White elephants

17 02 2011


Today I had an interesting conversation with someone who is as passionate and annoyed as I am about discrimination against hearing impaired people and limited access to employment.

This is an issue close to my heart. Years ago, I was fresh out of university and looking for a job. I didn’t know about Access to Work as no one had thought to tell me, not even the university disability officer. I had no textphone – I didn’t know about those either. When you’re deaf, access to information is much tougher – a deaf person needs to be signposted to it rather than be expected to hear it from someone else. I clearly remember the frustration of applying for jobs and not getting anywhere.

After a few weeks of this, I had a brainwave. I applied for six jobs and straightforwardly stated I am deaf and unable to use the phone. I applied for another six jobs and omitted any reference to deafness in those applications – I even included my home phone number.

The first batch of applications resulted in a deafening silence. As I had come to expect 😦 The second batch, to my complete astonishment, had every single employer calling my home, extremely keen to interview me. The problem was, this meant my mother had to pick up the phone and take a message, and explain they had to email me as I couldn’t hear on the phone. Result? They all dropped me like hot cakes. Yeah …. that’s a great one for confidence building, isn’t it.

It pays to be very careful what you tell employers and how you say it – you need to offer solutions to your deafness as well as your skillset. For far too many hearing people, hearing loss is simply something they don’t know how to deal with. It’s best left until the interview stage where they can meet you in person and you can explain the situation, and help swing the interview your way with your brilliance.

But hey, we have Access to Work. Unfortunately, ATW keep restricting and cutting access, which seems to me to be an oxymoronic state of affairs. “No You Cannot Have 40 Hours a Week of Communication Support – It’s Far Too Expensive” – even though I work 40 hours a week. Where is *my* access to communication? How would an ATW adviser like to be told “Your Phone is Too Expensive, You Can Only Have it for 4 Hours a Week, and You Have to Re-Apply for it Every Two Years”?!


Some employers don’t really understand that people with less than fully functioning ears are just as able as people with fully functioning ears – just a few adjustments are needed. Yes, this *still* happens in the UK today! The biggest barriers seem to be attitudes and cost. The biggest solution seems to be raising awareness and enabling a decent, varied, and flexible provision of communication support.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect other people to understand hearing loss and all the attendant issues, problems, and solutions ….. but I *do* expect people to be open minded enough to listen and take information on board. If they provide a service to the general public, then they have a responsibility to be reasonably accessible to the public and to find out about accessibility – and implement it. I have seen too many examples where this has not happened. You can’t just say “It’s not my problem”. A responsibility is a huge, huge thing. But sometimes it is the white elephant in the room. When you’re at a disadvantage in society, this white elephant is really, really, really, big.

So how about this one …. the government, in all its wisdom, laid down regulations on 10 February for a new work capability assessment for employment and support allowance (ESA). This will become effective on 28 March 2011. This means deaf people who can read and write will not be eligible for ESA and will have to claim Job Seekers Allowance (JSA). Just because a deaf person can read and write, doesn’t mean the barriers to employment have disappeared. I suspect, as blind people who can get around safely with their guide dogs are no longer eligible for ESA, deaf people with hearing dogs will no longer be eligible either. It’s not logical to simply make cuts in support and then not provide a replacement for that support. In any case, the current support is inadequate – it’s not the right kind of support. There should be mentors, role models, information hubs etc. Not just a bit of money thrown at you and a DEA (government Disability Employment Adviser) who just doesn’t ‘get it’. That’s before you  even secure an interview in the first place. It’s all kind of a mess, isn’t it?

Whoops.  Can someone poke our lovely new government and make them think again?

Or better still – put some deaf and disabled people into senior positions so that they can use their knowledge and experience for the benefit of the rest of us.

More information on the new ESA is at Benefits and Work

Deaf mugger

13 06 2010

A new and very silly short sketch about what happens when deaf criminals use Access to Work to get ahead.

No passers by or interpreters were harmed in the making of this film.

Written by Ben Green
Cinematography by Chris Stevens
Directed and edited by William Mager
Starring Matt Gurney, Kathy Yeoman and Ben Green

Access to Work

31 03 2008

Wednesday 2nd April, BBC TWO 1.00pm

In a special investigation that goes to the heart of government, Memnos Costi uncovers the shocking truth behind a company claiming thousands of pounds intended for their deaf and disabled staff.

It’s a story of lies, deception, unpaid bills, taxes and wages – and it raises huge questions about the way in which the Government’s £66 million Access to Work fund is being managed.

