Bristol Centre for Deaf People meeting: high passions

I attended an eventful (open public) meeting at Bristol Centre for Deaf People (BCDP) on Friday night. Am not going to do a ‘report’, impossible, cos so much happened, but this is my brief ‘tweets’ timeline as a way of summary:

Emergency General Meeting was called to discuss cuts in services by Bristol City Council to Bristol Deaf People, and was held Friday 23rd September, 6-9pm.

6.05pm: Meeting opens: Chair outlines Council cuts and the effect they will have on Bristol Deaf Centre and services

6.20pm: Deaf members request BSL translation of statement from Bristol City Council’s Health and Social Care dept before discussion continues

6.35pm: Statement suggests a key reason for cutting services is due to BCDP poor management, that Board denies

6.50pm: Ideas for future of Centre put forward by the BCDP CEO, rejected as ‘far too late’

7.00pm: Heated, passionate debate fires off between members from floor and Board, tensions running high

7.10pm: Centre of anger is on Board management’s failure in last few years to act to secure future of BCDP

7.15pm: Several members from the floor critical of the Board’s management, ‘they had been left with a mess but failed to clean it up’

7.20pm: Board have totally lost the meeting but continue to strongly defend their actions, strenuously denying any wrongdoing

7.30pm: Debate continues to be highly charged, personal attacks, inappropriate public naming of people, pleas for calm

7.35pm: Board starts to try to end the meeting

7.40pm: Floor wants to keep meeting going, bitter dissatisfaction expressed towards Board’s behaviour

7.45pm: Board Chair formally closes the meeting and entire Board walks off the stage!

7.50pm: Deaf members urge a break in proceedings for passions to calm

8.15pm: Informal meeting (of majority of those present but minus the Board) reconvenes to discuss the situation

8.30pm: Meeting discusses its options within the constitution and draws up a list of issues to be discussed at a future Emergency meeting

9.00pm: Meeting closes.

One thing is for sure: the meeting ain’t the end of the matter, and further developments can be expected in coming days and weeks ahead.

Italy proposals met with opposition

Rather worrying events in Italy have drawn the attention of the world’s Deaf people. The full details are at Grumpy Old Deafies and I wanted to add my support for the opposition to what’s happening in Italy – I wrote to the President of the Italian Parliament and others yesterday to express my extreme concerns (see G.O.D for my letter along with others).

I want to put up two things here: a copy of the Press Release, and secondly express my support for the numerous protests taking place on Wednesday 25th May [corrected 30th May], and add that I think it’s very heartening to see activity take place at such short notice. Planned so far are marches/vigils at: London, Belfast, Edinburgh, Dublin, Berlin and Washington DC.



World Outcry Against Italian Parliament Bill

There is a bill in the Italian Parliament that was originally going to
recognize Italian Sign Language (LIS), but pro-CI/oral “special
interests” succeeded in changing the wording that will change LIS to
LMG, which is Language of Mimes and Gestures.

The Deaf sign language using community throughout the world are
outraged by this insult. It has long since been proven and recognised
worldwide that sign language is a language in every sense of the word.
Just as any spoken language it has its own structure – syntax,
linguistics, synonyms and morphisms.

Tomorrow world wide people from the Deaf and hearing community are
gathering in protest.

In Belfast at 16:00 many Deaf people and hearing supporters are
meeting at the City Hall to protest and sign a petition against this
blatant and deliberate discrimination against the Deaf sign language
using community in Italy and around the world. Please support our

Lina Kankeviciute
Chairperson Limepie Theatre and member of Deaf Community


To all you who are marching today


The British Deaf Association is appalled, at the proposed new change
in the wording of the legislation being discussed by the Italian
Parliament today.. It is not only an insult to sign language but to
the Deaf people throughout the world who have fought many battles to
get our indigenous sign languages recognised by governments The
European Parliament has officially stated and this was reaffirmed only
last November In Brussels, and it also reaffirmed and has long since

been proven and recognised worldwide that sign language is a language

the same as spoken languages. And just as any spoken language,

TO all those on the March my sincere thanks and appreciation, my only
regret is I am unable to join you as I am attending the EUD GA in
Budapest, my heart, mind and souls is with you all

Terry Riley
British Deaf Association

With thanks to Alison for providing the above details

The growing power of the Deaf professional-managerial class

It seems absurdly ironic that the Deaf Professional-Managerial Class (PMC) in the UK are emerging in times when people are expected to tighten their belts in times of assumed austerity and when revolution lights up the middle east.  It is possible, however, for the Deaf PMC to be pushed into taking actions of its own – let me explain what I mean here.

The triggers for this blog entry are the Sorenson VRS campaign in the UK, and the Deaf Managers course being set up at Heriot Watt University, but the ideas contained within it are ones that I first wrote about 20 years ago. It was possible to see what could happen, but it was not inevitable that it would. Plus I felt clouded by my own political ideology and philosophy back in those days. I wrote about Deaf nationalism and equality in a mini-dissertation for my BA in Cultural Studies in 1991, but had only a tentative understanding of the nature or state of the Deaf world back then. [1]

I’ve been meaning to re-visit these thoughts for a last few years, but the timing seems right to do so now.  Any constructive views and thoughts are welcome; this blog entry is a hypothesis, a philosophy that has empirical reasoning.  It is also written with the coming of the eighth anniversary of the UK government’s acknowledgment of British Sign Language (BSL), and the key tenets are as follows:

1. The Deaf PMC has grown and strengthened in the last 8 years, but remains restricted to further growth due to societal barriers;

2. This class is dominated by political ideologies that reflect its material interests, and the emergence of a Deaf intelligentsia reflects its growing development and influence; [2]

3. The main beneficiaries of BSL recognition have been the Deaf PMC, and any further campaigns and protests for ‘rights’ will mostly benefit that class, unless these are specifically campaigns for social equality.

