Accessible live music: are venues doing enough for deaf children and young people?

Earlier this week I started my new role at the National Deaf Children’s Society as a Policy and Campaigns Officer. In particular, I’ll be working on all things digital, using social media, e-newsletters and more to engage individuals in campaigns concerning deaf children and young people.

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Liam O’Dell, Policy and Campaigns Officer – Digital, National Deaf Children’s Society

Such a techy job is quite exciting for someone who loves finding out about the latest gadgets and sharing their thoughts on social media – especially about music.

A few times now I’ve been lucky enough to venture down to Glastonbury (both in the scorching sun and the mud), and it’s always been an incredible experience – not least because of its access provisions for deaf people like me.

In one of the many main tents dotted around the site is Deaf Zone. Pop in there and you’ll find out about free sign language lessons for attendees (the sign for ‘Glastonbury’ is the peace sign with both hands, shaking the two fingers from left to right).

What was also impressive was the number of signed and interpreted performances – and these weren’t just reserved for the main Pyramid stage. Events on smaller stages and non-music events were also interpreted to ensure deaf people were able to access as much of the festival as possible.

Recently, sign language interpreters at gigs and concerts have gone viral online – and rightly so – for their creative versions of popular songs (most notably by rap star Eminem). Yet, while some deaf people have had positive experiences, others haven’t been able to access the support they need.

I’ve had my fair share of loud, noisy and inaccessible gigs. A performance by the band Years and Years a few years ago was affected by poor sound levels which drowned out the singer’s voice. I could feel the bass from the stage, but I still felt that sense of isolation which happens when a situation isn’t accessible.

It’s why I’ve often found myself drawn towards the smaller, intimate concert venues – where you’re not too far away from the artist to lipread them or from the stage to hear the show. Swap this for arena shows and festivals, and the more likely I am to feel a little bit confused by it all, with only the big screens to help me understand what’s going on.

Musical events – both big and small – need to be accessible, but there’s also the need for information on booking and venue websites about what services organisations provide for deaf and disabled people. It’s right that this is being recognised with Attitude Is Everything’s Outstanding Attitude Awards, which celebrates those who work towards making live events accessible.

After all, there’s a lot which goes into ‘the perfect gig’, and it’s not just the artist or band which you are going to see. Venue staff who are deaf aware also add to the experience, as does a straightforward and clear ticketing process.

While only organisations can nominate in the Outstanding Attitude Awards, the 10 categories are a great way of opening up a discussion about accessible music. What experiences have you had when it comes to live concerts and festivals? Were they accessible, and which would you nominate?

Radio aids in the early years – your rights

Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research, National Deaf Children’s Society

We published research last year which shows that radio aids – which provide deaf children with additional amplification – can have a big impact in their early years development. In particular, they can make it easier for children to hear their parents and others more clearly when, for example, in the buggy or in a car. Despite these clear benefits, many local authorities do not make radio aids available to parents of pre-school deaf children to use at home.

We’re calling on local authorities to work with health bodies to review their policy on this issue and to ensure that parents are given the opportunity to try a radio aid with their children aged 0-4 , both at home as well as in early years settings to see if it works well for them.

Quality standards on the use of personal radio aids state that every deaf child should be considered for a radio aid at first hearing aid fitting.  However, families tell us that this does not always happen.  So what should parents do if the local authority says no? Here’s a brief summary of your options in challenging this:

First, you should ask for information on why your child has been turned down for a radio aid. In some cases, there may be good reasons why a radio aid is not the right option at this time. It’s also possible that a Teacher of the Deaf may have concerns about loss or damage to equipment. Having an open discussion may help to find possible solutions to any issues.

If the answer is still no, you can challenge this decision in two different ways.

  • If your child already has an Education, Health and Care plan (England), a statement of special educational needs (Wales and Northern Ireland) or a co-ordinated support plan (Scotland), you can also ask for a review of the plan/statement so that a radio aid can be added to it. You also have the right to request an assessment for a plan or statement if your child does not already have one. Our website has more information about your rights under laws for children with special or additional needs.
  • You can also make a formal complaint to the local authority on the grounds of disability discrimination. In particular, if you live in England, Scotland and Wales, local authorities and education settings are required, under the Equality Act 2010, to provide ‘auxiliary aids’ (which includes radio aids) as a reasonable adjustment to disabled people. They are also required to take steps under the Public Sector Equality Duty to proactively remove any disadvantage that disabled children may experience. Given the importance of good language and communication in the early years, we think it should be seen as unreasonable to deny a family with a deaf child a radio aid unless there are good reasons why not. Our website has more information about the Equality Act and how it can be used in education.
  • If the local authority still says no, you can appeal to a special Tribunal that hears cases about potential disability discrimination and/or a failure to follow laws relating to special or additional needs. There are time limits, so it is important to get more advice or information as soon as this happens.

