The BBC Interview

To round off the week, Two Big Ears would like to give you the transcript of last Sundays interview at the BBC, Sunday 8th September

The presenter was Jamie Coomarasamy.
It was a recorded interview, and I was joined by Rajeev Bagga and our interpreter Peter Shilston

JC: “…. One thing represented at the games, that is Hearing Impairments. Now you may be surprised to know that they have their own games – the Deaflympics. Stuart Harrison is Vice Chair of UK Deaf Sport who can tell me more about how they started.”

SH: ”The original Deaflympic games started as the “Silent Games” back in 1924 and they were set up at a time when society looked on Deaf people as being intelligently inferior, linguistically impoverished and outcasts. So what a group of Deaf sports men and women decided to do was to host an international games which mirrored the Olympics. So, that has been going on since 1924. Then, obviously, we then had the developments at Stoke Mandeville that was coming along with spinal-injury patients. In abut 1988, for about 5 years, the Deaflympic movement was in conversation with the International Paralympic Committee – they actually took part in the International Paralympic Committee because we thought that it might make economic sense to come together with the Paralympics. The conclusion we came to was that it was very difficult to incorporate the Deaflympics into the Paralympics because of the specific communication requirements for deaf athletes. The costs involved in providing interpreters and translators was just too prohibitive”

JC: “ I just seem to find that amazing because surely the costs, separate costs of the equipment which are needed for the athletes in the Paralympics must be equal or outweigh that for interpreters?”

SH: “Oh, absolutely that’s what frustrates us too. But you must understand that we, the Deaf community has enjoyed the Paralympics. So you are quite correct, the argument about costs – something could be done about it. The investment put into for example wheelchair rugby, wheelchair basketball in the UK, runs into the millions. Yet, if we just wanted to take the whole of the GB Deaflympics team to the next Deaflympics, you know, really, all we are asking for is half a million pounds.”

JC: “But do you want to be included in the Paralympics still ?”

SH: “Back in the 1980s and the 1990s, the Paralympic Games was still developing and I think at that time, the idea of the Deaflympics trying to merge with the Paralympics was very difficult. But, what has happened, obviously, over the last 20 years, is that with the Paralympics going forwards, all the other disability groups now have their world games, so we have the Visually Impaired World Games , Learning Disabilities World Games , Dwarf World Games and so on. And these competitions sit under the main Paralympics as feeder events or as preparation events. So, this is a personal point of view of mine, which is, perhaps we can re-visit the whole thing again, where the Deaflympic games becomes a feeder event to the Paralympics.“

JC: “We were hearing there from Stuart Harrison, the Vice Chair of UK Deaf Sport. So, what are the challenges for deaf athletes ? Well, Rajeev Bagga is a badminton player- a very good one in fact He has won 12 gold medals and was named “Deaflympian of the Century” he also plays in both Deaf and hearing competitions”

RB “ I didn’t know about other deaf people initially and I just started to play in the hearing environment and my parents supported me and I was just competing against more hearing people. I hadn’t met deaf people at that point ; I was just competing with hearing people at home. It was a challenge for me, and I actually started beating them. It was badminton, tennis, squash and I was doing quite well at it and very positively in that way. And then the first Deaflympics, I was quite shocked to know about it, I hadn’t heard of it, so I joined it and said obviously I am deaf so can you give me some information to do this. And so then I was in 1989, in my first Deaflympics in New Zealand and I started beating everybody and I thought from the experience I had gained from competitions with hearing people I thought the standards when I got there I felt I was able to cope very well with the competition.”

JC: “I just want to get out what exactly what is hampered by not being able to hear in the sports that you play?”

RB: “ I was able to do it when I was younger because I had the family supporting me. My father would support me with the communication so you see I would not have been able to do it on my own. As time had got on, I got into a hearing team and it got to quite a difficult stage where I was being hampered, I was actually trying to communicate with the rest of the team through lip-reading and simple gestures and it wasn’t as good as I would have liked it to be”

JC: “So when you are on the court, what does the interpreter do? Do they simply give you the calls form the umpires? Is that the only thing that you are missing out on?

