Thursday, 11 December 2008

RNID New Trustees.

RNID recently announced the arrival of five new trustees onto the board. I don't seem to recognise any of these names from the deaf world. Can anybody enlighten us? Are they deaf or hoh? What is their connection/interest to/in deaf people?

From what little information there is, it doesn't sound as if they have that grassroots empathy with deaf people and thus an understanding of our issues and priorities. Do they know what it's like to be treated as inferior or ignored because you are deaf and/or don't hold the "right" opinions? Do they know what it's like to spend years on the scrapheap? Or to be made to feel that your voice counts for nothing?

If this is yet another extension of paternalism then it won't be enough to say that RNID are not listening to deaf people. It would be fairer to say that they are deliberately ignoring deaf people, even some of their members. After all, we have in many different ways been expressing our discontent about this 'everything about us, without us' approach for years.

If you have any information or comments, please let us know.

Edit: Here's the response from RNID: Of the five trustees, two have hearing loss, one has a deaf brother, one is a Professor of Audiology and the other owns a nightclub chain and has worked with RNID on protection of hearing for his employees and customers.

Whether or not that is satisfactory is, as always, a matter for deaf people. My opinion is that it could be worse, but I would like to see at least a few people from more humble or grass root backgrounds who understand things like disempowerment and unemployment.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Different rules for Deaf People?

When people talk about the importance of better representation for minorities or women, it’s very clear exactly what they mean – to actually increase the numbers of the relevant people in the places where they are underrepresented. So if there are not enough women or ethnic minorities in Parliament, for example, they will try to increase the numbers.

Yet when it is shown that deaf people are underrepresented in Parliament or even their own organisation, all of a sudden the rules change. All of a sudden it’s not all that important to increase the numbers of the people who are underrepresented. It is now acceptable to water down that principle and have third parties representing us instead. It’s suddenly acceptable to have somebody who is the father, the mother, the grandson, the sister or the brother of a deaf person step in and do it for us. Sometimes the connection is even looser.

So why is there one rule for deaf people and another rule for everybody else? Could it be because some people have decided that we are ‘not good enough’ to represent ourselves? If so, that is not genuine representation, it is paternalism.

If somebody was a true friend of deaf people, wouldn’t they want the same things for deaf people as everybody else? Wouldn’t they want deaf people to have the fishing rod and fish for themselves rather than keep them dependent, throwing little fish at them from time to time? Wouldn’t they want deaf people to do things for themselves, to act and speak on their own behalf?

When Jackie Ballard was in Parliament, she worked to improve the representation of women. She has been described as a feminist and in one website, as ‘one of the driving forces in campaigns to get more women into Parliament.’

Now Ms Ballard is in the best position to do the same thing for deaf people in Parliament and especially at RNID. I hope she will do it.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Feedback from the Trustees.

If you look to your left, there is a link named ‘Ouch!’ under the heading ‘The Issue.’ The first post was a letter that I sent to all the RNID trustees some time ago which identifies my two main areas of concern. The first paragraph talks of the need for deaf people to have a say or suffrage at RNID. In respect of feedback on this issue I have some good news and bad news. Unfortunately the bad news is more recent, so I’ll start with that.

Somebody suggested to me that I contact RNID trustee, Malcolm Bruce MP because nobody amongst all the trustees is more likely to understand the importance of democracy and having a hand in your own affairs. Incidentally, Jackie Ballard has compared her role to that of an MP in the last ‘one in seven’ magazine.

My e-mail was as follows:

Dear Mr Bruce,

I'm not sure if you have received my letters to you in your capacity as RNID trustee at Featherstone Street. I am a deaf person who, amongst others, have been concerned about the disenfranchisement of deaf and hard of hearing people at RNID.

There has been some discussion of this matter by deaf people here:

Draft letter to RNID Trustees

RNID claims to represent all nine million deaf and hard of hearing people of the UK, but does not give us a say or a vote in matters which directly concern us. This excerpt from the above site explains what I would like to see implemented:

"I think, in the age of internet, there are better ways to expedite a feedback process. I see the role of trustee as rather like that of an MP – where the interests of constituents are carried forward through surgeries/consultation."

I would like to ask whether you agree that deaf people should be able to have a free say on matters which concern them and, if so, whether you will press for deaf people's suffrage at RNID.

Yours sincerely,

Although I received a very nice reply from Mr Bruce’s assistant informing me that Mr Bruce will respond, that e-mail was sent on October 12th (over two weeks ago) and I have still not heard back from him. This means that I will have to take the provisional view that Mr Bruce does not think it’s very important for deaf people to able to have a suffrage or say at their own organisation.

However, there is some good news too. Another trustee, Dr Judith Langfield, instructed the executive assistant to the chief executive to write to me to say that she will bear my comments in mind. The most promising and enthusiastic response came, unsurprisingly, from Jeff McWhinney, who thanked me for my efforts and gave me some good news on the training of deaf people at RNID senior level.

So there you have the catch so far – a bit of a mixed net.