For more information and advice, you can contact our Helpline. You can also borrow a radio aid through our Technology Test Drive.

If you have already made a complaint to your local authority or are still experiencing challenges, please do get in touch. We’re looking for families who, with lots of support from us, might be interested in taking legal action on radio aids in the early years – you can find more information about this in our short video.

The trouble with frameworks

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Martin McLean, Education and Training Policy Advisor (Post-14), National Deaf Children’s Society

Last week the BSL interpreter’s union, NUBSLI, released a hard-hitting report criticising the Government use of national frameworks for public services buying in BSL interpreting support.

What is meant by a framework? (One of these terms loved by policy-makers but which probably means little to most ordinary people). In this situation, it is basically a set of conditions or rules that have to be followed by public bodies when buying in services. Governments like them because it allows them to control costs and quality.

So what is the problem? NUBSLI claims that the national frameworks for interpreting services being used by the NHS, courts, police and social services are damaging because it leads to contracts being awarded to a limited number of agencies. The agencies will gain contracts on the basis of delivering the required ‘quality’ for the lowest price. NUBSLI reports that there are a number of problems with this, including:

  • Having services provided by one large agency reduces choice for deaf people. They may not be able to use their preferred interpreter and cannot change the agency provided.

 

  • There is a downwards pressure on interpreter fees and their terms and conditions which threatens to make their work unsustainable.

 

  • Inexperienced interpreters are being used for very critical situations such as court cases or child protection meetings.

In 2016 the Government introduced a Quality Assurance Framework (QAF) for support funded through Disabled Student Allowances for students from England. It was not mentioned within NUBSLI’s report but there are some similarities. The QAF requires providers of support to pay to sign up to a register and agree to a number of terms and conditions. BSL interpreters have raised concerns about the QAF too because the administrative requirements of the framework discourage freelancers from registering.

We like quality assurance but our concern is that the way this system is set up can reduce choice for students. When I took my Masters degree in 2013 I was able to provide a list of preferred interpreters to my university’s Disability Advisor. This could no longer happen under the QAF. The fear is that more experienced interpreters (and other types of support workers) who will have a strong client base will decline to work in higher education due to unfavourable terms and conditions.

Are we therefore campaigning on this issue? Whilst some reservations have been expressed with civil servants, we have not been vocal about the QAF. This is because we lack evidence from deaf students themselves that they are receiving poor quality support. It is crucial for us to have evidence of a problem if we are going to be taken seriously by the Government.

If you are a higher education student not happy with the support you are getting through Disabled Student Allowances, please let us know by contacting our helpline. The same goes for anyone receiving support through the frameworks mentioned in NUBSLI’s report. Don’t suffer in silence – your case studies are really valuable for our work!

Changing Technology: How we help you keep pace

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Kim Hagen, Technology Research Officer, National Deaf Children’s Society

I recently came across an old survey we ran in 1984. One of its main conclusions was that parents felt they had limited access to easily understood information about technology. Using technology can be quite daunting at the best of times, and it’s especially hard to see its benefits if you don’t have all the relevant information!

We’ve worked hard in the past decades to ensure families have the information they need to make an informed choice on the right technology to support their child. We cover technology in our events for families and parents of deaf children. Our Roadshow bus delivers technology sessions to schools around the UK. We sent out 1,866 copies of our ‘How Technology Can Help’ and ‘How Radio Aids Can Help’ booklets last year. We continue to campaign for better provision of technology to deaf children and young people; last year, we published research on the benefits of using radio aids in the early years at home. And let’s not forget our Blue Peter Technology Loan Service that went live in the mid-1980s. The name has since changed to the Technology Test Drive, but the principle is still the same: a free-of-charge technology loan service offering deaf children and young people, their families and the professionals working with them the opportunity to borrow products and try them out in their own environment.

We have close to 100 different kinds of products on our Technology Test Drive. Technology is constantly evolving and children want to be seen with the latest tech. That’s why we continuously update our stock. And we recently launched the Borrow to Buy scheme in which our members can borrow all the latest Phonak Roger radio aids, soundfield systems and accessories. But remember: despite the changes in technology the fundamental principles of how technology can benefit deaf children don’t change that much. A few examples:

• Amplified headphones can help young children listen to videos on an iPad and develop their vocabulary.
• Alarm clocks with a vibrating pad can help young children learn to tell the time and older children to get up on their own and be more independent.
• Radio aids can help your child make the most out of education and fulfil their true potential.
• Streamers can be a great way for deaf young people to make phone calls on their own, taking control of their lives and embracing responsibilities.
• Direct input leads can be used to listen to music. They look similar to the in-ear headphones a teenager’s peers may have, making them fit in and helping to develop their social identity.

