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Lack of Parliamentary Democracy for Deaf People?

Parliamentary democracy is supposed to be one of the building blocks of our society. Parliament usually is an elected body, in place to represent its citizens. Deaf people as citizens should have as much democratic right to be represented, as their hearing counterparts. However, being part of a minority group, and a geographical disperse population problems will arise around this representation.

It is not a topic that can be covered in a single entry, and one that possibly needs a series of posts. However, for the purposes of this entry, I would like to examine how the set up of deaf organisations could have a detrimental effect on the engagement of the political process. This will be a somewhat introductory post, and first some background information.

Deaf organisations in the UK

For a small island that is the UK, we have a surprisingly large number of organisations, and it is thought that there's well over 400, possibly excluding more grass root clubs and other organisations. These organisations don't necessarily include deaf people, both at its membership or governance, but will have an interest in 'deafness'. For example, the British Society of Audiology.

In 1993, the United Kingdom Council on Deafness (UKCoD) was set up in 1993 as an umbrella body for deaf organisations in the UK:

UK Council on Deafness was founded by a consortium of deaf organisations to improve and extend co-operation between member organisations in promoting and representing the interests of deaf, deafened, deafblind and hard of hearing people. The inaugural meeting of the Council took place in September 1993.

There is no direct individual membership to this organisation, and membership is only open to anyone calling themselves a deaf organisation in the UK. The exact criteria for deaf organisations seems to be quite fluid, and the organisation does not have to be accountable to anyone (apart from perhaps its funders or the Charity Commission). UKCoD's website quotes:

Charities and Professional Bodies working in the field of deafness.

Thus if you were a collective organisation of deaf people (and you were not a charity), say a club or a campaigning group, then you would be ineligible. It seems that professionals who perhaps do not have direct experience of being deaf have a higher priority as far as membership goes, over and above grass root activities. There is an alternative affiliate membership, however does not afford the same benefits.

As an umbrella organisation, UKCoD has since taken on itself to undertake other roles, such as the administration for the British Society for Mental Health and Deafness (BSMHD), and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Deafness.

Democratic process (or lack of), for law and policy?

It is the latter role I would like to focus on, for the rest of this blog entry, and more specifically the influence over the parliamentary process. What happens to issues in the UK currently could be illustrated by the following chart:

parliamentukcod.jpg

This illustration has been kept as simple as possible, and misses out some possibilities. For example, this diagram also does not include the government, or wider society influence.

Deaf people are at the bottom represented in the diagram as stick people. Say you had an issue, e.g. BSL recognition or wanted a law to create an obligation for video content online to be subtitled. This is what could happen:

1. Deaf person takes up the issue with MP. Deaf person wants to sort this out, and perhaps get this issue tabled in parliament. Same process as for a hearing person. Check out stick person on the right, who tries to take the issue straight to the top, and their issue gets deflected. See next point.

2. Deaf person is sometimes discouraged by their MP. Contacting your MP, the process works perhaps on more personal issues, and direct representation can happen. However, this does not always happen and when engaging in this process, they encounter a barrier. Deaf person gets told by the MP they deal with the All Parliamentary Working Group / UKCoD. You explain that you cannot be a member of UKCoD. Instead you are told to go to local deaf organisation, and they will represent you via UKCoD. (This has happened in real life: it has happened to me, and others I know of).

3. Go to a deaf organisation. However, the organisation that will listen to you is small compared to others. The organisation says that it will try its best and bring the issue up in UKCoD, however:

- it will possibly get watered down in order to reach a compromise for other members. E.g. BSL recognition got watered down at UKCoD because Delta thought they had the right to have a say re: BSL (then refused to sign a submission?), the same goes for the Ewing Foundation.
- UKCoD has a 100 strong membership, largely dominated by organisations controlled by hearing people or perhaps not organisation members themselves, thus not accountable to its intended beneficiary group: deaf people. E.g. The Elizabeth Foundation is neither accountable to a membership, nor is there any deaf input, yet has a say in UKCoD.

4. Try a new tactic, get representation through a larger organisation. However, this organisation is not a membership one so it has no obligation to listen to you or any other deaf person. Or it doesn't do listening very well (try RNID as a classic example of this). Therefore your request or view enters a void, and you just wasted your time.

5. UKCoD decides what to do with the issue, and how to filter this. Deaf input at this stage, since hearing people dominate?

The cosy relationship between MPs and UKCoD means that people on the ground are the last to know, or are discouraged from engaging in the democratic process. Take the example of how BSL recognition was announced in 2003, those at the top of the UKCoD ladder and deaf organisations found out several days before key activists who had initiated the campaign. Such a set up discourages people from campaigning again, and possibly contributes to apathetic people.

Is UKCoD an effective organisation when it comes to influencing participation in a democratic process?