RB: “You know, well, its prior to a match all referees are informed of me being Deaf so they know that I am going to be playing. So, I am competing against a hearing person and they use scores, they use visual scores (Rajeev signing the flip-card sign), so I can see that and sometimes if they have made a mistake and I don’t understand what the call is, the interpreter then steps in to explain what the call was or what the issue has been – we tried actually to do the actual games without the interpreters but it’s the clarification of particular points that are needed…”

JC: “So, in terms of actually playing the sport, it’s not really, it doesn’t really hamper you that much, it is the understanding why certain calls are being made and the communication with the umpires in general ? “

RB: “Yes that right”

JC: “How would you compare your experience in deaf sport versus your experience in non-deaf sport ?”

RB: “ I have got a passion with Deaf sport. I can see that it’s a lot better to actually have those competitions because the communication is there and you have those interactions throughout so I feel a lot more confident and a lot more comfortable in Deaf sport than I do in hearing competitions. If I am playing in hearing sport it is not as easy and so I need the extra communication because without that I don’t know what is going on and I feel as though I am not on a par with them to know what is going on.”

JC: “That was Rajeev Bagga a badminton player there and I was speaking to him with the help of an interpreter Peter Shilston. Now looking ahead here in the BBC World Service when we will have coverage of the Closing Ceremony of the Paralympic games….“

Have a good weekend !

Why should Society Recognise and respect the Deaflympics?

On Friday Two Big Ears promised to answer the question ‘Why should society recognise and respect the Deaflympics?”

In tonights post, Two Big Ears will demonstrate that the Deaflympics are worthy of its equal standing to the Paralympics by using the concepts of “Deaf Gain” and the Social and Medical Models of Disability and the benefits of elite disability sport.

Commentators and spectators alike are suggesting that the Paralympics is re-defining the term ‘disability’ and therefore justifying a sociological impact of sport. The Deaflympics are also capable of doing this.

First some short definitions:

“Social Model of Disability”  The social model of disability identifies systemic barriers, negative attitudes and exclusion by society (purposely or inadvertently) – society is the main contributing factor in disabling people.

“Medical Model of Disability” The medical model of disability focusses on the individuals limitations and ways to reduce those impairments or using adaptive technology to adapt them to society.

“Deaf Gain” is defined as a reframing of ‘deaf‘ as a form of sensory and cognitive diversity that has the potential to contribute to the greater good of humanity. There are several concepts within Deaf Gain, including; Deaf Increase – the opposite of hearing loss, emphasising that Deaf people have something of importance. Deaf benefit – deafness is a benefit as well as a loss. Deaf contribute – all the ways deaf people contrinbute to humankind

Between 1988 and 1993, the ICSD became a member of the IPC to try and find a way to assimilate into the Paralympics. Unfortunately, through the social model of disability the process identified systemic barriers created by the need for interpreters and the costs of this.  When I was interviewed by BBC Newshour yesterday, the presenter challenged the issue “But surely, these days the costs of providing funds to give paralympians specially designed wheelchairs, limbs , equipment and so on must far outweigh the costs of providing sign language interpreters – (in order to allow Deaflympians into the Paralympics)?” A mute point up for discussion between IPC and ICSD

In 1924, the founders of the Silent Games were looking for ways to empower deaf people though the Olympic ideals of Cubertin. Using the power of an international muli-sports competition for the greater good. The motto at the 2009 Taipei Deaflympics was “Power in Me” (The Chinese literal translation was “The Power of Silence”) it empowered both the deaf and the hearing to come together and learn about sign language. The Deaflympics brought a benefit to the Taiwanese hosts to enable them to provide a service to visiting athletes and supporters. The LOC of the games was a mixed team of deaf and hearing people in order to empower everyone and give them an opportunity that would ordinarily be denied.