The concept of a ‘Deaf middle class’ is not new: historical studies pre-Milan 1880 have consistently referred to Deaf people working in professional managerial occupations and holding an above average education, although the notion that the majority of deaf children who went to deaf schools ended up in manual and labouring occupations tends to receive less recognition. The strengthening and developing of the modern PMC has been simmering ever since BSL acknowledgment, and doesn’t begin there, but goes further back. Paul Redfern, for example, draws attention to a growing ‘professional class’ as far back as 1996[3], while Paddy Ladd[4] addresses class issues in his 2003 Deafhood publication.

Before continuing, I want to clarify that I use the ‘professional-managerial class’ rather than ‘middle class’ as the later term tends to be far too stretched, referring to everyone who owns a home (or two), possess a lot of cars and takes several holidays a year: I much prefer to use the term ‘professional-managerial class’, since it is easier to associate this with people who have a bit, however small, of power, control and independence within the system. They are a person who typically sits between the working and upper classes and was first coined in the 1970’s by Barbara and John Ehrenreich. [Hopefully, also the use of that term will inspire the creation of an appropriate sign in BSL!] Critically, they are best understood as a class, albeit a sometimes contradictory one, and not amalgamated isolated individuals who add up to make up a whole. Deaf people of all classes regularly come together, with class differences holding little sway amongst those who are keen to express their thoughts, views and feelings in sign language, and gather collectively to celebrate Deaf culture in a myriad number of spaces.

To be more specific, here are a section of the various people who I would deem to constitute the Deaf PMC:

1.      the managers of services and charities, be they independent or part of the voluntary or public sector;

2.      those who run a business, which are mostly quite small scale at the moment, but may aspire to become something a lot larger and more profitable;

3.      growing numbers of tutors and lecturers within the field of further and higher education, including the growing ‘Deaf intelligentsia’, linguists, psychologists, social scientists, anthropologists, etc.[5];

4.      ‘professionals’ who work within a whole range of services such as mental health, community development work, social services, the legal profession, and so on;

5.      celebrities and artists from the world of t.v., theatre, drama, etc, especially those engaged in free expression of the culture.

My personal observation of this ‘class’ is that it is working and acting for the collective good and interest of Deaf people and the Deaf community. Those who teach sign language, for example, are people who are tutoring the future generation of sign language interpreters, raising deaf awareness amongst the hearing community, teaching effective means of communication between hearing and deaf people.

Businesses are invariably focused on promoting effective services to hearing and deaf people: be it telecommunications, translation services, video relay services, etc. One could, in fact argue that they have very little option but to work as a profit/loss service, since they rely on the formulation of business plans, and so on.

But even a momentary analysis of the Deaf community from a this class perspective can begin to recognise that Deaf political issues on Deaf / deaf / hearing / Coda / Interpreter / culture / disability, etc. lines, is invariably far more complex when there is the recognition of a class of Deaf people who do have some form of power in the world of work.

The class perspective cannot really be understood without recognition of other classes. An unemployed working-class Deaf person on benefits, for example, or Deaf people who work by selling their labour, be it to work in a supermarket, in post offices, office work, nurseries, cleaning, printing, child-minding, interior design, hairdressing, etc., have different material interests to the Deaf PMC. They may all share the experience of day to day language and cultural oppression, but there are also differences; ones that come to the fore when there is a crisis in the system.

The vast majority of Deaf people feel a bitter sense of injustice that they continue to miss out on day to day services hearing citizens take for granted, such as telecommunications and interpreting, and they suffer exclusion from citizenship due to lack of access to the justice system, politics, and a whole range of social services.[6] The Deaf PMC are more likely to have access to sign language interpreting services, since they are well versed in knowledge of their rights, and of making use of legislation such as Access to Work (which could change pretty soon, however). [7]

But these two classes also need to be considered in relationship to those who have real wealth and power in society: the huge banks who control vast amounts of money, large and profitable businesses who have an annual turnover of millions, the massive telecommunications and media industries, governments and civil servants who frame the law and decide under which discourses Deaf people are placed and, of course, the even vaster medical apparatus which produces technology and research on hearing aids, cochlear implants and genetics.  There is practically no Deaf-control that comes anywhere near matching the power and wealth of these corporations: but there are people who no doubt aspire to do so.

This theory is a simplistic one, and the situation is far more complex, but I defy anyone to suggest such a theory based on class is ‘outdated’, as critics of Marxism (especially postmodernists – and there are many lovers of this theory within Deaf studies) tend to do. There are real differences, for example, amongst businesses, some of which will aspire to capitalist and profitable greatness, others who will certainly not have any interest in doing so but hold a very strong not-for-profit ethos. Deaf political differences amongst professionals will also be evident, with the liberal-minded Deaf wanting to drive forward and reward individual developments, opening up choices for all, while the socialist-minded Deaf will seek to stress the importance of staying true to the communitarian roots of the Deaf community.

Artists are also a mixed-bag, with individuals no doubt dreaming of worldwide individual recognition (whether it be amongst Deaf or the mainstream) in order to demonstrate ‘yes we can’; while yet others will be far more keen to reflect the tensions within and between the communities, or who desire to create works that simply celebrate the beauty of sign language and Deaf culture. In between there are those with nationalist tendencies, for whom ‘all things Deaf are beautiful’, and it cares not what class they are from, or how they develop their Deafhood. [8] Many of us are probably a mix of all three at various times.

The growing Deaf PMC is, arguably, an inevitable consequence of the development of the Deaf community within capitalism, a system based on competition for profits and the reliance on the labour power of working people to create these profits. The same kinds of developments are evident, for example, within many other oppressed groups, the growth of Black businesses for example. What I am putting forward is a theory that is very common, and in some cases very well developed, in other academic studies, but has been badly neglected in Deaf studies. Theories of culture, for example (which celebrate resistance from below and sub-cultures), or Black studies, Womens studies, and so on, have debated class and Marxist theory for years; as has Disability studies. Deaf studies, with few exceptions, largely shuns it, or deals with it superficially, but this type of perspective can surely do nobody any harm other than to those who aspire to be oppressors or part of a powerful Deaf elite.