Some people would identify UKCoD as providing some co-ordination, and indeed perhaps power in numbers against mainstream bodies, and organisations that act like monopolies such as the RNID; and thus a positive influence on law making processes and other activities.

However, a question has to be asked: is UKCoD's very existence disempowering to deaf people? How involved are they? What do you think? What do you think about engagement in the political process generally?

Does a similar set up exist outside the UK?

Anyone outside the UK who is reading this, would you mind letting us know in the comment box if you have such umbrella organisations in your country? If so, what is the balance of power or democracy like?

UPDATE:: Ben has done a BSL translation of this post:

Comments (23)

This article written is spot on. I toohad felt the same and wrote to Johnathon Issac C.E.O. for UKCOD asking why deaf indvidual cannot be a member of this group. We are condition by this set up now and I feel we have lost our voice/sign in our campaigning. It is very able-led.

The UKCoD is pointless, the only real clout lies with the RNID as Ms Myers once said "If the RNID pull out, there is no UKCoD". As for 400 groups (And counting !), 75% have no real purpose, have less than 6 members, and waste funds duplicating things, it comes about because deaf people want to run their own things and not let the RNID's or BDA's of this world do it. The UKCoD is a quango, and like TAG/DBC and a few others, WOT the heck are they for ?

It is a testament to the doggedness of deaf people to do their own thing, even when there are nation-wide set ups there for that purpose, it's called being in control of your own destiny. Unfortunately governments do not recognise this as of much use, to provide steady and reliable service, and to a degree they are right because more often than not these groups fail, because they will never get the right funding or expertise, charity status is for tax purposes only let's face it.

A nation-wide supportive set up suits HMG because there is an identifiable area to communicate with, it's almost impossible to discuss anything with 400 rogue and stand-alone groups. The answer lies in charity commissions. Insisting they prove they don't duplicate existing services, and can carry it through by showing they have done their homework, and have the people with the skills.

As for being represented in Government there's Jack Ashley isn't there ? and I would have no difficulty contacting my MP if I wanted to raise an issue.

Who hasn't read of a 'deaf group' getting a few thousand for 'research into deaf people's needs', WTF is that about ? It gets spent on empty offices and unused computers and 5 minutes after set up, they wind it up....! The amateur is dead.... hence my relentless plea to bloody train deaf people to do this, don't bother turning up saying I'm deaf, it won't get you anywhere. We all have to wise up.

MM Swearing? What The Fuck?

I would like to know the author of this article please? I can see this was sent by Alision does this mean she has written this up?
It is really empowering to have this sort of information that I would like to use when I am campaigning out there with certain political bigots.

Tony - MM was being very passionate about this issue and I am afraid some of us can be at times and more so it is hard to be dispaasionate about issues that are close to your heart. One does get fed up when people put you down when it is not necessary. He has his point and that his - in as much yours. It is sad we deaf people are good at putting down one another these days and not tackling and support the issue of today.
But there we are and here we go.

Thankyou for this excellent article. Please let have more of this kind that I find difficult to draft up.

I wrote it - if any posts on here are not written by Jen or I, it will specifically say so / we quote external sources. Incidentally, the content on this blog is usually under a Creative Commons licence (click on link for more info), so if it helps with getting your point across go for it.

Are there any specific issues that you would like us to cover on this blog? Can't promise to articulate it, nor are we experts but can try.

One comment I do like to mention - Deaf, deaf, hard of hearing or deafened staff members in org or deaf orgs are often not allowed to make a comment or to challenge and so therefore become passive recipients. Their representation can become compromised or conditioned as to conform in order to survive as to retain their own personal integrity, employment, promotion etc. The same applies for those on the deaf org committees I think.


Alison you said….
Are there any specific issues that you would like us to cover on this blog?

I think a debate on what consists of good quality "deaf awareness training" that embraces diversity, equality and humanity?

How can we make training on the issue “deafness” universally operational? That all trainers sing from the same hymn sheet and not be so personally bias.

Who has the power to vet and monitor such a deliver for the benefit the community?

They do need to talk about “deafness” and what this is and this is not to be muddled in with “disability awareness training”.
There is a time factor a problem for trainers that cannot practice and preach what they should. Often the training being delivered are compromised for the sake D.E.D and the ignorance those that deliver the training usually able-led (money and time). With it a “tick box mentality”
How this is being made accountable by public bodies such as “transport” when they say they do such training but delivery has been very weak and inconsistence. There have been complaints and this is not being addressed properly?

I am open to this suggestion for a debate I think needed.


This is where it gets iffy I'm afraid (M Williams), there is no consensus between deaf/Deaf or HI on what constitutes real 'Awareness'. There are fundamental differences between these 3 sectors, and each apparently wants their own 'awareness' as a priority, so they are all hit and miss sadly. My own view is that current deaf awareness has damaged deaf people, and is run by people who wouldn't know a deaf person or a HI person if we had it stamped on our forehead, we became a commodity, that was it.

