‘Our Journey To Equality’ by Steven Mifsud, Founder of Direct Access Consultancy

Steven Mifsud

Mr Steven Mifsud

Slowly approaching the tenth birthday for Direct Access Consultancy, it has been an amazing adventure, but I can tell you it wasn’t easy. Over the last 10 years, we grew and grew, battling difficult times and overcoming tall obstacles, now we have provided access audits and access consultancy for over 10 Local Authorities/Councils, over 10 housing associations, over 650 schools and more than 2500 buildings.

My name is Steven Mifsud, I started my higher education life with an architectural degree, little that I knew, I would end up here running the company I started so many years ago. A few years after I finished the last minute exams and late night flat parties, I started working for Chester City Council (now known as Cheshire West Council) as an Access Officer. This effectively acted as my entry point into the disability access world as I was sent to take care of many community projects. Though it was a great experience, I was beginning to get fed up with the speed of that I was limited to by the red tape.

During my time as an Access Officer, I was head hunted by a large consultancy based in London, which gave me some great opportunities such as surveying land mark buildings. Within this time, I also managed a 300+ access auditing project for Brighton & Hove Council. Times were good now, but I felt something was missing. Unfortunately I was extremely frustrated that I was never with my family, more particularly my daughter Georgia. The work was also extremely deadline driven which a lot of the times meant to compromise the quality of the access audit reports in order to retain employment status.

Now, this is the good bit, one day I was approached by a large department store to undertake some access audits for them; thus how Direct Access Consultancy was born. After working for the consultancy in London, I learnt that access audits deserve precious time rather than rushing each project in the goal to finish more jobs, quality over quantity.

One job after another, year after year, the company grew and expanded and is now lead by myself with Judith acting as my communication support worker due to my hearing impairment. There has been some highs such as delivering a speech in Qatar on Accessible Sports on the behalf of the UKTi and extreme lows such as fractured family relationships due to my loyalty to Direct Access. The highest points in 10 years was not being privileged to access audit world famous sites such as The Roman Baths but hearing real sound for the first time in my life by having a Cochlear Implant and meeting my wife Judith.

DSC_0522-190x300

Judith & Steven.

I have built a company that is unique to our competitors, a disability access auditing service provided by people affected by disabilities, thus a unique edge and perspective to access projects. Disabled access auditing is for disabled people, so wouldn’t it make sense that disabled people are the best people to consult on how their lives can be made easier?

Yes, this is effectively my autobiography, but my life is basically the story of Direct Access Consultancy as I’ve devoted the majority of my working life being in the company. I love what I do as it combines my personal insight into disability, my passion for architecture and contributing to creating a society that is equal and fair regardless of what your physical difficulties may be. Here is to another 10 years of leading Direct Access Consultancy.

Steven Mifsud

Founder of Direct Access Consultancy

Read more about what Steven’s company does – http://www.accessaudits.com

They also do a lot of access audits for schools, over 800 to date.

One of their current key projects  – http://www.accessaudits.com/direct-access-appointed-access-consultants-for-new-victoria-square-development-woking/

A bit about what their access audits are about and what they entail – http://www.accessaudits.com/access-audits/

Some of the clients Steven have worked, including clients like Bodelwyddan castle, Roman baths etc etc http://www.accessaudits.com/our-clients/

Steven has also done a bit of free work (when he can) to help his local community such as Nantwich museum http://nantwichmuseum.org.uk/direct-access-audit/

‘So you have hearing loss too? Soundz Off can help’ by Tania Le Marinel

Welcome to a very large club – 11 million of us in the UK have hearing loss (that’s one in six people) predicted to rise to more than 14.5 million by 2031 (Action on Hearing Loss 2015).  Add this to the 360 million people worldwide with hearing loss and that’s a very big club!

Like all clubs we have something in common – similar interests, ideas, problems and difficulties to overcome. Like all clubs, there’s lots of information out there relating to our speciality interest, yet only 1% of medical research spending goes on hearing loss and it’s surprisingly difficult to find the information we need.  So where do you find that information?

Many people deny they have hearing loss for up to 10 years and, for most of us, our only experience with a hearing professional is being referred to audiology for a hearing test and hearing aids.  Then we get waved off from the hospital and left to our own devices – not helpful when we’re usually reeling with shock at the diagnosis, baffled by the technology and unaware of how to help ourselves (and others) to cope better with this invisible disability.

That’s why I created Soundz Off in 2014 http://www.soundzoff.org – an independent website which brings together hundreds of links to useful websites related to hearing loss: equipment, support organisations, technology, social media, forums, apps, research, events … the list goes on.

As someone with hearing loss myself (I have moderate sensorineural hearing loss in both ears and wear two digital hearing aids), I was amazed to discover this didn’t exist before. Over the years I found hundreds of organisations which exist to support people with hearing loss but nobody ever told me about them – I had to support myself and find them myself one by one. Nobody ever brought that information together in one place … until now.  Soundz Off does the legwork so you don’t have to!  We also have an active Facebook page updated daily with the latest information and news on hearing loss http://www.facebook.com/soundzoff  – how I wish this had existed 20 years ago when I was just starting out on my own hearing loss journey.