There’s also another chance to catch this edition overnight on Tuesday 8th/Wednesday 9th April on BBC ONE, as part of Sign Zone.

Remember, you can also watch old See Hear programmes on iPlayer, for up to seven days after the programme is broadcast. We’re now transmitting with full open subtitles for full access as well. Simply click on this link to find the latest programmes available for viewing.

Withdrawal of Access to Work funding?

28 02 2008

I have just heard of a Department for Work and Pensions current consultation document that includes a proposal to withdraw Access to Work Funding from Public sector bodies – see the link below.

Full consultation

The relevant section is Chapter 5 from page 57 onwards and, in particular, paragraphs 23 – 25. The consultation questions are on page 64.

At Leeds university there are some individuals who are planning to respond in their own right and they are looking into the practicality of a University response.

Would you consider a response from your own HEIs, in which case the deadline for responses is 10th March.

A mass response is being organised from the University of London. If you are interested in lending your support to this response, please email accesstowork@googlemail.com

They have stopped paying for palantypists in Scotland, and I don’t want England to go down the same road or I’ll be working in a cat food factory!

Textphones R Us

19 02 2008

When Teletec closed down at the end of November and the Captel service ceased, I was left with a phone handset that didn’t work. I chose the Geemarc textphone from Typetalk as it is supposed to be very good and was recommended by some friends.

Click here for a demonstration of the Geemarc.

The phone arrived. How exciting! I unwrapped it, read the instructions, inserted the required batteries, connected it to the phone line, switched it on, and phoned a friend. Nothing seemed to happen. I asked a hearing colleague to try for me. No go. We contacted the RNID, Typetalk and our building personnel to try to solve the problem, whatever it was. It turned out there was a bar on the line so they lifted it. The phone still didn’t work.

I sent the phone back to the RNID and a replacement arrived shortly after. I set it up again and tried to make a call. Nothing. How annoying.

Now I’m awaiting further investigation into the phone system set-up. I’ve also discovered Typetalk calls can still be made online, using your computer as a textphone. I tried this some years ago and it kept crashing my computer as the textphone modem and my computer modem worked at different speeds.

If you’re interested (and like taking risks!),

Click THIS LINK for the software and the instructions are here >>>
Using your computer as a textphone

I’ve been without a phone for 3 months now, which is a tad inconvenient, and investigations are ongoing. I am now wondering… for all the good the Geemarc is doing me, will Access to Work approve this Winnie-the-Pooh phone I’ve had my eye on? Check it out, it’s even got flashing lights – just what Access to Work recommended the last time I asked them for a textphone! And at £14.99 it doesn’t even blow their budget 😛

Deaf Welcome Here

11 02 2008

The London Development Agency has funded a project called Welcome Hear, run by the Royal Association for Deaf People. RAD say –

Are you Deaf and do you work in London?
Do you have communication problems at work?
Do you have problems with your Access to Work contract?
Do the people that you work with need some Deaf Awareness training?
If the answer to any of these questions is “YES”, we can help!!

We can give your work colleagues free basic Deaf awareness training
We can give your work colleagues free basic sign language training
We can explain to your employer how Access to Work can support you at work
We can help you to apply for Access to Work
We can help you sort out your Access to Work problems

For more information, contact Radha Manjeshwar:

Email: radha.manjeshwar at royaldeaf.org.uk
Mobile: 07950503093
Minicom: 0207 613 3967

(This looks like a good deal! Who HASN’T had problems with Access to Work or ignorant colleagues?)

Access to Work reviews

24 01 2008

Arghhh. I have been asked to submit a log of my communication support needs at work so they can review my support and adjust it if necessary. They always think I ask for too much but I always stand my ground and argue back.

What *really* annoyed me this time was the sample log sheet they sent me with simple instructions. It was so patronising that I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Do these people really think I’m THAT stupid, just because my hearing’s not perfect? Hey, my brain’s fine, thank you! I was soooo tempted to send it back with a note saying ‘Hey! You’re discriminating against me as there is no picture of a Hearing Dog on the form’. I queried whether they expected me to log every phone call I made and received. Oh yes they did.

Check out the sample log and instructions by clicking on the link –

Support worker log

What is a ‘reasonable’ adjustment?

19 08 2007

I followed my own advice and got a new job two weeks ago. I’m now a careers adviser – it’s very different from being a finance manager but my communication support needs are the same as my disability hasn’t changed and neither has my preferred method of communication.

To date, making reasonable adjustments has become a major feature of my new role. I have been arguing with my case worker (I shall call him ‘Clueless’) at ATW (Access to Work) for four weeks for communication support, to which I am entitled by law. A request turned into an argument, which is typical of my experience.