We might even find it strangely empowering to feel that the Deaf community is an amalgam of such a mighty group, one which does have some form of power collectively, and hence is able to assert its strength at times when it would be of great benefit politically. It may also assist us with understanding that the decline of Deaf schools, Deaf clubs and the near-virtual mainstreaming of deaf children does not equate a weaker and less significant of less powerful Deaf community. That is not to suggest nobody should worry about the fate of deaf children in mainstream schools – it is a strong feature of the culture to care and campaign for natural justice for its children[9] – or fears of what genetic technology will create.

The community has simply shifted and changed, and it also exposes as premature those academics who have decried the decline of the community[10], in very much the same way as mainstream academics never tire of suggesting the working class is dead (until it rises up, yet again), that postmodernism denies there are any more ‘grand narratives’ possible in history (even while they spring up everywhere in new forms), or Fukuyama champions the victory of liberal democracy (even while the citizens of the world take to the streets to fight for real peoples’ democracy).

Understanding this power, however, is also recognition of its potential dangers, and of recognising whose interests’ Deaf political activism can end up benefiting in the long run.  Hence the courageous fight for the human rights of Deaf people and the recognition of sign language, that many are engaged in worldwide may well give some protections to the Deaf community as a whole, but it is invariably the Deaf PMC who will be the key benefactors, as their material situation improves through the opening up of political opportunities.[11]

It is also recognition that without self-awareness and consciousness of the ‘Deaf PMC as a class’, Deaf people themselves can end up becoming oppressors. Indeed, Deaf people have been recognised as promoting linguistic genocide in the developing nations, not necessarily consciously, but simply by failing to understand the effects and impacts of their power. [12]

What does it mean and what should or shouldn’t happen? I do not think it is possible to stop or curtail these developments at the present time. They may even be necessary for the advance of Deaf self-determination, and therefore celebrated. But I do think there are some important questions they raise.

What we have not yet witnessed (in the UK at least) is the development of wealthy businesses, Deaf owned, controlled and run, being set up and gaining profits, so that they can enter the top echelons and champions of capitalist society. Definitely nowhere near the company ‘Cochlear’, for example, lauded by an ex- Australian PM as an embodiment of Australian values, never mind that of extreme-oralists! Most businesses of the Deaf PMC are much lower level and lower key (what Marx would have termed petite bourgeoisie) of which Remark! is just one, and others are those such as Significant or DeafWorks. Is this what the Deaf community should aspire to, having control of vast amounts of capital in order to achieve the kind of control those such as Sorenson have in the telecommunications industry? It is only a matter of time that this is what we will indeed see happen if the UK Deaf community continues to pursue reformist and liberal politics in order to advance the betterment of Deaf people.[13]

In order to be a ‘capitalist’, it is necessary to embrace fraud, competition, the undermining of rivals, to fall in love with having power and control, ‘loads-a-money’, all the worst aspects of humanity.  Intentions might be genuine, but ultimately they play to the system, to compete with rivals and make profit, to put it bluntly, to ensure they try and get from their workers (Deaf or hearing) as much profit as they can. Capitalism then becomes part of the problem, not the solution.

This brings me, briefly, to the Deaf Managers course, being run in May by Heriot Watt University[14]. From an impartial perspective, it’s certainly welcome. The numbers of Deaf Managers are growing, and they face challenges, as I have seen at first hand on many occasions over the years. [I would certainly never take on their tasks!] The system under which they are operating places on them difficult demands, not least because of the institutional audist nature of their environment; so how do they work within these worlds? [15] Some questions they might ask is: can Deaf managers avoid being oppressive in the workplace to their workers, Deaf or hearing? If so, how will they address potential oppressive practices and behaviour?

Research to explore class issues would be very welcome, particularly in political philosophical areas such as Marxism, or in disciplines such as economics.  Thinkers, who can flex their minds on how to change the world, rather than endlessly seeking to interpret it and reinterpret it in a comfort zone that builds a postmodern cul-de-sac, would also be a welcome addition to Deaf epistemology.[16]

I hope this blog entry will make a small contribution to encouraging that process.


[1] When I first attempted to campaign for better resources for Deaf and hard of hearing students at university (induction loops for hard of hearing people, interpreters for Deaf people), I was responsible for making some scathing comments about support services.  They didn’t, I argued, provide enough. I was met with some very harsh observations on my actions from other Deaf people at the university. Looking back, I think some of those criticisms of me were fair.

[2] I have used the term ‘Deaf intelligentsia’ in my PhD and elsewhere, but my current thinking owes much to Dr Sarah Batterbury using the term in a recent article.

[3] Redfern, P. (1996) Deaf Professionals: a growing stream. In C. Laurenzi and S. Ridgeway, Progress Through Equality, BSMHD Publications.

[4] Ladd, P. (2003) Understanding Deafhood: In search of Deaf culture. Multilingual Matters:  Clevedon.

[5] I include myself, with some reluctance, as part of the Deaf PMC. In spite of my fondness and pride at stating that my upbringing is solidly working-class, I hold a PhD, work within academia, and have a pretty comfortable material life: this is not something I state with pride by the way, and I am certainly not rich (nor do I want to be), and I experience oppression every day. Even if, politically, I want to see wealth sharing and a celebration of diversity in our society, I have some degree of power in relative terms, and, once again, I state this as a matter of observation, and not self-satisfaction.

[6] My PhD addresses this subject, providing empirical evidence of Deaf people’s concerns.

[7] Access to Work payments have enabled Deaf people to enjoy Interpreting services for the past 20 years; Disability Support Allowance has given the means for Deaf students to become educated, and hence more empowered and assertive. ATW state that half their budget is spent on service provision to Deaf people, since Interpreters are an on-going requirement. The cutting or loss of payments, therefore, would be utterly devastating to the Deaf PMC who will have very little option but to resist any deep cuts, or face a far greater degree of unemployment and already far disproportionate underemployment.