The summer holidays are nearly here. Many of us might even have a break from our everyday hectic lives. Why not take this time as an opportunity to try out technology with your child? Access our Technology Test Drive, put in a request, and… happy testing!

Social Care, Deafness…and the Oscars

Chris Mullen, Social Care Policy Advisor

Chris Mullen, Social Care Policy Advisor

Rachel Shenton’s Oscar-winning film, The Silent Child, highlights the importance of deaf children getting access to language and communication. If a deaf child is deprived of language, deprived of any opportunity to communicate with others, their fundamental human rights are being breached. In the film we see 4 year old Libby taught to flourish when she is taught sign language.

For everyone working in social care, this film is a timely reminder that deafness is not an issue to be forgotten about and brushed under the carpet. Deafness is not a learning disability and, with the right support from parents, education and other services, deaf children can achieve just as well as any other children.

But in reality, children’s social care, and social workers aren’t intervening early enough to prevent deaf children suffering neglect through language deprivation. There are many reasons for this but it’s important to remember that we must not blame parents, the majority of whom have had no experience of deafness and are seeking advice and support to just do their best.

There were once specialist social workers for deaf people working with both deaf children and deaf adults – but an unintended consequence from the separation of children and adult social care services in the mid-2000s meant these teams were no longer viable. Specialist children’s social workers joined general children’s disability teams, and due to pressures on time and resources, support for deaf children drastically reduced. This specialist expertise has now disappeared. Well-meaning professionals, who don’t have the training or the knowledge, are now all too often making dangerous decisions about what is best for deaf children.

I’ve seen some shocking cases. When discussing how a profoundly deaf young person, with significant additional needs, and whose first language was British Sign Language, could be supported in a mainstream children’s home, a senior manager suggested to me they could be ‘taught to lip-read’ and not given any sign language support.
Another social worker told a parent that their child didn’t need any language support as he was “only deaf”. I don’t blame the social workers here – it’s a lack of deaf awareness and a lack of real understanding of the lived experience of a deaf child.
But highlighting these issues isn’t enough. We need action. Research shows that the early years are critical for developing language and communication skills, and if neglected, they have long term consequences. But at the moment, the social care system doesn’t put early intervention services on a statutory footing. What’s more, we are seeing cuts across the country to posts like Teachers of the Deaf who are a key part of an early intervention service.

All of this highlights how deaf children and their social care needs are falling through the cracks. There are various options for how this can be improved. One answer could be to identify and train existing social care professionals as ‘champions’ for deaf children’s social care within their area. Neighbouring local authorities could jointly commission posts and share their resources. Deaf and other sensory charities could also be used more effectively. All of these are viable options for making sure that deaf children don’t get left behind in the social care system, as is sadly so often the case.

So while there are many challenges ahead, I hope that with a clear understanding of the problems, and just a little bit of Oscar glory, we can start to improve social care for deaf children across the UK.

There’s a gaping hole in our ability to support our most vulnerable children

Chris Mullen

Chris Mullen, Social Care Policy Advisor

By 2020, in just 3 years’ time councils will be facing a £2 billion funding gap for children’s social care services[1].The figure is eye-watering, but recently a collection of academics, researchers, parliamentarians, practitioners, England’s Children’s Commissioner, but sadly not the new Children’s Minister, gathered at the latest All Party Parliamentary Group on Children to discuss the state of children’s social care services in England. Not one person in the packed committee room disputed this figure, including the Director of the National Children’s Bureau who stated there was a clear crisis in children’s social care funding.

The meeting discussed a survey of 1600 social workers -the vast majority reporting that the bar is becoming higher and higher for children and families to get support by children’s services.[2] It’s hardly surprising.

As my last blog reported, it is only recently that the previous Conservative administration acknowledged the funding crisis in adult social care, with councils now being allowed to raise additional money through ring fenced council tax rises. But why has this not happened in children’s social care?

Is this because children don’t have immediate political power, as ageing or grey voters do, being able to trigger the issuing of P45’s of previous MP’s at the stroke of a pencil at the ballet box? Or is that children’s social care support is perceived by many voters as somehow about undeserving children or that children who receive social care support are in families who should be meeting those children’s needs and not the state?