In the context of Deaf Gain, Deaflympic athletes and coaches should be valued by society because they have something to contribute. Hearing coaches and athletes can pick up new ways of learning and interacting with their sports environment in order to improve performance. One example I have read is an occasion where the Swiss national junior snowboard team hired a coach who was deaf. “The coach realised that the snowboarders were listening to the sound of the board cutting into snow so they could work out if they were making the quickest stops and sharpest turns possible.  The coach was not satisfied with this reliance on auditory cues and made his athletes wear ear-plus during training. Deprived of their usual sensory feedback, the snowboarders initially felt out of their element, but the earplugs forced them to learn to depend on the feel of the snow beneath their boards. Eventually the athlete’s performances improved markedly.”

The Deaflympic are a great forum for “transnationalism” through gesture and sign language. A model of human interaction in a globalised world. Deaflympians are able to interact and communicate with each other across linguistic boundaries immediately. Therefore, in comparison, Olympians and Paralympians have to find a common spoken language before they can communicate successfully.

This week, Tom Smith, a deaf cyclist from Wales is competing in the European Deaf Cycling championships. Tom is not a native sign language user, he has been educated using the oral tradition. His tweets from Russia this week illustrate transnationalism. “Sign language improving. Alphabet similar to ASL. Just keep forgetting f & g ha ha!….. After the race, stood around talking to Russians, Belgians, French, Germans, Austrians, six nationalities including me – one language. How cool is that!”

By comparison, in the book “Sky’s the Limit” there is a description of a daily routine of GB cycling academy which at the time, was 3 hours road work, one hour lunch, 3 hours French then 3 hours track work. They needed to learn French so that they could live and work on mainland europe where French is a dominant language for cycling teams and training environments.

Olympians and Paralympians have a lot to gain from the valuable contributions that Deaflympians bring to human communication.

The article I  have read on ‘Deaf Gain’ concludes with the potential impact of this concept.

“For most parents, the concept of a deaf baby conjures up anxious thoughts of isolation, limited communication and myriad other difficulties for their child. But that is the old frame. The new frame, the frame of Deaf Gain, sees the baby not as a problem but as an asset. A family with a deaf baby benefits by being exposed to a new language and culture and to new people, ideas and experiences. A deaf baby is value added to a family, but the contribution benefits not only the family but general society as well. Every deaf baby born on this planet is a gift to humankind.”

In a world where the Deaflympics is recognised and valued, the above vision of a deaf baby in a hearing family could be translated to a local level in sport. At the moment, to most coaches and athletes, the concept of a deaf athlete/teammate conjures up “anxious thoughts of isolation, limited communication and a myriad of other difficulties”. But through Deaf Gain, the team can see the deaf athlete as an “asset”. A team with a deaf player benefits by being “exposed to a new language and culture and to new ideas and experience”. Value the Deaflympics and it will become a gift to sport and humankind in the same way that the Olympic and Paralympics have inspired a generation this summer.

Two Big Ears was originally planning to stop his campaign when he Paralympic flame was extinguished. But it has been decided to continue as they are some much more to learn about deaf sport. Only by keeping the Deaflympics and the forefront of society’s conscious might we see a “fair deal” for Deaflympians.

Two Big Ears will be blogging twice a week. so please watch out for future posts.

If you like what you are reading here and wish to keep up with other discussions on the subject, you are welcome to visit the UK Deaf Sport group on LinkedIn for professional discussions.

Listen out for Two Big Ears on the BBC

Stuart Harrison, Vice Chair, UK Deaf Sport will be giving a radio interview on Newshour, the flagship news & current affairs programme on BBC World Service Radio.

The show will go out between 1300 and 1400 on Sunday Stuart will be joined in the studio by Rajeev Bagga, world renowned deaf badminton player, Deaflympic medalist, Commonwealth games competitor and current English badminton Age- group champion.

