‘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/

You are not your user and you do not live their life by Simon Hurst.

The lovely Simon Hurst​ shared this link with the Tree House dwellers in the hope that we could all share it, comment on it and help them to perfect PIP that bit more.

Thank you very much 🙂

https://dwpdigital.blog.gov.uk/2015/07/23/you-are-not-your-user-and-you-do-not-live-their-life/

simon

Mr Simon Hurst.

Diversity & Inclusion – Love Has No Labels

This video left me feeling glimmers of hope that the people of today’s world want to be inclusive of all the diversity around us in order to make it a better place. Ironically, the video has no captions or audio description but otherwise the video is easy to watch and follow. It may leave you feeling a tad soppy.

Make love, not war 🙂

Love Has No Labels.

We Can Manage, Thank You. By Andrew Arthur

I’m really seething this morning over something I read that raises a disability issue. Many of us as deaf people know that hearing people have a tendency to move in and take over from us when running things. There was the infamous Deaf Fashion Show some years ago now where a group of well-meaning hearing people took charge of the show and ran it in a hearing way without regard to the special demands of deaf people. The result was an embarrassing fiasco and bad feeling all round. Not what we are looking for really.

The mistake the hearing people made was in assuming that deaf people can be organised in the same way as hearing. At one point they tried to address the crowd with a loudhailer! You can still meet people who were there and were most unimpressed.

What I am getting at here is the rather dangerous tendency of hearing people to take up the cause “on our behalf”. The problem being that it removes control and choice from us and places it in the hands of people who may know little or nothing about deafness or indeed disability as a whole. In the end, we suffer because these people don’t really know what they are doing and we do. This is the battle we fight, against ignorance, prejudice and people who think we need help.

So what got my goat this morning was reading in a clip that a Government minister made a remark that I regard as perfectly true and accurate and yet a posse of hearing people seem to have taken it upon themselves to pillory him for it “on our behalf”. They are not disabled people but without asking, they have waded in to condemn this man for telling what happens to be true!

Disabled people ARE grateful to have jobs. EVERYONE is grateful to have a bloody job!! I certainly believe that disabled people work harder in most cases, it doesn’t necessarily follow as there are lazy deaf people just as there are lazy everyone elses. What these hearing people are doing here is taking what they see as a disability cause and using it to beat this guy up with. All supposedly on our behalf. I don’t like it. I really don’t. I think in the long run it will lead to abuse and we should speak out against it.

Nothing about us, without us.

~ Andrew Arthur

Will My Child Be Okay?

As any mother would naturally anticipate and share the same relative concerns of “Will my child be okay?” Yet when it comes to that precise moment upon finding out a child may have a form of a challenging disability, we all take a moment to reflect on it.

One rather anxious mother’s question of the like was asked of Coordown when it was confirmed after agreeing to undergo tests for Down’s Syndrome; her unborn baby would have this genetic condition.

Here is an extremely heart-warming video response they (15 people from around the World) made for her which I am sure gave her goose pimples as it did me and I shall take my hat off to Coordown Group for one of the most reassuring letters.

Enjoy.

~ SJ (Sara Jae)

How come you get it? by Carole Humphrys

A deaf person recently asked me “How come you get it, being deaf, you’re hearing? Other hearing people just don’t get it…” I’m not sure this person is aware of the effect that had on me. It made me reflect, think, and look at other people around me. I have now been asking myself ‘How come I get it and they don’t?’ I think I finally have the answer.

As one.

As one.

I grew up in a diverse close and wider community. My parents best friends had three children, two of them were disabled: one had Duchennes Muscular Dystrophy and the other Downs Syndrome. I was raised as a Methodist. The Methodist Church was very inclusive. I didn’t really take away ‘religion’ in its strictest sense but it taught me basic moral principles, for example, don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want done to you. Treat others with respect & you should get respect back. We are all equal. That was my interpretation anyway! I think this is where my naturally ’empowering’ nature comes from. I remember my Dad telling me when I was very young:

“You should always be willing to help people to help themselves, but never do it FOR them unless its absolutely necessary, it will take away their independence and their power”

I always saw the person. I’m still not sure if this was taught, learnt, in my nature or a mixture of all. Every time I was faced with someone or something different, I went to my parents and asked them about it and they explained things to me in a way I could understand.

