Deaf Life10th May 2014
See Me, Hear Me opens up lines of communication
DEAFvibe's event, makes deaf friendly service and product providers readily available to the deaf community throughout Staffordshire
Having had a great time at Day Day at the City Lit a week last Saturday, I was greatly looking forward to the See Me, Hear Me Event being run by DEAFvibe on Friday 9th May at the Britannia Stadium, home of premiership football team, Stoke City. DEAFvibe is a Deaf led charity working to support deaf people across Staffordshire, with the event seeking to put deaf friendly service and product providers in touch with deaf people living in the area.
SLFirst had not been to the event before, but having completed the booking form, I thought the following administration and information giving was excellent, with Alison France, one of the founders of DEAFvibe ensuring I had everything I needed. Setting out early in the morning from South Wales to get to the event, I was pleased to have the luxury of being driven, allowing me to catch up on some of the sleep my early morning start had deprived me of.
With the motorways around Birmingham heavily littered with large areas of road works and slow traffic, we were delighted to clear the M5/M6 junction without difficulty, securing our arrival at the Stadium bang on the 8am start. On the road so early to get there and desperate for an early morning coffee and something to eat for breakfast, my one disappointment from the day is that there was nothing available when we first arrived to set up. There were already lots of people wearing the lovely DEAFvibe polo shirts ready to help, with registration taking just moments and different people on hand to show us the second floor and to our stall. Our arrival could not have been handled better.
With a lot of exhibitors registered for the event, two large rooms at the Britannia were being used, a much better set up than at City Lit, with the set up making it easy for exhibitors to visit other stands. Having all the exhibitors in two large rooms also brought a vibrancy to the event that slowly built up as more and more exhibitors arrived. With the lovely guys from the BSL Zone on one side and the ever popular Fire Service on the other, I was looking forward to a good day.
One of my joys in attending events like this, is that I always bump into friends I have not seen for some time and See Me, Hear Me, proved no exception to that rule. I also enjoy being in the company of large numbers of 'signing' Deaf people, giving me the opportunity to relax when chatting, without the effort needed when I am in the company of a hearing person or someone who is deaf but does not sign.
The event did not attract the number of visitors enjoyed by City Lit, but outside of London that is not a surprise. That said, we were busy and on our feet for most of the day, with a steady drip of people coming to chat and find out about SLFirst. Having a deaf and hearing person manning our stand proved beneficial to help us communicate with everyone who came along on the day. Finally snatching a cup of coffee before the 10am start, the wonderful DEAFvibe team had been around to provide wifi details, to let us know they had interpreters and helpers available and making sure we had everything we needed. There were lots of DEAFvibe volunteers in attendance and I thought they were all just brilliant on the day.
I took the opportunity to grab some quick BSL interviews with some of the exhibitors, asking why they were here and what they hoped to get out of the day. I was pleased that Satffordshire Police had a number of staff involved, all of whom could sign a little and a Sergeant Ruth Templeton who was studying her Level 3. The Fire Service stand also had the benefit of Paul Lewis who was also a Level 3 signer. With lots of BSL users being pushed towards Paul by some of the other members of the Fire Service team, I think they would benefit greatly from getting a few other members of staff trained in BSL in readiness for next year.
Taking the time to walk around the whole exhibition, I was taken by the wide range of services and products that were on show, covering a deaf persons almost every need. DEAFvide have done brilliantly to attract these 54 exhibitors but I could not help feeling that more of the local Deaf and Hard of Hearing community should support this event and that every county area in the UK should have something similar. The term One Stop Shop is used frequently by Local Authorities - this event showed what a One Stop Shop really looks like!
Chatting to deaf people throughout the day, a consistent comment was about the difficulty in finding the information needed about services and products. Events like this help greatly, but there is no doubt that it is difficult to let people know that the event is taking place, several locally based people telling me that they only knew about the event through the SLFirst social media promotion of the event. Aimed at one in six of Staffordshire's residents and given the reach of the 54 exhibitors into all walks of life, a combined promotion might help greatly, rather than most exhibitors just leaving it to the DEAFvibe team to promote the day.
With a great mix of private business, public services and charitable organisations exhibiting on the day, there really was something here for every deaf visitor. I enjoyed going around the exhibitors and learning about new services and products. There was a good balance of local services and national organisations and I was struggling to find a question I might have about being deaf that could not be answered by someone in one of the two rooms being used at the Britannia.
Housing, jobs, educaton, health, well-being, safety, entertainment, communication, information and advice. All of these issues were covered by one or more of the exhibitors at the event. It was interesting to see just how many organisations present were deaf-led and just how deaf aware some of the non-deaf-led organisations were. I must confess to being surprised at the number of times I saw an exhibitor trying to verbally say hello to someone looking down at items on their stall and getting exasperated when they didn't reply. Despite this being a deaf event, it seemed to take some time before the penny dropped that the person at their stand was deaf. I also believe that if a business is seeking to profit from the deaf pound, they should at least be deaf aware and learn how to attract a deaf person's attention.
It was great to catch up with old friends on the British Deaf History, Zebra Uno, BSL Zone, CODA, SignHealth and SignVideo stands amoongst others and to chat to many of the people who attended the event. I was disappointed to learn about the extent of the anxiety about the audiology services provided by Specsavers, especially the lack of referral to other support services.
On the flip side, it was lovely to chat with an elderly lady who had become deaf through age. She explained to me how her chidren and grand children had slowly taken away her independence and introduced isolation and lonliness to her life. Thanking me for the time I gave her to chat, this lady is the perfect example of why the DEAFvibe's cafe is such an important service, providing ladies like this an opportunity to sit and chat with people who are facing similar issues to her.
The effervescent and ever-available Alison France, was wonderful all day, helping people out with any questions they had and taking the time to make sure everyone was ok. Asking her why she started holding the See Me, Hear Me event, Alison told me, "Well there's nothing for d/Deaf, Hard of Hearing, Deafblind and deafened throughtout the Staffordshire and Midlands area. We set this up for everyone to have easy access to learn about the information and resources that are available for them, because there are far too many barriers out there. This is an opportunity for all, with different interpreters and deafblind guides to ensure that when visitors arrive there is communication support available to assist them get full access to the day."
Like SLFirst there were other first timers at the event, one of them being Sign Lingual. They told me, "The company was set up last year and it our first time here. We hope to receive some feedback from the visitors about what we do to improve our services."
Standing proudly by his new book, Same Spirit, Different Team, I asked author and UK Deaf Sport's, Stuart Harrison, why he was at the event. "It is an opportunity for people to buy one of my books and for me to sign them. I also want to give people the chance to ask me any questions about the book or deaf sports in general."
Ruth, Annette and Louise, three of the police team at the event, were pleased to be there and have the opportunity to meet some of the local deaf residents. Ruth went on to say, "For a long time I have thought the police need to improve services with the deaf community."
One of the organisations at both the City Lit event and this one, was SignVideo and I managed to catch up with Heidi Kolvisto Robertson to ask what she thought of the day. "In comaprison to Deaf Day in London, it was great to meet many Deaf people who are still receiveing new information about SignVideo. Obviously there were less people than London but this gave us the opportunity to have quality time with visitors, to have a more in-depth discussion and to answer any enquiries they have. It is my second time here and I am really enjoying it."
Summing up at the end of a long but rewarding day, the remarkable Alison France was still smiling and full of energy. "It was absolutely fantastic," she told me. "I deserve a well earned glass of wine when I get home." Alison, we couldn't agree more, but the hard work of you and your team made for a great day for all concerned.
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Article by Sarah Lawrence
posted in Community / Deaf Life
10th May 2014