Contrary to comments from those in the know, this interview is not about Two Big Ears!
It will be answering questions about the Deaflympics, what they are, when they take place, why they are not part of the Paralympics and why the event seems to pass under the radar.

Somehow Two Big Ears will work out how to link this blog up to the recorded interview and hopefully will be able to provide a transcript as soon as possible afterwards.

World Service is the BBCs international radio station with a weekly global audience of over 170 million listeners.

Yes, I have booked a BSL interpreter… hopefully they don’t have a limping chicken!

Gotta go, shower, breakfast, then more Two Big Ear mayhem in my birthplace Warrington!

Why are Deaflympians treated so Differently? Part 3

BSL VERSION COMING SOON!

On Wednesday, Two Big Ears looked at how the 21st century media uses 19th century freak show structures, stories and techniques to market the Paralympics and why this is having a negative impact on Deaf sport because Deafness is a hidden disability.

Tonight, (or through the early hours of Friday!) Two Big Ears is going to re-write history by describing what philosophies influenced the people who created the “Silent Games” in 1924 and the “Stoke Mandeville Games” of 1948 and the way that these ideas have been recorded in history, influences the way people treat Deaflympians differently today.

First of all, we look at what inspired Eugene Rubens – Alcais, a Deaf car mechanic and competitive cyclist from Paris to dream up the first international multi-sports event for disabled people in 1924

He drew his courage from Pierre de Coubertin the French aristocrat who in the late 19th century promoted the benefits of athletics and organised the modern Athens Olympics in 1896. Coubertin wanted to introduce PE to French schools. He believed that his countrymen were easily defeated in war because they did not take fitness seriously enough. He travelled the world to study different methods of teaching:

“What Coubertin saw on the playing fields of Rugby and the other English schools he visited was how “organised sport can create moral and social strength”. Not only did organised games help to set the mind and body in equilibrium, it also prevented the time being wasted in other ways. First developed by the ancient Greeks, it was an approach to education that he felt the rest of the world had forgotten and to whose revival he was to dedicate the rest of his life. (Wikipedia)

Eugene Rubens- Alcais was born in 1884 and grew up in a time when “societies everywhere viewed deaf people as intellectually inferior, linguistically impoverished and often treated as outcast”. He became a prominent member of the French Deaf community, led the Paris Sports Club for Deaf Mutes and became President of the French Deaf Mute Sports Federation. Inspired by Coubertin’s ideas of the Olympics and together with the help of a young Belgian named Antoine Dresse, they created the idea of the international “Silent Games” as a way of challenging the oppression towards deaf people at that time. They used “Olympic ideals” to give the deaf communities around the world the “moral and social strength” to help each other and improve their place in society. Self-empowerment and forbearers of the “Social Model of Disability”.

Eugene and Antoine timed the “Silent Games” to be held in Paris two weeks after the 1924 Paris Olympics to gain maximum possible exposure. The “Silent Games” were modelled on the Olympics and despite what the IPC want everyone to believe today, it is the “Silent Games” that were the first international games ever for any group of people with disabilities. “The games immediately became the social context for countries to deliberate about similarities and differences in the welfare of their deaf people and afterwards, the deaf sporting leaders assembled at a café in Paris and established Le Comite International des Sports Silencieux (CISS) which was later named ICSD; The International Committee of Sports for the Deaf.”

Not surprisingly, Eugene earned the nickname the ‘deaf baron de Coubertin

In the last year of the 19th century, Ludwig “Poppa” Guttman was born in Germany and rose to become an eminent doctor. He fled Jewish persecution in Nazi Germany and came to England to work at Stoke Mandeville Hospital.

Ludwig grew up during the “Jewish Revival” which included the use of physical training and sport as an expression of new Jewish self-confidence and a way for the Jews to integrate into a non-Jewish environment. Is this pretty much what Eugene Rubens- Alcais was attempting to do for deaf people to live in a non-deaf environment ?

