Why Are Deaf People Still Being Prevented From Enjoying Public Entertainment?

If no one holds services providers to account over their legal obligations, there really is nothing to dissuade them from continuing to ignore the needs of deaf and disabled people
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Think back to a time when you purchased something, it could be a product or a service, and you were left feeling royally shafted by the experience? Go on, I’ll wait…

Got one? I can think of a few, but my most recent was a visit to one of those swanky London restaurants; the sort of place where you can tell that the only word on the interior design plan was ‘ambiance’, and all the bar staff have names like Atticus and Dax. The menu was thrilling, but the vegetarian options were scarce. When the waiter came to take our order, I chose one of the dishes and requested to have it without the meat.

Not an unreasonable request in this day and age, right?

When I was younger, the only vegetarian option available tended to be mushroom *insert sauce of your choice here*, so I became pretty comfortable asking restaurants to tweak their menu slightly. I have honestly never had any push back; until the swanky London restaurant. Anyways, long story short – they refused, I left, I complained, they apologised, and I got an offer of a complimentary meal. All was right with the world. But I won’t lie, it was tedious and time consuming and by the end I was exhausted from having to have such a big fight about something that was so small.

Now, imagine you had to have that fight periodically, and for your whole adult life. Decades of tedious and time-consuming fighting to achieve something that was so ordinary that everyone else took it for granted.

You go to the cinema and the sound isn’t working properly, so you can’t continue watching the film. It’s annoying (you bought popcorn already!) but the cinema apologises, and they give you some freebie tickets. When you go back the next time, it happens again. And again. Until you go home to find that you have a stack of freebie tickets, but you still haven’t been able to watch the film that you originally wanted to see.

You contact your bank because you notice an unusual transaction on your statement, but the bank refuses to talk to you. You’ve answered all of their security questions correctly, and yet they still don’t believe that you are the person you say you are.

You’re on holiday; you are drinking Pina Colada’s on the beach and living your best life. Suddenly you are taken ill and rushed to the local hospital and you can’t communicate with anyone. Everyone is bustling around you, doing their jobs and you have no idea what is going on. Oh, and you have just been handed some medication, but you have no idea what it is.

If you are really unlucky, those situations may happen to you just once in your lifetime. For deaf and disabled people on the other hand, they are a regular occurrence. So frequent in fact, that they become almost unremarkable.

In the summer of 2017, Sally Reynolds, Sarah Cassandro and Vikki Nelson booked tickets for themselves and their daughters to attend a Little Mix concert. The three girls are hearing, but Sally and her friends are Deaf. Once the tickets had been purchased, they contacted the concert promoter, Liz Hobbs Group Live, to request that they provide a sign language interpreter for the concert. I refer you back to my previous comment – “Not an unreasonable request in this day and age, right?”

The promoter refused.

Requests for reasonable adjustments for Deaf and disabled people can be tricky. The ambiguity comes from the interpretation of what is ‘reasonable’ in the eyes of the law. The Equality Act is clearer with regards to discrimination that has already occurred. But what power do you have if you can see that discrimination is imminent?

Fry Law, a firm specialising in equality and human rights work, offered to support the three women to submit an injunction for anticipatory discrimination - a first of its kind in the UK. Once the legal process had begun, the promotor capitulated at the very last minute and booked a sign language interpreter for the event, but only to interpret for Little Mix; Sally and her friends had no access to the two musical support acts and they couldn’t share in the full concert experience with their daughters.

With continued legal representation from Fry Law, Sally, Sarah and Vikki are taking Liz Hobbs Group Live to court for disability discrimination, because the promoter did not make their services fully accessible to Deaf service users. A recent addition to the campaign is CrowdJustice; a crowdfunding platform that specialises in fundraising for those seeking justice via legal action.

Money raised via CrowdJustice will be used to support the case (Sally et al have been asked to provide evidence of a reserve to pay for the other parties’ legal costs should they lose). However, if they are successful, the money will be retained in order to offer legal support to other Deaf and disabled people who are seeking justice following similar disability related discrimination.

This is a legal test case; the ramifications are huge and long lasting. If these women succeed, it will set a legal precedent for how other large event organisers and promoters will be expected to respond to disability related requests for reasonable adjustments. The fact is, if no one holds services providers to account over their legal obligations, there really is nothing to dissuade them from continuing to ignore the needs of deaf and disabled people.

There are many reasons why I am supporting this campaign. For one, it’s the right thing to do. I also have friends who are deaf. People I care about who are disabled. But take away all of those reasons, more than anything, aren’t we all just bloody sick of it?

In the current climate, it often feels like we are all fighting for something small. This story is your basic David and Goliath scenario. These three women are me. They are all of us. We have all been there.

Not an unreasonable request in this day and age, right? No, it’s really not.


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