Hearing loss affects people in different ways and most of us struggle with this challenging disability.  You’ll probably recognise where you are in your own journey represented by this graph of the different stages of grief:

stages of grief

As someone who’s travelled right though every stage of the curve and eventually adjusted to my own hearing loss – even to the stage where I’m now working as an advocate and welfare officer for people with hearing loss – Soundz Off is my gift to you, whether you’re new to hearing loss or you’ve been coping with hearing loss for a long time.  Discover new information, make new contacts and friends, learn about what’s being doing to cure hearing loss and tell us about organisations you think we should add to our Directory http://www.soundzoff.org/directory

The good news (there’s always good news!) is that for every stage of your journey there are organisations and people out there who can help you.  Soundz Off ensures you don’t have to travel that journey alone and we can all learn to cope better with hearing loss in a hearing world.

So, as I said at the beginning, welcome to the club!  Good to meet you.

Tania Le Marinel – http://www.soundzoff.org

‘EU Referendum in BSL Survey’ by Drip Media

The EU (European Union) referendum leaflet is in just written English, large print and audio CD. There are no visual materials for those who rely on sign language hence why, I support this video by Drip Media in trying to gauge just how many people would like to see the same content available to them so they too, can make an informed choice however which way they would like to vote.

Their video is in BSL yet it is captioned to be inclusive of all.

Please complete their survey in order to assist them in achieving what I hope, will be a successful and fair result. This will only take a minute of your time.

http://www.dripmedia.tv/eureferendum

Thank you for your time and patience.

~ SJ (Sara Jae)

‘Make The Most Of What You’ve Got’ by Martin Griffiths

At least three people have asked me what gig was I going to see and misheard my reply. I told them I was going to see ‘Wolf Alice’ and one said “Oh, wonder if he will play his didgeridoo?” and another said “Isn’t he in prison for being a dirty old man?”. “No, no, no, I am going to see Wolf Alice NOT Rolf Harris!” I think the number of hard of hearing people will be increasing soon.

I also constantly get asked how can I enjoy gigs as a profound deaf person with severe sight loss. Easy answer is I accept that I cannot hear or see the same as others do but if I prepare properly I will get some enjoyment from

a. Being out of the house

b. Being in a gig atmosphere watching crazy gig neighbours singing and dancing

c. Enjoying what I can hear or see and not stressing about my sensory losses.

Photo by Martin Griffiths

Photo by Martin Griffiths

My preparation for ‘From the Jam‘ at Barry Memo Arts on 26th  March 2016 started with contacting the band via their Facebook page and asking for a setlist. They duly obliged with a warning that on the night there may be late changes. They did appear to drop two songs but lesser known ones. This threw me a little but knowing the songs expected next helps me tune into the song via memory and what my hearing aids pick up.

Tip – if contacting bands via social media it is usually better to contact direct via private message as many bands are not keen to share setlists unless there is good reason.

Often I will search sites like Setlist FM ‘www.setlist.fm‘ for setlists from the latest tour of the band I am going to see. These lists are fan generated and accuracy can vary although I generally find them to be reliable.

Next step is to listen to the tracks via direct audio input to relearn the songs and also checking lyric sites and apps. This can help although often bands rearrange popular songs or do medleys which can be challenging.

Using apps like Soundhound and Musixmatch can help with identifying songs and discovering lyrics often in real-time. The apps may be more successful in linking with pre-recorded music. Live music tends to come with audience generated noises that confuse the apps.

Preparation done so now time to get the ticket and head to the gig. I hope for the best but still look to using my experience to increase the odds of a successful gig. I discovered that in small venues you often can put your hands on speaker stacks and pick up additional information through vibrations. Dont stand in front of the stacks as you may lose the little hearing you have left. I often stand to the side with arm outstretched to feel the music and I hear better.

It is also wise to play with hearing aid settings too. I often find having one hearing aid on the omnidirectional microphone setting and the other on unidirectional works best for me. At one gig someone threw liquid and I took the wet aid out and discovered having one aid out helped me pick up bass notes more easily. Different gigs and venues may require different combinations of hearing aid settings.

I never hear the banter between songs and often fail to hear a familiar song.Time to stay positive and pluck up courage to ask a neighbour what that song is!

Often I have to move about to find best sound spot and it helps to be close and get visual clues. I guessed we were starting Pretty Green just by watching the rhythm of the guitars and drums. I was in the front row so had some visual stimulus.

If I did not know the songs I may still enjoy the broad sound and guess what they might be singing. I know Eton Rifles very well but if I did not I might look at people singing along and think its Eating Trifles!

I tend not to sing along as for some reason doing this reduces what I can hear. I need to concentrate.