[8] At the 2011 ‘Supporting Deaf People Online’ conference I wrote about these three political tendencies – liberal, nationalist, and liberationist – in more detail.

[9] The term ‘natural justice’ should be credited to Rachel O’Neil during the ‘supporting Deaf people online conference’, February 2011. Once again, my PhD provides empirical evidence, as does my follow up to the PhD on group rights, where most of these rights are deemed necessary to ensure the protection of deaf children as well as Deaf culture. I will be publishing on the findings from the research as soon as possible.

[10] The ‘deaf decline’ theory was first addressed in Australian by Trevor Johnson in ‘Sign Language Studies’, and has since been applied to the UK by Graham Turner in the Journal ‘Current Issues in Language Planning’. Even if they were correct, most Deaf people are resident in the developing nations, where not only technology, but Deafhood philosophy has yet to permeate.

[11] It is not necessarily a conscious act. Marx famously wrote: ‘Men [sic] make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.’ And then went on to write one of the best phrases ever: ‘The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.’ See: “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.” Karl Marx 1852.

[12] I first came across empirical evidence of these developments from a presentation given by Tove Skutnabb-Kangas at the 2003 World Federation of the Deaf Congress in Montreal, Canada. A presentation was given on this subject at the 2006 Deaf Academics conference, in Stockholm, Sweden, by Hilde Haualand.

[13] The granting of minority group rights is partly suggested as a theory to ensure spheres of telecommunications, for example, are genuinely Deaf-led and Deaf-focussed, as opposed to being at the mercy of the market. It appears to me that one of the possible reasons Deaf communities have demanded human rights rather than, say, minority group rights, is because Deaf studies academics worldwide haven’t yet brought to conscious awareness the potential power of the professional-managerial elements of its class.

[14] For more information see: http://www.sml.hw.ac.uk/business/cpd/deaf-managers-facing-the-challenge.htm

[15] The concept of audism has become so disputed, and so stretched nowadays that it is depressingly almost meaningless.  I blame those intellectuals or philosophers who love to indulge themselves in the meanings of words or signs, only to end up confusing everybody even further, probably even themselves. I therefore use the term ‘institutional audism’, first coined by Graham Turner, but I use it partly in order to try and rescue its original meaning: i.e. social policy is not determined or decided by Deaf people; the Deaf community has never historically been recognised as a cultural linguistic minority group, and is absolutely nowhere near doing so, in social policy. Until it has collective self-determination, the original meaning of audism seems the best one.

[16] A brief discussion I had with Dai O’Brien recently raised the issue of the economic purpose and benefits of Deaf people as a cultural linguistic minority group. This perspective might appear a bit determinist, and there is, in my view, no material benefit to capitalism in keeping Deaf and hearing people divided in the way racism and sexism does, for example. Geneticists seem to think it would make economic sense to wipe out deafness. One scientist equated the costs of deafness to be akin to building three motorways around Germany! [See ‘Genes, Hearing, and Deafness’ by Martini et al eds. 2007] These kinds of debates were happening in Disability studies 20 years ago. In Deaf studies they have had little, if any, attention, but I would expect a new wave of Deaf and hard of hearing scholars to be keen to address such questions.

gruelling year ends soon

There’s no denying it – the Chinese year of the Tiger (my sign btw 😉 hasn’t been easy, forever plugging away workwise, one thing after another popping up on top of the usuals. Some grim, others exciting, most in-between.

Can never complain: but has meant the blog’s got sidelined, so apologies for that as some significant stuff’s been going on.

Write ups hope to become regular in 2011 after the hols, but here’s a sum-up:

1. Completed the Group Rights project, one dissemination meet held, another meeting in London due on 20th; have a video recording that I hope to put up after that. I feel very indebted to the people who took part in the project, who have played a crucial part in enabling the development of a positive theory of Deaf people’s minority group rights – more to follow soon.

2. New Genetics and Deafhood project to start asap (that one will run until Octo 2012). This one was announced on Bristol Uni website; it is led by Paddy Ladd 🙂 So I am back into the genetics frying pan !

3. My DVD in BSL already has a publisher (Ishara Press), has been produced, and will be launched in the New Year. Book in English also published. It has taken time, but watch this space! (In the meantime you can watch clips from it on the BSL Uptake project website.)

4. European Parliament visit last month, November: I was pleased to be able to attend this (big thanks Annika and Mark) and saw Adam Kosa MEP for the first time, and this could be the start of a big moment at European level Deaf politics, and especially for EUD. I hope to write on this soon with my observations, praises, and constructive critiques 😉


Some not so good developments have also rocked a lot of people’s lives, and I will write in more detail about those here:

First, the teaching out of the BSc at the Centre for Deaf Studies. All the detail about this is on the savedeafstudies campaign website. The Centre itself is not subject to closure (although the fears linger), but with the loss of the BSc there are bound to be major effects. I understand the initial campaign, that received the most superb support from around the world, has lost momentum since the summer, but internal work is ongoing to ensure the Centre puts itself on a stronger base in the coming months.

Secondly, the totally disasterous ‘Browne Report’, that got through Parliament last week through the coalition government. As it passes through the various phrases to become official, the changes are going to be structurally massive and effect staff and students alike.  It is likely that students in humanities and social sciences will be forced to find 100% of funding of their studies, for example.

Secondly, these cuts have been pushed through by a new right-wing Coalition Government of Tories and the Lib-Dems (often referred to as he Con-Dem government). It’s unfortunate that it had to come to seeing Lib Dems getting some form of power to realise that they were not and never have been ‘left’ or ‘alternative’ in any way or form.

It is very, very disappointed to see one of the greatest campaigners on Deaf issues in Parliament, Malcolm Bruce, vote in favour of the proposals.

Neither were Labour much better, of course; as they were the ones who introduced tuition fees and initiated the Browne Report.