If in these times of austerity the moral argument has been won to support the needs of our vulnerable elderly population, we must do all we can to persuade our politicians to extend this to children who are equally vulnerable!

Deaf and disabled children are also sometimes supported by children’s social care; but with resources and demand pressures, these children are getting reduced levels of support or are only experiencing social care involvement at the point where preventing abuse and neglect occurs- rather than the safety net support of services to help children and families. Sadly this reinforces the view of those children and families as being undeserving.

This is to be expected where the law is too narrow, and local authorities are not legally required to provide early intervention and early help services to children and families. This is despite mounting evidence showing that if targeted well, these services can prevent more costly state intervention later on[3]. With limited resources, many local authorities are striving to innovate to meet rising demand for services, but ultimately have to intervene to protect children who have suffered significant harm or at risk of immediate harm.

Sometimes when a crisis occurs, new or alternative ways of thinking emerge. In 1946 Britain was broke and devastated by WW2, yet during this time of austerity it took the wisdom of a few to create the NHS which despite its problems, is fiercely supported. We need a similar revolution now. Investing in a safety net of support for all children and families as a democratic right will reap benefits for the whole of society –and that includes those who disagree with such a measure who cannot escape living alongside children and families! And also as a final thought, weren’t we all once children?

Previous Blog

https://ndcscampaigns.com/category/social-care/

[1] https://www.local.gov.uk/about/news/councils-face-2-billion-funding-gap-support-vulnerable-children-2020

[2] https://www.cypnow.co.uk/cyp/news/2004211/child-protection-thresholds-rising-due-to-budget-pressures

[3] https://www.ncb.org.uk/resources-publications/resources/no-good-options-report-inquiry-childrens-social-care-england

Are universities going to become more inclusive?

Martin-Mclean-cropped

Martin McLean, Education and Training Policy Advisor (Post-14), National Deaf Children’s Society

Pretty soon, lots of teenagers will be receiving their A-level and BTEC results and find out if they will go to their preferred choice of university. I can remember how exciting and also nerve-wracking it felt to go to university for the first time. If you are deaf like me I think it can be even more so: will it be easy to follow the lectures? Will I make friends? Is communication going to be a problem?

Some readers of this blog will remember our fight against the changes to Disabled Students Allowances back in 2014 and 2015. Whilst the Government decided to maintain DSA funding for specialist note-takers (people with training specifically in writing notes for deaf students), funding for ordinary manual note-takers was removed for the 2016-17 academic year along with some other forms of less-specialised support such as library support assistants and proof-readers.

One of the Government’s justifications for cutting DSAs was because it wanted universities to develop a more inclusive approach to teaching so that learning is accessible to more students. No objections to that – we have always wanted universities to be more flexible. There have been plenty of deaf students who have expressed their frustration over the years at reasonable adjustments not being made such as Dean Kamitis in his recent Limping Chicken blog.

The Government has published guidance for higher education providers on ‘Inclusive Practice’. The guidance encourages universities to make changes so that their courses are more accessible to students with disabilities. Some universities are leading the way. I recently visited Du Montford University in Leicester and was impressed with their approach:

You have been waiting for it and here is the ‘but’. Does a piece of guidance go far enough? – the Government does not appear to have any stick (e.g. loss of funding) to beat universities with should they decide to ignore this guidance. Also, a couple of practitioners have said to me that they are concerned that some universities see inclusive practice as simply about rolling-out lecture capture technology. See this lecture recording for an explanation of how lecture capturing can benefit disabled students: see this lecture recording – oh wait…..no subtitles! And here lies the issue for many deaf students. Lecture capturing is not going to make a difference and could actually make access worse if more course content and materials move online.

Deaf students are small in number – most university disability advisors might be aware of 2 or 3 deaf students at their institution at most. This means that in general, teaching staff are not in regular contact with deaf students and have little awareness of their needs. This is why the National Deaf Children’s Society has extended our Supporting Achievement resources to higher education. Supporting the Achievement of Deaf Young People in Higher Education aims to provide disability advisors and other higher education staff with the information required to ensure deaf students get the support they need.

I know from experience, having people around who understand the barriers you face and how to communicate with you properly makes a huge difference. For deaf young people starting uni this September, it might help reduce those fresher’s week nerves!

If you are a young person at uni and you have having difficulties because your course is not fully accessible, you can get in touch with our helpline for further advice and guidance: http://www.ndcs.org.uk/family_support/how_ndcs_can_help/support_and_advice/

This blog is mostly relevant to students from England only as the DSA changes have not taken place in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. However, the Supporting Achievement resource is aimed at universities across the whole of the UK.