This question is prompted by two conversations I had on the same night whilst attending The Magic Hour screening at The Lighthouse Cinema in Wolverhampton on Tuesday (17th Nov 09).

The first I was told that organisations are deliberately not including Deaf people in their events because of the cost of booking British Sign Language Interpreters (BSL).

In contrast Justin Edgar’s commitment to make sure The Magic Hour is accessible to Disabled and Deaf audiences even involved stopping a screening – because the subtitles were not working. There were five Deaf people in the audience and one of the five shorts screened was made by a Deaf Director, writer and featured hearing and Deaf actors.

You have to see The Magic Hour – an electric series of groundbreaking 10 minute shorts by Disabled and Deaf directors. Led by 104films each of the five shorts were fantastic and had me on the edge of my seat.

So what happened why Deaf apartheid?

Earlier on in the day I applied by email to attend a one day scriptwriting course being held in Wolverhampton. I am a performance poet and wanted to develop ideas for an extended stage performance.

Brilliant I thought, a course I can be comfortable to attend as a disabled person (and Deaf). I applied, was emailed back that that my access needs  could not be met and BSL interpretation would not be provided. I was advised to take this up with the organisers (a disabled organisation).

The organiser was at the screening and I asked why this was the case. I was told they only had £500 to run the course and so they couldn’t afford to pay for BSL support.

My response was to ask

‘so you are saying Deaf people can’t take part” (that’s right)

“I am Disabled and also Deaf so I can’t take part?” (that’s right)

‘if a person is a wheelchair user and also Deaf they cannot attend because you will not provide BSL support?’ (that’s right)

This scriptwriting course is for disabled women only. The application form asks asks: Do you have any access requirements?  If so, please state:

I was also told that a number of Deaf organisations in the West Midlands had said they would refuse to be involved with any events involving disabled people and also that they would tell Deaf people not to take part.

Due to Deaf politics I can only guess which WM organisations said this but I cannot prove it.

The Deaf community sees itself as a linguistic minority and not Disabled – this is very true. BSL is a recognised language with its own syntext, structure et all.

I am part of that Deaf Community but do not agree that we Deaf people should be continually enforcing self-apartheid in any such way, or letting others to do it for us.

The conversation continued: I was also told that since Deaf people did not want to be included in disabled-led events why should they a) bother providing this support and b) the cost of SLI’s (sign language interpreters) were too much anyway.

Also a lot of (mainstream) organisations are saying they will stop providing BSL interpreters altogether because of the cost.

I was horrified. I went  into the film stunned. A disabled organisation openly telling me that they will not involve Deaf people in their activities? Should I be pleased to be told that they would support and fund a Deaf-only scriptwriting course if asked? It felt like a trade off.

104 Films Director Justin Edgar told me after  the screening that last weekend in Sheffield they stopped a screening of The Magic Hour – because the subtitles were not showing. The film was copied into Blue Ray format but accidently left off the subtitles so they halted the screening.

The audience were in uproar! Hearing people yelling (about the deaf people in the audience) ‘Start the film – give them their money back!’ … ‘Let them watch it on dvd!’

Five deaf people in the audience protested back. Justin held his ground and luckily they finally found a DVD copy to screen so everyone was happy.

This raises a fundamental issue what responsibility event organisers have.

  • Why should you make an event accessible?
  • What makes an event accessible?
  • How do you include people (both Disabled and Deaf)?
  • Do you make it fully accessible or exclude some people because you do not have the funds?

I say do it right from the start – no excuses. The Disability Discrimination Act has been in force since 1995. Put your house in order. Do what it takes. Challenge the funders.

We (Disabled and Deaf people) have enough discrimination in our lives every day without disabled and deaf organisations doing it to themselves and our own communities.

Do you want to be sued under the DDA? Believe me, I am thinking of using it!

The DDA aims to end discrimination that many Disabled and Deaf face. It is unlawful for businesses and organisations to treat disabled people less favourably than other people for a reason related to their disability.

So can a Sign Language Interpreter (SLI) can earn £45,000 – £91,000 a year?

The problem with booking SLIs is the fact they are so expensive. I agree £600 for 2 SLIs for a one day event is alot. But SLIs can charge what they like (anything from £25-£50 an hour, even more). SLI’s and booking agencies also charge a minimum call out fee of 2 hours even if the meeting/event is only an hour long (3 hour fees or more at weekends / evenings). You also face a cancellation fee too.

So this means SLIs are potentially making between £45,000 – £91,000 a year out of us Deaf people (based on earning anything between £25 -£50/hour a day (7 hours) based on a 5 day week.

Bearing in mind the extended cost of studying to be an interpreter and the professionalism involved I agree a professional rate has to be paid.

However Signature (previously known as CACDP) and ASLI abolished their guidelines around pricing (convenient eh?). Now it is a free for all and the casualties are the likes of me and other Deaf people who depend on interpreters as a main means of communicating in the hearing world along with cash strapped voluntary organisations.

Should I be surprised that event organisers are ignoring the needs of Deaf people?

Please note: if the figures I quote above are wrong I will correct and retract this immediately.

So, what do we do?

Lots. I’m going to focus on one of many things:

Obtain proper funding is crucial for access and inclusion. Funders need to address this as part of their application criteria and make it part of the guidelines. If it means less projects are funded as a consequence then maybe that is not a bad thing.

Arts Council England already does this. Disabled and Deaf access costs are included as part of  their Grants for Arts guidelines ( see example budgets) and the costs are accounted separately in the the proposal. However it focuses on individual artist costs rather than organisations event costs for audiences.  Applicants are not obliged as part of the funding criteria to make their events accessible. Capital grants funded under National Lottery scheme do.

ACE will pay for someone to write a bid on behalf of a Disabled or Deaf person if they are unable to do so. I know having been paid to write  the funding bids  for other disabled artists. Do any other funders do the same?

On that note did you know:

Annually Disabled & Deaf people contribute over £50 billion to the economy?

15% of the population could be defined as being disabled under the DDA