The climate it has created will make it harder for Deaf people generally, as I wrote in my blog two years ago when the credit cruch started. It is the marginalised, vulnerable and poorer sections of society who bear the brunt of cuts in a disproportiate way. Women, especially, are going to be hard hit in numerous ways.

So now Bristol City Council finds an opportunity to push for the closure of Elmfield Deaf school into a resource-based unit (although I know there are some who predicted this is what would happen as a result of changes some 5 years previously). Also worrying, however, is the planned cuts in Deaf youth services.

I know they say things come in three’s but….

For me personally, there has been some inspiration and hope: students, lecturers and staff protested against the changes to CDS last May (incidentally right after UK election day) with a lively and vibrant campaign that attracted wide media coverage.

And students generally have refused to accept that a rise in tuition fees and massive cutbacks are ‘inevitable’, but have instead demonstrated through the streets of Bristol and elsewhere in the UK (notably London last week), and also occupied part of the university to set up ‘open spaces’.

These open spaces have widespread support: they have already held one ‘teach in’ on the purpose and value of higher education. In other occupations, subjects have included discussions as to what an alternative, non corporate education system might mean in practice.

That’s a very relevant subject for Deaf education and Deaf people generally, for as we know, the education system has failed Deaf people over the years, and the community is in a situation where it requires open and honest discussion and debate on what is the alternative to deaf kids being sent off, isolated, to mainstream schools.

I hope that 2011 sees people urgently discussing and pursuing alternatives before we see an autiobiography in our shops entitled: ‘my experiences in the last Deaf school standing’.




a personal perspective on paddy’s deafhood class on genetics

Before heading to the SIGN4 conference in India I took part in Paddy Ladd’s Deafhood class, where the topic was on genetics.  The key of the lecture was to explore the discourses around genetics and Deaf people with the events over the HFE Bill still quite recent.

The discussion ranged from how the discourse of genetics is generated and formulated by the media and the ways in which agencies and politicians percieve and construct Deaf people in relation to genetics issues.  The influences of past discourse is also evident, for example in the case of the couple in the USA who sought a Deaf donor to improve their chances of conceiving a deaf baby. Their impact on lay people was also explored. Critically, any discourse that challenges or contradicts the dominant was sought and found. Such discourse is a minority view, but nevertheless these represent critical evidence of how the hegemonic view is challenged. Where does that arise from, or how does it come about? There is particular interest in the way it happens and how it is communicated and to what audience.

Discussion moved on to the genetics campaign itself – specifically stop eugenics – the people involved, their political campaign, the approach they took and whether it had any impact or success. The impact was massive: the media coverage by radio, newspapers, journals, television, is probably the most widepsread coverage of any ‘Deaf issue’ in the UK.

In respect of the sense it obtained such coverage, success is probably not the correct word because it didn’t lead the scrapping of the clause although the explanatory clause was changed to remove references to deaf donors, but impact would appear a more appropriate one. It momentarily entered the consciousness of a wide range of laypeople who, had they read or heard the debates on radio, considered their own emotions and beliefs as well as those of Deaf people.

One of the most important debates from my point of view was the political nature of the campaign itself.  Stop Eugenics was meant to be non-hieracrhical; although a small group of people took the initiative in starting up the website, the media and political campaign, there was no formal committee as such, the activists did not seek to create a committee or organisation, but was very much a ‘do it yourself’ group.  People were constantly encouraged to become involved in ways that catered for what they could contribute to such a campaign: creative video’s, posters, taking part in media interviews. A separate group set up a march. Stop Eugenics wasn’t a formal organisation, but it was set up to campaign for the scrapping of Clause 14/4/9.

Yes, it could have become a formal organisation, but did not crystalise into one for a various number of reasons: that is a shame, but the ‘do it yourself’ nature of the organisation didn’t, nevertheless, stop identified individuals becoming identified with the campaign as it’s spokespeople. 

In single issues campaigns such as that of Stop Eugenics where a small number of people are active, a momentum is created, and if they use intense energy and effort to sustain they will eventually burn out. Some did suggest it became an organisational type of movement so it could have become, for example, a kind of FDP; however, there were some very positive things that did come from it, such as the national and international attention and cyber-gathering.

Here is where Deafhood could explore wider political activist movements, since it will find that all radical political movements that react and are formed largely in defence are ultimately limited: i.e. it isn’t unique to Deaf activism. All active campaigns rely on small cadres to keep the momentum going.

If you have a much larger number of active people (I mean thousands, not scores as in, for example, the FDP) what you will get is not reform, but revolution.  People are freed up to be active on a wide range of front’s that will test the established order to breaking point. You can see the parallels with so many different movements.

It was an extremely interesting class, and the debate continues. In a small way, I thought the Stop Eugenics movement brought to life Deafhood in very real sense: i.e. that Deaf people are not going to be guinea pigs in any legislation that wishes to bring small steps to their eradication. Politicians and the media may well have assumed they had quite a straightforward argument, but Deaf people who became involved indicated that isn’t quite the case. There are a large group of Deaf citizens who are happy to be Deaf and not dead.

The message made was that it is positive to be Deaf; Deaf people have much to offer and contribute to humanity; and the future of the Deaf world through sign language and Deaf culture has positive benefits to bring to humankind.

More Deafhood classes please! 🙂

John Clifford Blackman – obituary

The entry I’m about to write is personal, and refers to the first boss I ever worked under, as a cleaner at a printing factory, aged 17.  The experience of my time with Carmichael & Co. Ltd (Brighton) was so profound that it shaped my life thereafter. The reason for this entry is that he passed away on June 14th, which I found out about only recently.

Blackman, as I always refer to him, was a staunch right-wing Conservative Party councillor in Brighton, an arch-Thatcherite.  He was the Mayor of Brighton from 1984-85 and if you ever see a clip of documentaries of Thatcher dancing the night before the IRA bombed the Grand Hotel, Blackman is the Mayor seen in a dance with her. (His son, also called John, and also working at Carmichael’s, was even worse, a supporter of the arch-right wing Monday Club.)

