair and well-publicised? Surely, indeed, there should be an acceptance that not everyone with a disability needs a carer?
Then there are my recent attempts to research the availability of hearing loops at the venues the local University of the Third Age (U3A) use for classes. U3A is a great thing. Retired people with knowledge, skills and enthusiasm share that with other local retired people and arrange talks, lectures, sports activities, outings, art classes, you-name-it, which are then available to all group members at minimal cost, because the people doing the work are sharing their knowledge for fun and are not paid. My local U3A has over 900 members. It runs three excellent film clubs, with all films subtitled. I’ve attended lectures on several subjects and managed to hear OK (small rooms, sympathetic tutor, front row seat) even when my hearing was at its worst.
How much better, though, if more of the venues had loop systems? Backed by the organising committee I set about contacting the fifteen or so most-used venues and asking whether they had a loop.
One church USED to have a loop but members of the congregation with hearing aids had complained about a persistent crackle, so they had the loop removed (not fixed, maintained or inspected……removed). Another popular venue had a loop but it wasn’t working, with no apparent enthusiasm for fixing it. At another place there was a loop but the manager admitted that she had no idea how to switch it on. Most venues either didn’t have a loop or didn’t return my emails/respond to my messages, which was worse in a way.
Several people I’ve talked to about this dispiriting survey have asked whether hearing loops are covered by disability discrimination legislation. They certainly are. UK service providers are required by the Equalities Act 2010 to take “reasonable steps” to ensure access to their venues for people with disabilities, which includes “providing auxiliary aids and services in an accessible format, such as an induction loop for customers with hearing aids”. I suspect the responses I got were so negative partly because of ignorance about the benefits of hearing loops and partly because of a view that spending around £700 for a room-sized portable hearing loop or £1,000 for a room-sized permanently installed loop is not a reasonable cost for a local organisation or small church……….except that they mostly have gone to some expense to install level access entrances and disabled access toilets, which surely must cost at least as much.
OK – final example for today. We are just back from visiting friends in Canada. We flew with KLM and I settled down on the flight out to watch a film. There were dozens on offer and I scrolled through hoping to find some with English subtitles, but without very much success. There were a few Bollywood films with English captions but not much else. I spoke to the steward, but she couldn’t help; what I saw was what there was. It’s quite pathetic isn’t it? There were (rightly) many films with subtitles in other languages, so that people could watch an English language film in German, French, Chinese and many more besides, but if KLM could do this why couldn’t they provide English for the Hard of Hearing (or even just plain old English)? There are (rightly) many options for getting help from KLM if you are travelling with another disability, why has hearing loss apparently been forgotten by the entertainment department? I’ve complained, and await a reply.
All in all, I’m left with a profound sense that part of the problem is that us deafies don’t shout loudly enough. We don’t campaign as hard as people with other disabilities. We don’t march on Parliament or chain ourselves to railings, so we don’t get as much media coverage. As a result, people, often the loveliest people, just don’t understand.
Signing off for today then, one disgruntled person willing to chain herself to a railing for a suitable hearing loss cause. Any ideas?
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