Me, age 5:

Two black girls started school. I had never seen a black person. It was 1970. I came home and told my Dad there were two girls who started school and their skin was really black. I expressed some concerns, I thought others were calling them names, although I remember not really understanding why. I can still remember my fathers reply:

“Their skin is that colour because where they come from the sun is really really hot. Their skin needs more protection than yours as the sun here doesn’t really get that hot for very long. The skin of the people who live in their hot country has changed over time to help them to be able to live there”

Now that was something I could understand, even at five years old!

Fast forward. I am 6 years old.

Dad was a Chartered Accountant. One weekend I went with him to a farm in the depths of the Kent countryside. He put me down in a kind of courtyard surrounded by the farmhouse and a few barns. In between were trees and grass. He said:

“Stay in this courtyard, and whatever you do DO NOT climb that tree”.

Talk about power of suggestion! I hadn’t even thought about climbing any tree until he mentioned it.

Now it looked so inviting. Obviously I climbed the tree. Climbing up was easy. It didn’t look that high from the ground. I remember concentrating really hard on getting up the tree. So hard I hadn’t looked down, until I wanted to climb down. ‘Down’ suddenly looked really scary.

I clung to a large branch. My Dad would be angry if he found out I got stuck in the tree I had been told not to climb. I was about to shout for help when I saw a teenage girl entering the courtyard. I turned my head towards her and shouted “Help! Please! I cant get down, I’m stuck”

At this point I was crying. She ignored me. As she got nearer I tried again. She ignored me. This made me angry.

I had been taught manners, and this was just really rude! I was six, stuck up a tree, and this teenage girl was ignoring my cries for help. I had the equivalent of a temper tantrum and started kicking the tree, shaking the branch slightly. She looked up. Her face showed surprise, shock and concern all at once.

She climbed the tree, put me over her shoulder and climbed down with me. She then carried me to the Farmhouse. I was facing backwards as she carried me. I thanked her for helping me and begged her not to tell my Dad. My mouth was next to her ear. I got no response. I tried again. No response. She kept doing this weird head shaking thing and frowning at me. Again my ‘manners’ training kicked in, and I thought ‘How rude? Why is she not replying?‘.

She put me down in the kitchen & I ran to my Dad. I told him (while crying and looking very sorry for myself) “That lady’s really rude!!! I spoke to her and she COMPLETELY ignored me! I only wanted to say thank you”. My Dad sat me down and explained to me she wasn’t ignoring me, she couldn’t hear me, her ears didn’t work, and because she had never heard sound, she couldn’t speak to tell me that she couldn’t hear me. I remember trying to process this. She cant speak??

Dad explained that she can’t ‘speak’ but she can communicate. She communicates with her hands and face, making ‘signs’. I was fascinated. That afternoon in two hours I learnt to fingerspell the alphabet & my name, I learnt numbers and signs for help, food, drink, pain. Over the next two years I saw her once a month and my sign vocabulary grew (very) slowly. I loved it!

Fast forward. I am 9 years old.

I woke one morning with horrible pain in my ears and was unable to hear much. I had a major internal ear infection. My eardrums burst. I was temporarily deaf and hoh (profound to moderate, it varied) for six months between the age of nine and ten.

Fast Forward. I am 13 years old

I spent the last 3 years making regular trips to the ENT unit. My hearing loss had been variable due to constant ear infections, but had stayed from mild to moderate for around a year. There were concerns my hearing would be ‘permanently affected’. My Nan had always had a hearing problem, although interestingly we never spoke about it! Nan wore hearing aids and could function well with them but when they were out she struggled.. My mum was hoh, completely deaf on one side following a push-bike ride into a wall aged 12. We had all just adapted without realising it I think. We never really shouted to each other from room to room. We just entered the room and spoke directly to people. We only ever spoke one person at a time. I always thought this was part of the ‘manners’ training but I am sure now it was a result of adapting to need. Adapting to my needs when temporarily deaf was natural at home. Outside of home during this period was another issue altogether. School was a nightmare.

I met a deaf boy at school. Looking back I think I found myself seeking him out because communication with everyone else (including the teachers) was proving difficult. I tried to sign to him. I was proud of my (very basic) ‘signs’. I was excited! He was only the second deaf person I had ever met & I would have the chance to practice and learn more. I signed at him (‘how are you?’ I think). He went nuts at me. He told me we had to ‘do that in secret’ and it ‘wasn’t allowed’. I was stunned. I never understood why my school wouldn’t allow ‘signs’.

Fast forward, I’m 15 years old.