Blackman set up his own printing business and it was quite a successful one.  It was also one that refused to recognise the trade unions, which at the time operated the ‘closed shop’, whereby you needed to be a member of one of the trade unions to apply for a job in the print.  Usually those working at Carmichal’s were not members of a union.

As a 17 year old I had no clue who I was working for, let alone the situation of trade unions.  I’d struggled to find jobs anywhere after leaving school, and got this one having been for loads of interviews.  Ninety percent of the time those jobs fell through because employers wanted me to be able to use the telephone. I’d already been working as a cleaner part time, notably at Sussex University.  When the job centre asked me if I had any other ideas of jobs I would like to do other than computing or clerical, I told him that I had an uncle who worked in the printing and that might be something I’d consider.  He pulled out a card for a cleaner/print room assistant at Carmichel & Co.  I went along for a job interview. It was a small company employing around 20 people.

A director guy with the second name of Beebe interviewed me, along with Blackman’s son John.  Beebe wasn’t convinced I could do the job; actually neither of them were.  It involved lifting stacks of paper into printing presses, and other manual labour.  Sure, I was some skinny guy back then, but I wasn’t entirely limp.  I kept telling them I could do it, no problem at all.   They summoned in Blackman, and it’s fair to say that if it wasn’t for his involvement I wouldn’t have got that job.  He said I should be given a chance. My first impression of him was as a very grumpy old man, who told me he had no idea what the wages where, ‘it might be nothing’.  I think it was something like £17 or £24 a week; whatever, it was quite low, but I was grateful to take anything.  (There was no DLA at the time!)

Working for Blackman wasn’t a relaxing or pleasant experience.  When he took me round the factory to ‘train’ me on aspects of the print, he would be explaining the names of various tools or equipment and then he would suddenly say ‘what is it?’ to ensure I had understood him.  It came so suddenly and out of no-where, taking me by surprise, but most of the time I understood him.  But I was nervous of the guy in those early years, so much seemed to depend on working to his satisfaction.  Once he asked to polish his car and gave me something; I had no idea what it was and began to apply it to the main body of the car.  Blackman came storming out: it was chrome polish I’d been given and I was only meant to polish the chrome parts of the car.  Blimey.  I had no idea cos I never imagined I’d be asked to do a job like that.  Of course, I was apologetic; for six months there were occasions such as these, with Blackman having little outbursts whenever I didn’t do a task to his satisfaction.

After six months I was expected to undertake an apprenticeship.  That was the norm for all print room assistants who worked at Carmichaels.  But unbeknown to me, he’d called in a lawyer of some kind, and they were advised to prolong the trial while they considered whether it was safe for me to work the print machines.  They were worried that if I was involved in an accident, the company would be liable having not taken the fact I was deaf into account. It may, therefore, require extra insurance for the company. They had contacted my former teaching assistant, Ms Taylor.  She had been the sole support I had during my time at secondary school, coming in once a week to help me out with English, Maths and any other subject. She had given me a positive report.

I was annoyed that my trial was extended for an extra six months, but didn’t complain.  It was hard, however, to dislike Blackman, as he did have a certain charm.  After a while of knowing him, it was possible to laugh at some of the comments and things he said: like when at lunch time I would sit reading the Sun or the Mirror, and he asked me why I read ‘that rubbish’, and ‘why don’t you read The Times’, little things like that.  He would glare at me and I would laugh, and he would just shrug and walk away.  When I got into a panic with printing taskes he would put it into perspective: ‘have you ever seen a man dying,’ he would say.  ‘Err, no,’ I would respond.  ‘You wouldn’t want to,’  he said.  Blackman had seen action, while in the Navy, in the second world war. You had to respect that.

I did get some experience on the printing presses, usually when a worker was ill.  I shouldn’t have been, for health and safety reasons (untrained, etc.) but I got work done for them.  But Blackman did something else, he gave me a go on the typesetting machine at Carmichaels.  I was getting experience in all departments, and after a year they asked me if I’d be interested in working as a full-time typesetter.  ‘You wasn’t very good working on the machines,’ he told me, although I’d hardly had much of an opportunity.  Still, it was very true my skills were better used in that department. His son, John, tried to train me, but was always leaving it until 4.30pm in the afternoon or getting called away, so I had to learn most of it myself, and with help from other workers who knew how to use the typesetters.  Rather strangely, one other woman would come in about once a week to do typesetting, and she had the same surname as me, and was called Sandra, so two S. Emery’s working as a typesetter in such a small printing company was rather amazing!

I continued, however, to get rollickings.  I recall one incident, before I formally began as a typesetter, Blackman was unhappy with something, or with a job I did badly.  I got a severe dressing down and was ordered to sweep the floors of the print factory.  It was utterly humiliating, but I didn’t feel I had a choice.

But Blackman gained my respect in perhaps a bizzare way.  When I was made Typesetter, I’d made a hash of some jobs, particularly with my spelling.  I still remember spelling principle rather then principal, for example.  Beebe mocked me: ‘you can’t spell can you’ and that was irritating, it was a comment Blackman would never have made.  There was one occasion where there was a problem with a job, and for the first time ever I defending myself.  Blackman respected my defense and left it at that, but from that point on, I found Blackman changed.  We would disagree over many things, and I found myself challenging and responding in a way that was impossible when I was a print room assistant.  I would do the same with Beebe and John.

I used to mess around a lot with my fellow workers; we got caught out doing some blatant stuff but Blackman never said anything, instead grumbled and muttered.  Then, once, from the far end of the corridor, I gave a colleage a gentle poked in the tummy and Blackman came storming over, summonded us into the office, gave us a severe bollocking, I protested but it was hopeless.  I’ve still got the letter of an official warning from him, for ‘skylarking’.