It has been assumed that Ludwig’s involvement in sport as a youth would have influenced his later ideas for using sport to rehabilitate his spinal-injury patients and their reintegration into normal life. He came up with the idea of the first Stoke Mandeville Games in 1948 to coincide with Opening Day of the London Olympics of that year, 24 years after the international “Silent Games”

WHO SHOULD HAVE THE RECOGNITION ?

At this point, Two Big Ears would like to re-write history correctly, contrary to what The Spinal Injuries Clinic at Stoke Mandeville claim. Ludwig Guttman was not one of the founding fathers of organised physical activity for people with a disability. That honour goes to Eugene Rubens-Alcais with the support from Antoine Dresse.

Eugene Rubens-Alcais is described by his peers as “a man of modest habits who lived in a sparsely furnished and simple attic apartment, a mansard, while he passionately pursued his vision he gave all his time and what he had in working for deaf people and deaf sports.” Another account is “he always lived in relative poverty and died in 1963. His activities did not enrich him (financially) and is a motive furthermore to honour his memory.”

Ludwig Guttman in comparison was a ‘hearing’ person and rose to become an eminent British neurologist, awarded the OBE, CBE and was knighted in 1966.

Two Big Ears requests that British “hearing” society retracts its claim to have ‘invented disability sport’ through their adopted Dr “Poppa” Guttman and we should give due regard and respect with a posthumous honorary award to the earlier achievements of the Frenchman and the Belgian who got there first. Furthermore, a BBC Sports Personality Award should be given to the Deaf Club in Glasgow who 140 years ago, established the first deaf football club in the world in 1871-72.

The Deaflympics is a “silent” deaf voice in a hearing community inspired by “louder” Olympic and Paralympic “hearing” voices. It is time for the majority to listen and accept and properly honour the truth and support its Deaflympians on equal terms with Paralympians. Two Big Ears is not suggesting a merger of the two movements – he will share his ideas in a later blog.

On Monday Two Big Ears will answer the question ‘Why should society recognise and respect the Deaflympics?” Two Big ears will demonstrate that the event is worthy of its equal standing to the Paralympics by using the concepts of “Deaf Gain” and the Social and Medical Models of Disability and the benefits of elite disability sport.

Two Big Ears is now taking a well-earned rest to visit family ‘up north’ and enjoy what promises to be a fantastic finale and Closing Ceremony for the 2012 Paralympics. We will have a light-hearted break from all this heavy philosophical stuff with some weekend-banter and pictures of those who are supporting Two Big Ears.

Goodnight

YOUR BSL VERSION WILL BE HERE SOON

Why are Deaflympians treated so differently ? Part 2

Written by Stuart Harrison

Yesterday Two Big Ears and I looked at how financial prioritization to Olympic and Paralympic sport in the UK has been detrimental to deaf sport whilst in other countries there has been a more equitable approach to recognising elite Deaflympians within sport pathways.

This post is probably the most difficult one for me to write because it will be controversial. I have shared my views privately over the years with colleagues whom I could trust whilst always looking for the opinion of others and evidence that would back up his perspective. This week he has been able to find evidence in an article in The Independent on Sunday by Peter Popham examining the work of Danielle Peers, a Paralympian who now coaches sport and is working on her PhD thesis in disability, sport and human rights at the University of Alberta.

I have long harboured the opinion that people’s perception of disability influences decision makers when thy decide that Paralympians are more deserving of support than Deaflympians because of the “19th century freak show phenomenon“. Deaflympians don’t look freaky.

Peers demonstrates that the Paralympics are ‘sold” to create more profitable versions of the “Games” . Marketing has “drawn on the specific structures, stories and techniques of freak show”.

This appeals to ‘gawking” tendency when promoters focus on tragedy and deformity instead of athletic achievements.