It’s not easy but I have to be positive. I sometimes have a beer and take part in some crazy ‘dancing’ but if I do I will lose some of the already reduced quality.

Gotta keep getting whatever enjoyment I can when I can. My sight and hearing reduce each year so there is no time to waste.

Positivity rules.

🙂

By Martin Griffiths.

Martin Griffiths

Mr Martin Griffiths

Name calling by Paul Leonard

Not blogged in a while – maybe I am becoming more placid, busier (that is true, I have),  finding more “stuff” to occupy my time with – who knows?  What I do know is last week, I was riled with our glorious NHS.  My leg operation got cancelled, again but that is a whole other blog post which I could write when I am in recovery.

For now though, I want to moan about another aspect of the NHS – audiology centres. Following the cancellation of my operation, my wife needed a new tube for her hearing aid because it had broken.  Fair enough, so off we trot to the audiology place – just a small walk away.  In the morning they have a walk in centre, great I thought, no appointment needed.  What I didn’t know until we got there, was the absolute shocking deaf awareness!  This is a place where people go to get aids to assist them to hear.

The receptionist who greets us, exaggerating her lips, “whattt issss yourrr name pleassse”?  Not even a basic BSL greeting with voice, “Your name what?” – NHS, your first fail, please learn basic sign language!

In the waiting room (I should have taken a photo), they have a massive TV which lists patient’s names.  On a piece of paper underneath it says that the screen is only used for appointments and not “walk in” patients – NHS, your second fail.

I find out whilst waiting that in all the times, she’s been to the clinic, not one member of staff has even a tempted a bit of basic BSL with my wife – really?!  I am shocked.  NHS, you suck!

The audiologist comes out and calls out my wife’s name, not particularly loudly either (or maybe I’m gong deaf!?) – So a profoundly deaf person in there, unless they have eyes like a hawk, the second someone comes out would miss their name being called – NHS, you screwed up again!

We go into the room, by which time my blood is boiling and so I feel that I have to bring up all these things.  I bottle it all, apart from the non functioning TV with the lack of names – “well, we use 6 different systems and the TV only works for people with appointments and not walk in patients”.  Fair enough, I calmly explain to her, but why can’t you even write names on a piece of paper like at the airport, “oh I didn’t think that!”.  Really?!

Why don’t the NHS attend basic BSL courses or at least a basic deaf awareness course?!  I know, I am going to Bangladesh to go and work with the locals where only about 2% of the entire population speak English …

name

… or maybe work at the airport collecting passengers whilst showing their names on a placard!

~ Paul Leonard

A Simple Awareness Maybe? By Paul Leonard

paul

Today was the day Peter (our son) had to go to the Birmingham Children’s Hospital. To cut a long story very short (too late!), he isn’t talking and to get some speech therapy, he needed to have (another) hearing test. (This would now be test number 4.) Having arrived there, under slightly calmly circumstances compared to last time, I was impressed. (That’s a whole other blog post.)

You go in, take a ticket like you do it at the delicatessen and wait for your number to be called. The automated system, eventually calls out your number and tells you which kiosk to go to and so you can check in. We were both impressed, not only did the system call out your number but it also displayed on a relatively huge TV screen – BCH, 10 out of 10 for deaf awareness … but that’s where it stopped unfortunately.

We checked in and waited right next to audiology. Looking up, I saw two kids, brother and sister, I assumed. Both with hearing aids with their mother. Their names got called and in they went … but was it shown on the display? Oh no! Good job their mother could hear I thought. A short while after, it was our turn and … “Peter Leonard”. Again nothing shown on the TV! Why not?!

How hard would it be to add the patient’s name to the TV screen? It is basic! Need teaching? All you need is a computer and a monitor to project the name on … you have hundreds of computers scattered around the building being a hospital and a few TV’s positioned around the room for the “deli. counter” display. So, why don’t you make use of the technology you have and put on the next patient’s name? It’s a good job I was with Rebekah otherwise, how would she know his name had been called?!

Then, upon going through – Peter had to have his hearing test but this caused dilemma. Only one of us could go in the room with him so as not to distract him. Fair enough I guess, but the lady who greeted us couldn’t sign which meant Rebekah couldn’t go in and so I had to. (She wasn’t the “proper” audiologist, she was more of her assistant.) That’s fine but what if Peter really wanted his mummy whilst being whisked away in a tiny claustrophobic room?!

After the tests were over, Rebekah was allowed in the room for the consultation where Rebekah could come in to hear the results with the audiologist. She scored 10 points for spotting Rebekah’s hearing aids, but then promptly lost them all by saying, “can you hear what I am saying?” Why oh why can’t these people in this profession sign? Would it be that hard? Why can’t the NHS make this a prerequisite of the job? Why is there such little deaf awareness? Why why why?!

Answers on a postcard to the usual address! #RantOver!

~ PAL

(who often rambles here and there :-))