I was confident enough, therefore, to challenge on a regular basis, my fears of Blackman having reduced.  I had also become more politically aware and asked to join the trade union the NGA.  ‘Blackman, that c***,’ they always said. They were delighted to have me as a member.  They wanted me to leave Carmichaels and join a unionised factory, but I wanted to stay on and fight for the unionisation of the company.  That couldn’t be done alone, of course, but had to involve other workers joining the union.  I managed to recruit a few others, sort out some problems that others had, and was really pushing on.  Whether Blackman was aware or not, I have no idea, but it did get bad.  I was always refusing to work overtime.  It got the extent that Blackman was training a young guy to take over from me, but Blackman couldn’t do very much because I worked hard and well.  The overtime issue came to a head one evening when Beebe and John sat down and told me that if I didn’t work overtime I’d be sacked. I relented and worked overtime in order to stay on, they let the poor young lad go, in tears; but it was obviously clear from that point on that my time was up there.

I handed in my notice soon after, having secured a job in Burgess Hill with the assistance of the NGA. My co worker told me there were tears in his eyes when he was talking to her about my going.  He wasn’t around on my last day so I never got to say goodbye to him; and when I visited the factory a few years later, he wasn’t in the office. I wrote to him for a reference a year or two after that, but, probably not surprisingly, received no reply.

That was some experience for a young lad who started there at 17 and left at 20.  But the trasformation I underwent when Blackman was my main boss was lifelong, changing me into something that was the exact opposite politically of what he was.  He was also the architect at giving me experience on Typesetting machines, which led to being experienced in a trade that was very well paid, and, providing you were a union member, very easy to find job a job in at a time when jobs were hard to come by.  I spent a further seven years working in the print.

I have a grudging respect for Blackman in that regard.  On starting at Carmichael’s he became a figure I respected but also detested and was angry with on a lot of occasions, but when I challenged, he returned respect.  His aggression towards me stopped and he treated me like any other worker.  All of that gave me a lot of confidence as a person and in myself.

It would be wrong to say I ever missed the guy, and hypocritical to write anything of a glowing tribute.  I am, however, extremely happy to have met him and had him as a boss, however hard going it was at the time.  What I will also say is that the guy will never be forgotten by me, even though he is gone.

Capitalism goes into a spin; but what does it mean to the Deaf world?

News just in has seen the vote for the $700bn ‘bail out’ plan fail in the US, and the markets dive yet again.  The only thing that surprises me about these events is that anybody was ever surprised about it at all.  As long ago as 2002 there were warnings that this is what would happen.  And everybody in the financial world has been bleating on for ages that a bubble is being created that is fit only to burst. Governments generally tended to believe that the market would eventually right itself if left unregulated and to its own devices.

I’m not going to pretend I understand the fine and technical details of what is happening: hedge funds, equity savings, and the impact of short term investments are beyond me; but anybody who takes a moment to look at what is happening will notice all is not well in the finance markets.

But two things are being forgotten that I think are worth considering.  Firstly, those interested in making profit from capital will not be the main ones to suffer: it will be those already struggling to make ends meet as banks and services start to tighten up lending and increase prices to make sure they retain their profit margins.  I can’t be the only person on the planet to notice that even though the price of a barrel of oil has actually been falling in recent weeks, petrol and energy prices have stayed rooted upwards. While it is working people who will be expected to bear the brunt of the crisis, the panic will surely be the middle-classes.

What does all this have to do with Deaf people one might wonder? Socio-economically, I’ll suggest that Deaf organisations will be at risk of seeing ‘progress’ being reversed, as programs that rely on funding are scaled back: we’ll find ourselves looking at the similarities we have with other groups, the need for solidarity with those who are also affected, and the class-based nature of our society will become ever more exposed.  These issues may end up cutting through Deaf/hearing lines, and giving rise to differences within Deaf studies on the nature of our society.  As I have written elsewhere, often the nature of the ‘hearing society’ in which we live is contested, but is often never made explicit on the basis it is considered ‘not a Deaf issue’.  Deaf studies can, of course, be a separate area and sphere of study, but I’d suggest when we get events like this happening, it can have its limits unless tied into a relationship with wider epistemologies.

Secondly, although the news is looking dire, this will not frighten those whose job it is to make profits; this will be considered an ‘opportunity’ – to make money and profits from declining stocks, perhaps for longer term profits.   That also shouldn’t come as a surprise because our entire system is underwritten by this very factor: i.e. competition for money, resources, stocks, etc; and those involved are trained to see it in fiscal rather than human terms.  This is in no way to de-humanize those involved in buying, selling and profit-making, but to simply underline that the world has suddenly become obssessed by what happens to cash.  And as the old punk saying goes: some will be out to make cash from chaos.

Our modern day politicians are too used to the idea that the market can solve the problems; indeed their careers have recently been spent fine-tuning arguments to favour a form of the market, even if it might be called ‘market-socialism’ (an oxymoron if there ever was one).  Now it is cracking or creaking or whatever they have no alternatives; they look to the ill-patient to get them out of the rut.

I’m not one of those who takes great joy in the problems experienced by capitalism, much as Ive never been a great supporter of the system, and that’s because every crisis creates misery and makes it much harder for people to enjoy a good quality of life.  Some even struggle to survive.  Protest or even revolts are not inevitable, in spite of how people might like to think of a misinterpreted marx, but the chances of them happening rise because people may see they are being made to pay for a crisis not of their own making.  Deaf people may find themselves faced with the question of whether to get involved in these movements, and they will be faced with what to do to ensure they can take part.

I am interested to see what Deaf people are making of this situation; not only with regards to their personal point of view, or with its affect on Deaf communities; but in terms of how this affects Deaf people in relation to the system as a whole.  One of the questions I would ask is whether these events are considered a separate political/economic issue to what goes on in the Deaf world; but more importantly, if they are connected, in what ways might that be so?

Telegraph on ‘deaf babies’ we are still failing to get the message across

This report appeared in the Daily Telegraph today.

