Deaf Awareness at Gatwick? Not yet.

A week ago I flew from Gatwick airport for a holiday. Having heard of their new scheme to provide additional access support to disabled travellers, including deaf people and involving an identification ‘lanyard’ (last time I wore one I was in the girl guides and it had a whistle on the end), I decided to trial this, in the interests of research, hoping that my, admittedly low, expectations (as a result of previous experiences) would be met.

I don’t think it’s particularly helpful to only complain, I do want to see improvements made at Gatwick for all deaf travellers, so I’ve amended my original blog to provide suggestions for improvement under each observation.

On my early morning arrival, the new reception area was closed and empty. I flagged down a member of staff to unlock the area. They did this, gave me a ‘lanyard’ (which did not appear to indicate what the specific issues were), did not ask what my access needs were, was not easy to lip read and ushered me to a chair in the area marked unnecessarily with the ubiquitous wheelchair symbol. They sat behind  desk too high for many to make a phone call. I assumed the call was to someone who would provide communication support. No – another person arrived, took my case and beckoned me to follow.

~The first action should be to discover what the person needs and provide what is actually needed.

The staff member (who was not at all easy to lipread) rushed off with me following and whizzed through baggage drop and security too fast for me to collect my thoughts and prepare – I forgot I’d left my kindle in my  bag as a result so was called aside by security. This person was impatient with my request to speak slowly and clearly. Yes  it’s nice to queue jump, who doesn’t want to avoid hanging around, but that was not what I asked for or needed.

~All airport staff need to demonstrate a minimum of awareness training in relation to all access needs.

The next thing was that the person accompanying me ushered me to what I can only describe as a holding pen area, where wheelchair users and others with mobility needs were,  slung a buzzer on another lanyard over my neck and set it for a certain time. I was told to return to this area when it buzzed.

~It’s not necessary to lump all disabled and deaf people together in one area. I think a buzzer is potentially a good idea if it could show your boarding gate number and buzz an hour before the gate opens, but not to ‘herd’ us together.

The buzzer went too soon for me to get the newspaper and chocolate I was about to buy. On returning to the ‘pen’, I was corralled with another woman onto a mobility vehicle, despite my protestations I could walk to the gate. We were ushered to a priority boarding area. I’m sure this works very well for many people with mobility issues, but was not necessary for me. As a result, I had to wait longer at the boarding gate than I would have normally done and missed the chance to buy a paper or even select the free newspaper I wanted or to get the drink & chocolate I had intended to get. I asked for one and did get it – but not the one I asked for. Deaf people need access to communication and information first; we may also have other needs, but if not, we don’t need priority boarding, we need communication support, especially at check in and security.

~Staff with at least basic sign language skills should be part of each airport team; an on site interpreter should be available when requested (this may already be provided but was not offered).  These staff need to be the ones to escort deaf people through check in etc.

Thumbs up to Gatwick’s service to people with mobility needs, (although it seems they too would miss out on the free newspaper of their choice as a result of being trollied!) Thumbs down to their service to deaf and hard of hearing people. Room for improvement and one star for the attempt. I’m well aware of the challenges inherent in managing so many passengers going to so many places but the main lesson for Gatwick is to treat people as individuals and find out what they actually need first. Then ensure those needs are met.

 

Desk Work

I thought I was managing pretty well clearing my mother’s house for sale now she has moved into a care home – no tears, no sentimental attachments to ‘stuff’. But when I emptied the Desk, repository of millions of memories, and realised I had no room for it in my home, although my mother wanted me to have it, that felt rather different. It’s a massive old roll top job. I loved the vibration rattle the lid made opening & closing – it never failed in the 60 odd years we used it. There was a secret drawer,  although we often forgot how to open it. Cries of delight greeted each time we remembered, even though there was rarely anything in it once opened.

Golf trophies; dominoes, solitaire, lexicon, snakes & ladders, chess board & pieces; old school reports with phrases like “must try harder”, “tennis could be county standard if her footwork improves”, “he is doing his best and must keep up his effort in all subjects”, “mysterious bits of paper with equally mysterious writing; love letters from my father to my mother during WW2; ancient chocolate bars; ten pairs of sunglasses; knitting needles; family photographs dating back to the 19th century. A treasure trove.

Well, it’s going to auction but I’m saving the photograph I took -odd to think we will no longer  be saying, on mislaying things, “Have you looked in the Desk?”

image

 

Where does sentimentality lead us?

I love my family, my friends, my dogs, my books and where I live. This latter, however, doesn’t mean the bricks and mortar of my current living location. It means the swell of the south downs; the grey, blue, green, smooth, wrinkled or furious sea; the memories of my childhood in the streets, on the esplanade, in the shops and pubs; the love of my parents and grandparents expressed in cuddles, stories and time.

