In Wiltshire at a conference organised by Help for Heroes and Wiltshire County Council for groups supporting military veterans, I was struck by everyone's willingness to forge links in order to provide a more integrated service. I was one of the speakers and briefly mentioned the struggles of one of the charities for which I am a Trustee. I was touched that another speaker, Ruth Moore at Irwin Mitchell, took the trouble to approach me and offer some helpful contacts and ideas which I could use to improve the situation.
Last week I gave a lecture and workshop at Leeds Business School for future senior managers of Human Resources. I asked the students how they would have tackled the situation over my posting at the FCO. Their responses were thoughtful, sensible and involved dialogue and compromise. I felt encouraged that these young people
would be the HR managers handling situations like mine in the future. The next day I was speaking at the opening of the new offices of the country’s only private law firm to specialise in supporting clients with hearing loss, [external-link title="JFS website" url="http://josephfrasier.wpengine.com/services/deaf-hard-of-hearing-legal-services/" text="Joseph Frasier Solicitors"] in Blackburn. One of the other speakers was local MP, the Rt. Hon. Jack Straw. He was Foreign Secretary while I was working in London at the FCO and, typically of him, had come up to talk when he first saw a colleague and I using a lipspeaker. He would
always take time to say hello on subsequent occasions. The last time we had met was outside No. 10 Downing Street when I was waiting to accompany a Polish visitor to a meeting there; as far as he knew, I was still a diplomat. He seemed taken aback when, in Blackburn, he realised what had happened later at the FCO. When we spoke afterwards he apologised. I said it was not his fault; it had been about particular individuals within the administration and their decisions. He said nonetheless he was sorry, and that if it had happened while he had been minister, he would have stepped in. I believed him. While an exchange like this does not, and cannot, change anything, it is important because it shows decency and willingness to do the right thing.
Jack Straw was accompanied in Blackburn by the Ambassador to Turkey, who was shadowing him to learn about what an MP does on a constituency day. I suspect His Excellency, Ünal Çevikȍz, felt somewhat bemused by the colourful speeches about deaf legal rights and a star turn by Eileen and her delightful [external-link title="Hearing Dogs website" url="http://www.hearingdogs.org.uk/" text="hearing dog"], Sian, but if he did, he avoided showing it with great charm and seemed genuinely interested in it all.
I had further evidence of how good The Lowry is at this stuff when viewing their Centre Stage photo exhibition where there was an audio transcription of the short videos by Hilary Easter-Jones. There were also high-quality captions on the excellent 20-minute film,'Meet Mr Lowry'. These may seem like minor points, but they are ones which many arts venues do not even consider. The difference they make to a deaf visitor is hard to describe if you have never felt excluded from a service, but put simply, I felt just like any other visitor – and that is unusual. At the gallery I was taken with two quotes from Salford's greatest artistic son:
'I'm attracted to decay, I suppose, in a way to ugliness too. A derelict house gets me.' and: 'Don't you start thinking I was trying to put over some message; I just painted what I saw.'
Me too, Mr Lowry. Those deserted, abandoned or neglected (Collins dictionary's definition of 'derelict') are, I think, more interesting and deserving of attention than glossy, shiny perfect types. And as for trying to show – or in my case, tell – it like it is, there is more need than ever of people who will do this.
Getting Equal will soon be celebrating its first birthday. It has been a humbling year on a sharp and exciting learning curve. Thank you to everyone who has given positive opportunities to support equality, and helped make me feel a little less derelict. I am looking forward, with your help, to achieving even more positive change, and giving even greater cause for optimism in the year ahead.