It is a positive report in so many ways, as it demonstrates what we already know: pressure from activists (you see, pressure politics DOES work!!) has actually forced the Department of Health into a climbdown (though whether it will find its way to Parliament is a different matter).

I have met the two health officials involved in rewriting the explanatory notes, and they were genuinely concerned at the feeling amongst Deaf people on this clause, and relating it to deafness. They were open and willing to learn, and I think they deserve credit for being open to the case we at Stop Eugenics have been putting to them.

But the Telegraph heading is actually quite a disappointment as far as I am concerned. We are not out to create deaf babies, how many times do we have to make this clear before the message gets through? Maybe it probably never will, but it does show that, in spite of what the media write, it is still possible to influence change in spite of all the forces that seem to be ranged against you.

It does not stop here, however. It is only the explanatory note that refers to deafness that is subject to a suggested amendement; it won’t stop the clause proper.

There is still work to be done, particularly because Baroness Deech made that statement in the Lords that the clause 14/4/9 applies to deaf people. And the clause tries to legalise something that the state is best kept out of anyway cos there are far too many scenarios, possibilities, issues, that can’t be legislated for and are best made privately.

That Inspiring Debate on Genetics in UK on 9th April…with a caveat

This post is coming somewhat a few days after the event of 9th April, but better late than never I hope!

I have taken a jolt from the events surrounding the fact that one person at the event was attacked by a couple of others (more on that later): that is not a nice feeling when it happens to a friend, but I tried to support the person as much as was possible, while also having to grapple with the nerves of having to take part in the debate, and I had also had intense (but useful) genetics meetings earlier on Wednesday and also on Thursday.

It risks taking the focus away from what was, for me, one of the best events I have seen that involves Deaf people concerning a political issue for years. So while I do not in any way want to belittle, undermine, or ignore what happened with the attack, I do want to try and firstly write something of the spirit I felt being there.

I can’t remember the last time being part of an atmosphere such as was the case on Wednesday: utterly electrifying, and probably not felt since the march/event meetings on BSL recognition. In many ways I felt a lot more could be taken from this occasion, simply on the basis of who was present at the debate, the atmosphere created, and just the sense that everybody present had so much to contribute.

The incredible thing of all were the mix: medical people, geneticists, and department of heath officials, genetics interests groups, mixing with local Deaf people, Deaf academics, and representatives from Deaf organisations, including the campaign group Stop Eugenics and the BDA.

The way the seating was arranged (it is hard for me to explain this) meant that people felt so close to you when you stood up to speak/sign; it wasn’t like a flat classroom or a huge lecture type all. It was really a dynamic setting.

This also wasn’t one of those conferences that you pay ridiculously huge amounts of money to attend and so in the process exclude those on lower wages and are more likely to get a balance of professional heavies who can afford to go because their work pays for it. That was, of course, thanks to the Progress Educational Trust, who made no charges, and who, incidentally, appear to favour dropping/amending the clause. But the thing is, ‘professional’ (Deaf and hearing) people turned up anyway, out of genuine interest, and not cos their job demanded it.

Neither was it a show for men/women in suits telling you how it is and then giving the ‘proles’ from the audience a chance to have their say: in fact after the three speakers had given their 10 mins view, and apart from having had one or two times each to respond, this was an occasion for as many people to come forward and have an opportunity to put their point of view: professors, government reps, Stop Eugenics activists, BDA (National and Wales), IDC, NDCS, and so on. The event did not end with any so-called experts telling you what the answers were, because the truth is there aren’t any simple ones (other than, of course, dropping the clause!).

And the guy who was the speaker at the debate other than myself and Anna Middleton; Colin Gavaghan; I am linking to his website: go see what this guy has to say; he has written on this issue and there is a link on the right hand column of his page: I may not agree with all his finer points, but his approach towards the issue is very refreshing and if you are an activist I’d count him amongst your allies.

Everyone I spoke to after the event had nothing but positive things to say about the event and what was said/signed; other than the attack on the friend, the vibes were buzzing, people wanted more such debates, they wanted to know ‘what next’.

The event was ticket (free) only because they can only cram 100 people into this hall (and when I agreed to be a speaker I wouldn’t have thought we’d get more than 40 or so, cynical me); it was sold out and there was a long waiting list, plus I understand some people who had driven all the way from Bristol had to be turned away due to the event having started and being packed out completely.

Where-ever else do we see this happening? It proves very clearly without doubt that Deaf people ARE political people; this specific IVF issue will hardly affect anybody, but the interest does not come as a surprise because it will affect ‘the Deaf community’. Just in the same way that issues regarding education do, this is another that Deaf people involve themselves deeply in, because they know what it can lead to.

It was with great sadness that my friend was attacked; this spoilt the event in a big way, however, my friend showed great bravery and dignity to stand up to this attack, ignore the demands of one other, to come into the meeting, sit through it, join us all afterwards for drinks and chats, and then pen a fantastic summary of the event itself. And she has continued to engage with the issues ever since: I, in contrast, have found it hard to deal with, needing to take a few days ‘off scene’.

My hope is that people will not allow that event to overshadow what was, in effect, a very interesting debate. I hope that people will take inspiration from it.

Our international allies will surely be assured that we UK activists are fighting this every inch of the way!

‘Isn’t that all a bit Adolf Hitler?’ the taxi driver said.

Text message from a friend today:

“Today my taxi driver asked me about my work, so I told him about the Bill, and his immediate response was, without me declaring my position on it all was ‘Isn’t that all a bit Adolf Hitler?’ and we went on from there.  If it is so obvious to ‘the man [sic] in the street’, what is the problem with our elected representatives? Maybe we could do more somehow to stir up the general population to support us. Sigh.”

And that is in addition to the ‘lass’ he’d spoken to about it only the day before, a waitress, who was so horrified she started off discussing it with her working colleagues…who also agree the clause was out of order.