On the opening day of the Paralympics  I bought a national newspaper with the entire front and back cover displaying a photograph tightly zoomed in on bladed legs. I doubt that a similar image of Usain Bolt’s legs, would sell news.

I agree with Peers that the  Channel 4 ‘superhuman Paralympians’ video “showing a car flipping and a worried pregnant woman reinforced disability as tragic and horrible.” And I would like to add that no superhuman Learning Disabled athletes are in the video, they are outwardly ‘normal’ – so not marketable.

Deafness is a “hidden” disability and cannot compete for government funding or media coverage in the same way because people do not see Deaflympians as being any different to able-bodied athletes and therefore in 2009 did not challenge the Sports Minister Gerry Sutcliffe MP, when he argued that Deaf athletes are not discriminated against because they (are normal) and can compete in the Olympics like Antonio Ally. You cannot ‘focus’ on the bodies of Deaflympians as a “problem”.

The huge amount of negativity aimed at a BBC blog written yesterday featuring the views of the International Committee of Sport for the Deaf ICSD, illustrates public misconceptions very clearly

Popham concludes his article with “Disability like racism, is in the eye of the beholder. And while a handful of superb athletes are put on a pedestal, the grinding lives of the majority go on as before.”

Tomorrow’s third part will look at the philosophies behind the formation of the “Silent Games” in 1924 and the “Stoke Mandeville games” of 1948 and how “history” has been written in a way that influences people to treat Deaflympians differently.

You can read Peter Popham’s article about Danielle Peers here

Two Big Ears was working early this morning at BNI Hinckley, pleased to hear that some members have been following the blog. Thank you!

Classifying Disability Sport

Sunday 2nd September:

BSL HERE 

As Vice Chair of UK Deaf Sport, I deal with many emails on a daily basis asking for advice, offering opinions etc on deaf sport. I am currently involved in a discussion with some deaf athletes over the validity of the 55dB rule. In the Deaflympics, all competitiors must have a hearing loss of 55dB in their better ear. The argument is that this threshold is too high and should be lowered to 35dB.

I started drafting this blog earlier this afternoon using the story of GB Paralympian swimmer  Ellie Simmonds winning gold on Saturday in the S6 400m freestyle against the American Victoria Arlen who was declared ineligible after tests suggested that she was not disabled enough. The US appealed and Arlen was reinstated.

By coincidence, as I was putting finishing touches to this blog, I have just watched Alan Oliviaria fly past Oscar Pistorius in the T43/T44 200m final. Pistorius was well ahead with about 75m to go and then Oliveria glided past him to win. Mondays news headlines will be “Has Oliveria cheated?”

Joanne, my number two Two Big Ears has pointed out that the other runners in the race with one normal leg are unable to change the length of their blades, suggesting that the IPC need to tighten up the rules.

Many deaf sportsmen and women will have their jaws on the floor at the suggestion of lowering to 35dB – as it was also my immediate reaction earlier this week when I read the emails coming through my in-box. However, I am open to suggestions and asked the 35dB campaigners to give me evidence/reasoning to support their case.

The arguments for 35dB :

a) Is there scientific evidence to back up the rationale for 55dB ?.

b) Deaf sport is struggling to attract more athletes to events, the small turnouts would be increased by lowering to 35dB. In some sports, countries are unable to field teams as they cannot find enough elite athletes at 55dB.

c) Deaf sport at 55dB is struggling to attract commercial sponsors because it is not reflecting a large enough market.

d) Deaf sport could be like the Paralympics with different classes of difficulty such as in the 200m race this evening with T43 and T44 athletes.

e) In deaf sport  athletes are not allowed to wear their hearing aids or cochlear implants during competition, in order to level the playing field and not give anyone an advantage through technology. Quite the opposite to the 200m race tonight, where people are taking advantage of technology to go faster. Deaf people should be allowed to take advantage of either wearing or removing technology, a personal choice.