To give you an idea of the kind of rubbish I have to deal with….. When I initially asked for a captioned telephone for my previous job, I was asked ‘why don’t you get an ordinary phone with a flashing light’? And this was after I had requested support and specified in great detail exactly what I needed, why I needed this particular kind of support, and how / why it would be beneficial to me in my post. I had a surprise recently when Clueless was invited to my office to discuss my ATW needs in my previous job, as I had been arguing for an increase to my allowance for six months. STTR support was set up for this meeting. Clueless admitted he had never seen a STTR before and hadn’t realised how it helped me. And he approves my allowance?! He spent the whole meeting mumbling to the table and using convoluted language. Helloooo, deaf awareness training, anybody? Six months of arguing for this support which is clearly needed to enable me to do my job?

The way I see it, it’s very simple. I am profoundly deaf and have been working for many years, therefore I am the best person to know what my personal communication needs and preferences are, and therefore my requirements, to enable me to carry out my required duties. ATW are there to provide the means to that support, and last year they had an underspend of £58 million. What do I require?

  • captioned telephony as I can’t hear on the phone but I can speak (the UK version has been updated to a web service which is in the final stages of development)
  • STTR – a speech to text reporter, sometimes known as a palantypist, as I can’t lip read people who mumble so would need one for client interviews, and I also can’t lip read every single person in a group meeting
  • I would have thought it was fairly straightforward to understand my communication needs.

    I requested a STTR for staff meetings and Clueless’s response was…

    Given Palantypist is very expensive as you know (about £250 for a half-day using STTR) I would need to know why the alternative of an ordinary interpreter could not help you in your staff meetings.

    What’s an *ordinary* interpreter? A sign language interpreter? I don’t use BSL. If Clueless had bothered to look in my file, it should be clear that I lip read, which is quite distinct from signing. I’ve never used a BSL interpreter, I have always used STTR. Why change now? Just because it’s cheaper?! Huh? And why is there an ‘alternative’…. an alternative to what? To being able to understand what everyone else is saying? And should the high daily charge of an STTR mean I can’t have one and should try something else that doesn’t work for me, just because it’s cheaper? If they are expensive, sorry but that’s really not my problem.

    I requested captioned phone support and Clueless asked me for a breakdown of how many incoming and outgoing calls would be made each week – how the heck should I know? Hang on, am I supposed to be telepathic? Do YOU know how many phone calls you will get each week? So I gave a guess as to how many hours a week I would use a phone. Clueless’s response was –

    x hours a week on phone duties – are you looking for an interpreter or a Communication Support Worker for this?

    What? BSL interpreting over the phone? Why would I want this? I spoke to a STTR who says they are sometimes asked to do speech to text for phone conversations, using a headset with a normal phone. That would mean booking a STTR for half day blocks or full day blocks, and I couldn’t ‘use’ the phone at other times, when I didn’t have a STTR available. Bang would go the freedom to use a phone whenever I want, I’d be depending on someone else being there to enable me to make or receive a phone call.

    I requested a STTR for client interviews and Clueless responded –

    x hours a week on interviewing duties. Again are we looking at an interpreter or a Communication Support Worker for this job?

    Clueless also wanted to know if there were any other deaf staff at my place of employment that are supported by ATW. He has in the past suggested to previous employers that I share my STTR with another staff member, to cut down the cost. Oh yeah, and what if we are in different meetings, and we have only got the one allowance for that day? What are we supposed to do, carve the STTR in half? Plus, ATW will cut the allowance as well, so there is even less support available for both staff members. No way, Jose.

    My new colleagues are shocked at the rudeness of Clueless’s correspondence and his attitude. I guess I’m used to it. One of them waded in and fired off a very firm email explaining what was required. The very next day, my support was approved. I am stunned. Do hearing people only take other hearing people seriously? Does Clueless think, because I have a disability, that he can mess me around?

    Now I have encountered another problem. I have meetings next week but have been unable to book a STTR as there are none available. There are not enough STTRs to go around and this is the holiday season. Scotland has no STTRs at all, the STTR I booked last week often travels from London to Scotland for a ten minute meeting. Why are there so few STTRs?

  • The course is expensive and difficult
  • There is no college in the UK – but there is one in Dublin (fancy commuting?)
  • It takes about 5 years to become proficient
  • The equipment is very expensive – keyboard and laptop
  • The keyboard has to be imported from the USA. It is not made in the UK anymore and the US supplier has a monopoly
  • Humph! Maybe the answer to all this is to learn BSL!