Sentimentality is different – I have a sentimental attachment to very little – some of my books; my grandmother’s wedding ring; the silver bracelets once belonging to my brother; a painting my daughter did for me of the Seven Sisters; some of my photographs. That’s it really, there’s a freedom for me in knowing that I’m not sentimental about my flat – I do enjoy the sea view but the place itself is just where I lay my head in reasonable but not luxurious comfort.

I know it’s not the same for my mother and for many more older people now living solo in increasingly cluttered and dilapidated houses with once beautiful, now jungly, gardens. But how I wish it was – if we could only learn not to invest so much of ourselves in bricks and mortar and ‘stuff’, how much easier to recognise when the time comes to be practical and move somewhere smaller, easier and safer. When a house becomes a millstone for the occupant and their family, it creates tensions in the family, makes things hard for everyone. I know there are as many options for living as there are sizes and shapes of families and no one solution works for all, but right now in my own life, I wish the solutions could be practical and not for sentimental reasons.

We are lucky to have choices. As write, I feel self indulgent and think of those living on the streets, and dying on those streets; of those in refugee camps; those in makeshift shelters; in cramped one room accommodation; in damp flats with peeling wallpaper; those affected by floods. Then I think of those with second homes; with mansions; with castles; with empty properties earning money for their owners through no effort of theirs and wonder again at how skewed our society is.

It’s been a while

I haven’t felt like writing for a while; my writing brain seems to have atrophied. Why? I think my mourning for Peter, although not worn externally, has had a truly deep effect on me. This effect first showed in spending money more than usual – and I am a fairly thrifty person that dislikes all advertisements and avoids buying unnecessary stuff. But Peter was the opposite; was I being him?

Then there is the actual physical pain that strikes somewhere around my solar plexus every so often when something said or done or seen reminds me of Peter and the loss of Peter.  I almost welcomed me these occasions because somehow it seems wrong to just carry on as usual.

I think it will be a long while before we can tell each other Peter stories, say “what would Peter think” or “Peter would like this” as we do about my father (who died in 1980) quite comfortably.

Its been a tough six months for other, more prosaic, but demanding reasons. So that’s probably why I feel so drained, yet along with that is the excited anticipation of the birth of my second granddaughter next month.

Life – it’s such a cliche…

 

My brother

It’s a week since my brother died. I feel as if a piece of my heart has been torn out. This last week has been full of arrangements and sorrow. Next week is the funeral – it’s billed as a celebration of his life but he was just 61, too young, too much living to do. My mother at 89 says she should have gone first – it’s hard to disagree with her. Poignantly, my younger daughter is expecting her first baby next January, a year after the diagnosis was made of the virulent and untreatable cancer that took my brother’s life away from us. On the day he died she felt the baby kick for the first time. I’m a cynical old thing but that was a precious coincidence for me. I have been so touched by the kindness of friends, I wasn’t sure about facebooking this but it turned out to be the right thing to put the picture and the words up that reflected my mood. So many comments from lovely friends.

I’ve planned my talk and poems for next Tuesday; I’m going to be a pall bearer. What else can I do to salve this ache? Time will soften it, memories will heal – but not yet, and so my tears fall…

This could be me

This could be me

This could be me

When I saw this photo on twitter, physical memories threatened to overwhelm me of the trips to Grays Inn Road with my mother that seemed to take up our whole lives in the years before I began school. Scratchy train seats; station smells; the cold green stuff I was sure was icecream that was pumped into my ears to make hearing aid moulds; the tears I wept copiously when instructed to LISTEN when I could not make my ears do it. But afterwards, my mother always took me first to feed the feathery, nibbly, jostly pigeons in Trafalgar Square, then to the cartoon cinema on Victoria station on our way home.

What are the non-Deaf? (Warning – heavily satirical)

What are non-Deaf people?
These unfortunate people can only use their ears, often instead of their eyes, to pick up many different signals from around them and decode them. 
Many of these signals, called “sounds” or “noises”, are of no consequence, including many of the ones made by their mouths and throats. These are called “voice” or “words” or “talking” and are used to convey messages to each other. Different tones may be used to add meaning to these messages but often the meanings are lost because non-deaf people are busy deciding what words will come out of their mouths before the non-Deaf talking to them have finished conveying their message. 
Other sounds are used to warn non-Deaf people of things that are happening, because they don’t pay enough attention to what is going on around them and don’t use enough visual signals like flashing lights or vibrating alarms. 
Most non-Deaf people don’t understand sign language and it’s very sad for them because they miss out on so much of the beauty of sign language and Deaf culture. It is very important for people born non-Deaf to be diagnosed early and learn to sign as soon as possible so they can understand Deaf people. Once they can sign, they can go to a school with Deaf people and other people who can sign and may even manage to learn at the same pace and perhaps get some kind of gainful employment once they leave school. 
Another option, which can make learning sign easier by removing the conflicting effects of sound, is to remove the hearing nerves altogether. This is major surgery but the effects can be miraculous and allow non-Deaf people access to all the benefits those born Deaf have.