The arguments for 55dB :

a) Lowering the threshold would allow non-signing athletes into the sport and because sign language users are in the minority, the problems of communication would soon mirror daily life as more and more partially-hearing people get involved and the profoundly deaf are marginalised. Disempowering those for whom deaf sport is organised.

b) The original games in 1924 The Silent Games were conceived by a Frenchman and a Belgian, both deaf sportsmen, who wanted to make a stand against societal misconception of deafness of the day. Unfortunately, despite many advances, Deafness remains a hidden disability and greatly misunderstood.

c) Many disabled people are excluded from the Paralympic games because of the classifications system. They do not mirror the social model of disability. They do not empower severely disabled people. By maintaining a higher threshold of 55dB, deaf sport is safeguarding opportunities for deaf people who are marginalised in life. Deaf sport is empowering and ‘hearing” society has much to learn from this.

d) Deaf sport is managed, lead by deaf people for deaf people and therefore truly empowering not only for athletes but for officials and volunteers who also have minimal opportunity in mainstream sport. The 55dB threshold is a self-imposed rule and not by “hearing” society.

What do you think?

Channel 4 “The Last leg with Adam Hills” they are all saying that “disabled” is outdated. They are not considering that technology, classifications, running guides etc make it easier and possible to perform at your very best and within the rules of Paralympic sport. Unfortunately the rest of the planet is not set up in the same way so the war veterans breaking Paralympic records cannot be ordered to go back to another tour in Afghanistan because they are disabled.

In the Deaflympic games there are no communication barriers, this empowers deaf people who experience the Olympic ideals in a way that would be impossible in the Paralympics or Olympics. More on this tomorrow – when I discuss the case of deaf athletes who have won medals in the Olympics and the Paralympics.

GET YOUR BSL VERSION HERE

Finally, before I sign off, thank you to Rita and all her colleagues at Furniture Village, J9 Retail Park, Wednesbury for taking a keen interest in Two Big Ears. Rita took two copies of the Introduction – one for herself and the other to post on the staff kitchen. Thank you for your support.

Corrective Surgery and Local Sports clubs

Apologies for the late arrival of this post, should have been up yesterday.
I imagine at some point that everyone with a “spare part” – Hearing aid, cochlear implant, prosthetic limb, glass eyes, wheelchairs, dentures etc has felt the urge to, or had to, undertake some form of DIY modification to make the offending article work; sit comfortably; stop hurting – whatever.
Yesterday I carried out some corrective surgery on Two Big Ears because I have a deformed right pinna due to a mild form of Treacher Collins Syndrome – the right side Big Ear will not stay in place.
Like all good pioneers, I am not going to reveal my medical secrets as it might be a breakthrough for deaf people and earn me untold riches from the NHS or private health. I am going to test it out for a while. But what I can tell you is that the procedure only requires a ballpoint pen and two elastic bands – go figure.
Yesterdays experiences got me thinking that getting children and young people into sport, local sport clubs. Is a bit like corrective surgery.
Joanne and I have been looking after her eight and ten year old grandsons this weekend. On the way over to see them yesterday, Joanne wondered If the two pairs of Two BIg Ears would freak them out and would we get permission from the eight-year-old to allow Two Big Ears to take him to his weekly Taekwondo lessons.
There was no freak out. eight-year-old loved Joanne’s Two Big Ears and tried them on for size. My Two Big Ears were “embarrassing” , nevertheless less I persuaded him to let me keep them on and promised to explain why I was wearing them in the car on the way to “kick someone in the head”.
Try to imagine the stunned expression on the faces of coaches, parents and athletes as we walked in to the gym. I really would like to know if that’s the same reaction disabled people still get today when they turn up announced at a local sports activity and hope to join in? Just think about it, what must that feel like for everyone.
Don’t get the wrong end of the story here, the guys at West Midlands Taekwondo are fantastic. I quickly got them out of their misery by announcing that I was with eight-year-old and I had £10 for his subs.

