Day Trips25th October 2013

Sensory Awareness Day at Dudley Zoo

A deaf friendly assessment visit to Dudley Zoo

by Sarah Lawrence

DZ 11

One of my favourite family days out, has always been a trip to the zoo. Consequently, when I had the chance to attend a Sensory Awareness Day at Dudley Zoo in the Midlands, I jumped at the chance. I had not been to Dudley Zoo previously, despite it being just over an hour away. I was particularly excited to be attending a sensory awareness day because I had never been to one before and I thought it was very progressive of the zoo to make these arrangements.

Advertised on the lead up to the day, I was disappointed that more deaf people were not there to support and encourage businesses like Dudley Zoo who make these special arrangements.

Dudley Zoo’s Sensory Awareness Day was on Saturday 21st September. Conveniently, I had been sent an E-ticket beforehand so I was able to print it off at home before heading up to the West Midlands where I had also arranged to meet an old friend and her children.

On arrival, I noticed there was no reception as such, but rather, a small booth with a receptionist sat behind a glass window. Usually this would pose a problem for Deaf people, as the light tends to reflect off the window, making it difficult to see a person’s face and rendering visual communication and lip-reading virtually impossible. Fortunately, this was not the case here, as a canopy appropriately shaded the window, meaning there was no reflection hindering our communication.

The receptionist and shop staff member gestured to us, pointing us in the direction to where Deaf and Deaf Blind people were congregating, which was appreciated.

Dudley Zoo had advertised that there would be BSL interpretation, which was the case, but it was slightly misleading as the interpretation was provided by a team of Wolverhampton University Students, who were not yet registered or qualified. It is a practice operated by many organisations, but to aid effective communication, it is not a practice I support. For me, the provision of BSL interpretation requires qualified staff, otherwise a different description of the service that is being provided should be used and expectations managed.

The students who undertook the BSL interpretation were still green in their training and used this event to practice their skills and put some learning into practice. This meant that the interpretation had gaps and did not flow, they did not always know where to stand so that everyone who needed them could see them, and it inhibited my understanding.

Unfortunately, I missed the first two interpreted talks but did enjoy the fascinating Ghost Walk from the Grey Lady Tavern. The tour was both fascinating and educational. We were guided through a Tudor house, where we were shown the delights of a typical medieval banquet. It was here that we learned that in medieval times, people had to drink alcohol by fermenting various fruits and vegetables rather than drink water that was unsafe to drink. So apparently, people drank far more alcohol in those days than they do now! We were also told that this building was the most haunted building in the area, which added to the atmosphere and enjoyment. We were able to put ourselves in the stocks and re-enact a beheading scene with a giant axe! Ouch!

I took the time to reflect on this part of the Tour, and even with less than perfect BSL, my enjoyment was greatly enhanced with the additional information that ordinarily would not be available to me.

We then headed over to the Discovery Centre to see the Go Wild show where we were amazed to see birds and parrots following orders from their instructors. It was really interesting despite some difficulty with the interpreting and the show was entertaining with plenty to see, perfect for the kids.

We popped over to the penguin talk and feed enclosure and enjoyed the opportunity to feed the penguins some fish. Placement of the interpreters at this stage was far from perfect and it is a shame that they did not check with the Deaf audience if they could be seen. This resulted in us and the children being unable to see the interpretation clearly which led to some frustration, especially as the general public can access this any time of the year. Dudley Zoo had made these special arrangements for us for one day and the interpreters were letting them down. With good feedback and pre-planning, future Sensory Awareness days could be even more beneficial.

In addition to the talks, Dudley Zoo has an amazing range of animals including large mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and the adorable spiders! Most impressive were the tigers. Seeing these animals close up and personal, we were amazed at how big they were and I was all too pleased to be on the right side of the cage. Unlike many zoos, Dudley Zoo is set in an urban setting. It’s strange to imagine that someone could be living just 800 yards from one of these tigers!

The over-riding question I asked myself is whether Dudley Zoo is Deaf Friendly and a good day out for deaf people and their families? I would say it is, staff were approachable and gestured appropriately, they did provide interpretation on the day and all in all we had a lovely day out. I strongly recommend a visit.

Article by Sarah Lawrence

posted in Entertainment / Day Trips

25th October 2013