None will support except via lip-service (No pun intended), in their 'awareness' preferences. It takes the form "I agree deaf should have this, Deaf should have that, HI have the other", etc, "But THIS is how we do it...", personally I think this ignores the fact a more common approach would unite, and many of us share the same way of communicating too, as well as stopping the considerable waste of time, money, ego-building, and effort that takes place now, but there you go...

We are, where we are because of this lip-service and NOT because mainstream/hearing adopt a negative approach, they don't know who, they are talking to, or how they should be.... We don't know, how can they ? I've had much more problems making fellow deaf people aware, than I have ever had with any hearing person.

Good comment MM

But tell me how sucessful has the customer services has been for John Lewis, Marks and Spencers, and Waitrose where they took care to make us valued. Yet the public service being a big dissapointment and an expensive charade employing monkeys to the task at delivering alousy training profile and worse being unaccountable - even deaf-led companies are just as bad.

I will not say more just wanted ot see what others have to say especially the Deaf trainer themselves. You can see silent on that front.

I keep thinking of Caberet "money" money "money" makes the world go round aint life a bitch on that front!

M Williams, obviously no sense of humour. MM always bangs on others for swearing etc. then he goes and does it himself. Hence, my comment. It was meant to be funny!

Tony
Ok you made your point How about getting off that discussion track at "havin a go" and get to the grit discussing what I would like to discuss ...cos if one goes about like you do and MM then what the points of speaking with each other on this site mmm? Maybe as you say I lacked humour and sure man I do I dont have humour with certain people period anyway just enjoy yourself and lets hope someone can enter into a debate that I want to know thanks .

I think the diagram higher up didn't actually reflect the current situation Jen, regarding 'representation'. UKCoD apart (Which is a non-rep-group), hasn't support from deaf organizations, and most deaf organizations are in crisis membership-wise. There can be no complaint about representation, when deaf are voting with their feet away from all groups. I consider NO group has any viability as representative of deaf or HI people, anyone reading other sites will find, heated disagreement on various group validity as representative, and any political representation is only taken via the ballot box these days, I would be surprised if many deaf bother to vote there too.

if we accept there are 50K deaf around then can anyone name a single group that has a significant representation from grass roots to carry forward with any clout ? The BDA has very little in numerical terms as part of that 50K, while the RNID has a recorded 35K membership, that is accepted are not signing deaf at all. We all know who is accepted as THE voice of UK deaf people, those with the biggest membership.

If we had a sign using MP would THAT encourage more deaf people in ? Jack Ashley has raised considerable profile for the cause, but nobody would say his roots were anywhere near 'Deaf'. There is considerable negativity the 'Deaf' are sufficiently aware or interested in the hearing/local areas, as they would HAVE to be to get non-deaf onside and voting for them.

If you look at any voting election, we are talking thousands of votes per area, most deaf communities could never in a thousand years get that. I think we have to accept if you want political representation then you have to get involved personally, because e.g. charities that rep us all (!), are not allowed to pursue that option as party of their charitable status, aren't the UKCoD,BDA, and NDCS and... all charities ?

The system of current representation does not allow anyone from that area to come forward... unless they resign first, and grass roots are still so alienated from the mainstream they cannot illicit support from hearing... Groups are the answer, but only if deaf join them.

I'd love answers to these questions...

1. If UKCoD is turned into a more democratic one where deaf people themselves are members, then what happens if 8 million deaf people who are hard of hearing become members, and only 100,000 culturally Deaf people? A ratio of 80 to 1. Is this also unfair? What about people who aren't deaf such as children of deaf parents? Can there be a better model than this?

2. Are there more examples of how UKCoD isn't doing the right things with your issues? I note the watering down of BSL recognition, but would love some concrete reference, if possible, and any more examples. If there's no concrete reference, then why not?

The UKCoD is an 'Umbrella' group, as averse to a 'stand alone' campaigning or representative deaf group. It merely (So they claim !), gathers as many other groups together as it can, to put forward some sort of consensual viewpoint forward, it exists in name only. The BDA apparently didn't want to know much about it for years, the RNID runs everything by sheer force of membership and as I said earlier if the RNID pulls out there is no UKCoD.

I was rather surprised to even read the UKCoD had any sort of clout or representative status. There are no concrete references re the UKCoD because they aren't the people anyone listens to. It is utilized bu the RNID to push areas they are interested in, when the RNID makes soem declaration they ad "As supported by the UKCoD", when the UKCoD is just another branch of the RNID not a seperate entity !

If you read comments by the UKCoD itself a year is so ago, they admitted that apart from the RNID turning up, for meetings hardly anyone else ever did.