Normal service quickly resumed and I really enjoyed watching my first Taekwondo lesson, there were five little people with laser sharp focus, taking in every instruction from coach Mike Meese. Inspiring to watch a child being taught the basic foot movements and another carry out intricate arm blocks and punches. Only 10,000 hours away from their first world championship medal?

Of course, I made my daily contribution for the GB Deaflympics team I gave one of the mum’s and Mrs Meese a copy of the Introduction…
I would like your permission to allow me to share my inner thoughts as I watched that lesson, after all, that is the purpose of this blog.
There was a girl training with eight-year-old who had a physical disability – I wave hands in the air for her dad for including her in his sport. Many children born with disabilities are not given these precious life chances to enjoy sport. Her movements are restricted so she could not show the finese of of the others, but we could all see her for what she was and proud of what she was doing.
But this did make me wonder about the “hidden disability” of deafness. Instructions were given verbally in a mixture of Korean and English alongside a demonstration of the movement required. Had a deaf child turned up yesterday morning, the coaching methodology would have been insufficient to make sure that the child was able to follow what was going on. But I have my utmost faith in Mrs and Mrs Meese and the other members of WMTKD that they would make the necessary adaptation for the deaf child. They have my UK Deaf Sport business card, they can contact us as soon as a deaf person joins their club, we will be there to help them.
UK Deaf Sport is working in partnership with sports coach UK and the National Deaf Childrens Society we are currently developing a new workshop on communication skills for sports coaches which will be piloted later this year with a launch in the spring – if all goes well, I look forward to personally delivering the workshop to everyone at WMTKD.
First impressions really do count, imagine an astute parent of a deaf child turning up to yesterday’s lesson and making a personal assessment on its suitability for their child.
On the basis of what I saw yesterday, they would probably not return the following week. Parents of deaf children have a point of view quite different from mine, I am pre-lingually Deaf and a fully qualified PE teacher, sports coach, coach tutor so have my perspective on things. Parents are experts on their own children but not necessarily experts on inclusive sport for disabled children.
When eight-year-old and I got back home, Mum and Dad were almost ready to leave for their well deserved weekend break. Dad and I had a chat about the lesson and his hopes for both his boys. I learnt that Dad had taken 10-year-old to the local Sea Cadets but decided from his point of view that there was something not quite right about the group, it made him feel uncomfortable, so they are looking for something else to do. First impressions, rightly or wrongly are powerful – we, in sport have to get it right first time otherwise we risk losing newcomers.
There is a boxing club I know who have an excellent approach to first time visitors and I assume it is also replicated at all ABCs – I hope. Both parent and child are invited to observe their first session, if the child is straining at the leash to have a go, they can. When Joanne’s son showed an interest in the sport we took him along to the club to observe.
The volunteers at the club explained everything to us, showed us around the venue etc, made as all feel welcome. But, we never went back. Although the club explained that they had worked with another deaf child before, this did not persuade our 14 year old. He was concerned about the enormity of the communication issues facing him. It was his own personal impression of what he saw.
If I had not been there, Joanne would not have taken her son because there was nobody to communicate with them. If there had been another deaf person at the club, (volunteer, boxer, coach, or parent) – then there would have been a higher possibility of him returning to give it a go.
It’s human nature, we all want to be with people like ourselves. There has to be a common denominator that compels us to join a new club, but sometimes the sport itself is not enough.
Deaf people need someone that they can communicate with. The little girl I admired yesterday, her father is a player – Taekwondo is a family thing.
In the beginning, 8-year-old had to be told he was going to his lessons, it was not out of choice, even now, Mum and Dad have to make sure he’s ready to go and take him there. They do this because they want him to have the best chances in life, they believe that sport is a force for good.
Getting disabled children involved in a local sports club is a bit like corrective surgery, get it wrong and you are psycologically scarred, sometimes for life and the task becomes much harder.