Category Archives: Holidays

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.

 

A Turkish Odyssey: the year I was 60

What makes the best holiday for a deaf woman who needs a rest? Definitely my Turkish gulet trip with sailing, walking and swimming and easy communication!

During my 60th year, I decided I would treat myself to three different trips away. What to do?

Barcelona for a long weekend with my daughters – lovely company and conversation, beautiful buildings, scrummy food – but it was a city break and I love the countryside.

New Forest cottage with my husband – great company again, very relaxing and gorgeous countryside – but I wanted to go abroad too.

Something just for me? A week with two interpreter friends staying on a traditional Turkish gulet and walking around the Aegean coast and islands with the company Walking Women – now that sounds just right.

I travelled on the Turkish gulet, East meets West, with Meridian travel and this is the holiday I had:

No housework or cooking with evening drinks served on request – blissful.

Sumptuous meals on board with local produce and freshly caught fish – yummy.

Wonderful long walks among fields of spring flowers, peaceful shaded woods, dramatic hills and valleys by seas of turquoise and viridian – exhilarating.

Turtles and tortoises, snakes, crickets, praying mantises, butterflies, goats, turkeys (!) and storks nesting on mosques – natural wonders.

Excursions to Byzantine and Roman ruins, including the baths where Cleopatra frolicked with Mark Antony – fascinating.

Mud bath, river trip (on the river where they filmed the African Queen with Bogart & Hepburn) and a session in a Turkish hammam – relaxing.

Sunrises, sunsets, moonrises, moonsets over the sea – amazing.

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But – I was the only deaf woman there and was patronised, ignored and “studied” like some weird zoo creature by some of the hearing women. Not easy to use my usual tactic of walking away on a boat, not having any miraculous abilities. The lovely memories were mixed up with not so lovely ones. What to do?

The answer was obvious – the only way to make this holiday total perfection for me was to organise it with only women who could sign. In 2012 the first Sarah’s Signing Sail was arranged, a second trip followed the year after and next May 2014 will be the third – will it be the last?

It’s not easy to describe the effect this holiday has on the women who come but they describe it to me in words and phrases like “bliss” “total relaxation” “a real escape” “lovely company” “my best holiday ever” “can I come again” or just “wow”. For me, it is all of these and more.

The flight from Gatwick to Dalaman is just over four hours and the minibus that takes us to Fethiye to the gulet is about two hours more – all in all less time than it takes to travel between Sussex and Cumbria.

Fethiye harbour is full of boats of all sizes and ours is very easy to spot, with its brilliant yellow sails and awnings.

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Anne (from Wigan) co-owns the boat with Adil (from Turkey) and they have an all male crew of first mate, chef and cabin boy. Before the first Signing Sail, several emails went between Anne and me to explain how communication would work, how the deaf women coming would be alerted in case of alarm (no there is no need for a hearing interpreter to share with each deaf woman – and there were only three interpreters anyway). There was still some apprehension, but all the concerns had disappeared by the second day and communication flowed smoothly. The crew looked after us with care and courtesy, learnt how to get our attention and soon began to try the odd sign with us. Anne is a delightful hostess and led all the walks with knowledge and care, she worked so hard to make sure we would all have a good time.

The cabins are comfortable and all ensuite and the deck has all you need for relaxation in or out of the sun.

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Yes, there are holidays arranged for deaf people but this one is for women only. There is something very special about the combination of stress free communication, and being completely free of work, domestic, social and caring responsibilities. That fatigue from using up our “communication energy” in our lives melts away and the memories are unforgettable.

If you fancy joining us next May, I can put you in touch with Anne – email me on srhplfrth@gmail.com