They cannot leave 'Deaf' out, but that single (D) letter is about the only real recognition and acknowledgment they ever get. Deaf people have abandoned groups, they simply have no faith in any of them, so the UKCoD is just a tea party for those with nothing else to do mostly, no umbrella group can do anything without input, and they don't get any, except from the RNID, I suspect deaf people saw this instantly and switched off....

400 groups God ! so much dead-wood to prune...

"If you read comments by the UKCoD itself a year is so ago, they admitted that apart from the RNID turning up, for meetings hardly anyone else ever did."

where'd I find those comments, and which meetings? I'm interested.

Many do turn up from the various orgs - it is the RNID management that do not turn up to listen and share in the debate and listen to speakers - "they know it all mentality"


It is a good netwroking forum if ony they allow individuals to attend to see what is going on and more so I hated the orgs sending their favorite puppy to attend as to represent. But then again that what they are there for it a hot air show delivery ?? well its does some work.

I have to say that UKCOD would not have been there but for the work of one deaf person to get it off the ground properly cos no hearies could! We must not forget that.

The UKCOD is obsolete... it's a throw back to before the net,it doesn't represent us. I've blogged this to explain that view, but my addy would never be listed here !

Somewhat related to this, but focused on RNID. I had posted this comment earlier or so I thought but seems it didn't get through the last time.

I've written a blog post that's related to this and you can read it by clicking here

Cheers

I read it, I didn't want to offer comment there as it would never arrive anyway, but you seriously looked as if you supported the stance (Happens to the best of us !), I also got some deaf MBE supporting view this week too, I must be slipping somewhere, surely I am supposed to be hated ?

Sorry I haven't commented yet, I've been unwell.

An excellent post, Alison. Those who are determined to do everything about us without us are interfering with our autonomy.

A good write up but does not address the root causes of how these organisations are being allowed to get away with their claims. There is a document on the Parliamentary website (http://www.parliament.uk/documents/upload/YAYMP_English.pdf) outlining a MP's role. An extract states:

"There are a number of ways an MP may be able to help you. They can simply provide advice or can write letters on your behalf to officials or Ministers. They may, on your behalf, be able to refer a case of maladministration to the Parliamentary Ombudsman"

This piece of advice illustrates that if we find evidence of any 'maladministration of public funds' within deaf organisations then it is up to us to raise this, moreso if they are in receipt of public funds, with our local MP and refuse to let the MP "fob us off" with redirection - stand your ground and ask them to write to the relevant people.

Finally why not write direct to the Chair of the RNID - his address is published in the 'Who's who' which is available in any local library if you want to bypass the RNID's internal system.... A few well written and well targeted letters could do more for our cause.

MM - support what stance? Wanting a forum back at RNID? - I don't actually support this since I don't believe it'll work to the extent that you believe it will - it's still under RNID's control and I do not trust them to be fair in their moderation of the forum, past history already shows that they are crap at this (plus the forum software that they use is goddamn awful)

Still, what they did - ie deleting your post, and then telling you to do it elsewhere etc - is pretty bad of them. I don't agree with censorship from a public body that claim to "represent" us.

However I've always been in favour of huge changes within RNID - ie deaf people in SMT, board etc - be they HoH, deaf/Deaf, BSL and oral etc. This have never changed sorry if you thought otherwise.

This is history but, even if you are of the opinion MM and Andy (Ruthie/Radio too !), got their just desserts, it didn't justify the wholesale dumping of other people like Steve/Tigger who are lovely people and whom I consider my friends. Tigger was a rock to many there with advice far outdoing anything the RNID did, she cared, empathized, took the time to help, and others organized meets that still go on today.

They didn't deserve to be labeled trouble-makers and get dumped by the RNID. No moderators ? they acted in 70 minutes when I posted on the Tinnitus forum ! and on a Sunday/Bank Holiday.

Either they are lying or MM puts the fear of God into them .... I suspect lies. I didn't follow up by hammering away there either......to give them more ammo. The forum request is based on providing a direct access link to the RNID for deaf people (And HI if it comes to that !), which I do not believe exists, it's not as others suggest an excuse for MM and others to 'troll'. What is the difference, between launching a single crusade against the RNID via blogs, to doing the same thing AT the RNID ?

It doesn't 'look' like trolling ? that's OK then ! You cannot comment at the RNID. Personalities clashed ! they always will. ANY moderator worth his ten pence could have sorted it, you don't even need to ban people. I also asked for a direct response blog or Link TO the new incoming executives, as I see this, as the RNID being then seen to be prepared to listen and answer concerns. John Low simply said no way that was it...

The situation now, is if I ask for withdrawl of my log-in details (Or Andy and others do), then this is some victory again for the RNID, we quit ourselves... we accept there is no point contacting the RNID for anything.

hello
This is alot of information
thanks for the help with my homework I learnt alot

sincerely sarah

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