I’m at an under 18’s disco. This gorgeous looking lad comes over and takes my friend by the arm, smiling, and leads her onto the dance floor for a slow dance. When she comes back she’s frowning. “That was really weird” she says to me. “He didn’t say a word at all? He just ignored me, even when I spoke to him”.

This sounded really familiar! “Stay there” I replied. ‘I wonder if he’s deaf?’ I thought. I went all the way to the back of the club before I found him with a group of deaf friends in a fairly well lit area. Six lads. All deaf. With my ‘Pidgeon’ sign, beer matts and a pen, I finally managed to introduce myself & my friends and explain to my friend that had danced with him why he ignored her!

These were my first introductions to the problems that deaf people faced. Things have improved in some areas, some things, sadly, remain the same.

*********

Mum was a Girl Guide Captain.

She did a Girl Guide camp exchange with the ‘Spastics’ school run by the Spastics society (now re branded Scope). A couple of our Guides spent the camp with them and vice versa. Sandra came to camp with us. She could walk quite well and talk well once you tuned into her voice. She had a wicked sense of humour. There were two other girls on the exchange camp but I didn’t like them as much. I was very upset when my Mum told the whole Guide group that whatever we did we cannot make Sandra laugh whilst walking or standing because she will fall over. Its dangerous. Her mother does not allow her to laugh when she’s walking or standing up.

Well, that’s not on is it?

Imagine having to control when you laughed, that’s ridiculous!

We consulted Sandra and asked if she was happy with this. Turns out she wasn’t. She said she hated it.

Said her mother was paranoid. We all liked telling jokes! We devised a system. We arranged people behind her to ‘prop her back up’ when she lost balance. If we were walking along there would always be at least two people behind her so if she just wanted to randomly giggle, then she would be safe. If my Mum had seen her actually fall when a few of us weren’t paying attention she would have gone mad! I got a bit worried, until Sandra asked me “Don’t you ever fall over?”   “yes, quite a lot, I’m clumsy” I replied.

“So falling over is normal then. I like normal.”

That comment will stay with me for the rest of my life.

All of these things are what has made me who I am. They, I think, are a small snapshot of why I seem to ‘get it’, no matter what ‘it’ is. Not just deafness, but all things. If I don’t ‘get it’ I make every attempt to educate and challenge myself until I do!

I can’t stand inequality of any description. I can’t ever remember being any different. I had to change and adapt to other people all of my life. I grew up with someone with a life limiting illness so was introduced to death at a young age. Muscular Dystrophy is a slow disease so adapting was what I did as my friend Alan’s abilities constantly changed.

One ‘adaptation’ involved helping Alan to ‘upgrade’ his wheelchair with a lawnmower engine so he could race a friend who had put a lawnmower engine on his push-bike!! Alan won the race down the sea front promenade but we forgot about the brakes. His chair stopped and he was catapulted into the sand! Thankfully he was fine and our parents never found out! (phew!)

Sometimes other people have had to change and adapt for me, and not only when I had a temporary hearing loss. The way I learn can irritate people. I have learnt this from experience. I tend to challenge and I ask lots of questions if I don’t understand. Often I don’t understand the explanations given first time, so I adapt the question and ask it in a different way in the hope I will get a better explanation. Very occasionally I get an excellent tutor, who realises the explanation needs to be given in a different way. Then I get it much quicker. If they are really good they recognise my learning style and adapt permanently. We all think and see things differently. Nobody is the same. We are not clones of each other. We are individuals.

Quite recently, I was leaving an event with a wheelchair using friend of mine. Her partner went to stop a passing Taxi. We were in London. My friend hung back slightly. She called me over and asked me to stand in front of her. “Why?” I asked.

“Because if they see the wheelchair they won’t stop”.

I seriously couldn’t believe this. Its the 21st Century and still people have this weird attitude?

The deaf community are so much more accepting of different races, religions, abilities and beliefs compared to the hearing community. Its one of the things I love about the ‘deaf world’. I realise this is general sweeping statement, but in my experiences this is what I see. The hearing community really is very strange, I can say that. I’m one of them!

Just one more thing. Although you are not here any more, thanks Mum and Dad, you made me what I am today: a whole individual who can’t stand inequality of any description and who wants to empower all people to be independent, equal and think for themselves, regardless of background, race, religion or ability.

I can only conclude, in answer to that deaf person who asked ‘how come I get it?’ that this is why!

This post by me, I would like to dedicate to Eleanor.

By Carole Humphrys.