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30 September 2014 Last updated at 20:27 ET

How blind Victorians campaigned for inclusive education

A coloured engraving of a "school for the indigent blind" from 1813. The School for the Indigent Blind at St George's Fields, London in 1813

Disabled people's voices are often missing from mainstream history, but texts reveal that a group of forgotten blind activists fought for inclusive education during the Victorian times.

Historically, education for children with disabilities, in so far as it has existed at all, has tended to be based on segregation.

Over the past 30 years there has been a greater effort, backed up by law, to integrate disabled children into mainstream education. But in the Victorian era they often attended educational institutions supported through philanthropic fundraising.

To encourage donations, schools emphasised the "miseries" of sensory deprivation. Unhappy about these negative representations of disabled people, an un-named "intellectual blind man" of the era said: "I assure you it is not blindness, but its consequences, which we feel most painfully, and those consequences are often laid on us most heavily by the people who are loudest in their expressions of pity."

His words cut through the Victorian representations of blindness as something to be pitied and were quoted by a group of blind campaigners who emerged to challenge the paucity of available education. They sought to reform the institutionalised approach to disability that was prominent at the time.

The names of these early activists are all but forgotten today. However, their views on the importance of including, rather than segregating, blind and deaf children, and their powerful advocacy that they should be heard and given appropriate rights, make their views seem strikingly modern.

'Shut away'

"Special education" emerged in Britain and Europe during the second half of the 18th Century. Thomas Braidwood established a school for deaf pupils in Edinburgh in 1764, which moved to Hackney in London in 1783 due to increased demand for places.

The first school for blind pupils opened in Liverpool in 1791 and London's School for the Indigent Blind, founded at St George's Fields Southwark in 1799, was by the 1860s educating 160 boys and girls in reading, writing and "useful" trades, intended to provide for their future employment.

After the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, the state subsidised school fees for some pupils so that attendance did not push families into poverty - education was neither free nor compulsory until later in the century.

A sketch of blind basket makers from 1871 Blind basket makers, 1871

Charitable schools were founded primarily as residential institutions intended to provide protection, board, lodging and education to their pupils. Yet the practice of shutting away "blind, deaf and dumb" children in so-called "exile schools" was opposed by an increasingly vocal group of activists in the mid 19th Century.

Prominent authors included James Gray, who wrote the self-published What is Doing for the Blind? in 1862 from the Edinburgh Blind Asylum where he lived, and John Bird, a surgeon who had become blind in adult life.

For these writers, institutions "immured" their pupils, treating them like prisoners. They were degrading and they perpetuated "pauperism". Bird said segregation encouraged a "selfish indifference towards the suffering four-sensed, whether Blind or Deaf and Dumb" on the part of the "five-sensed members of society" leading them to consider themselves "exempt from the responsibility of giving either time or thought to the subject".

The campaigners noted that inclusion promised to benefit all society, not just the deaf and blind themselves.

'Blind trades'

One area of debate concerned the so-called "blind trades" of basket weaving or brush making that were taught in these institutions. James Gray argued that the paltry sums paid for these products only added to the poverty of blind workers. Organisations such as the Association for Promoting the General Welfare of the Blind, founded by Elizabeth Gilbert in 1854, established workshops for blind handicraftsmen so that workers received better prices for their products than for those produced in institutions.

Whilst the association encouraged basket making, some campaigners claimed that these traditional trades were symbolic of a system that failed to recognise people's potential or range of talents.

A blind man holding a child walks guided by his stick. A blind man using a dog and stick

In an early attempt to use historical evidence as a tool of activism, several writers gave examples of notable scientists, mathematicians, writers and musicians to illustrate the achievements of blind people in the past. Their inspiration was the Biography of the Blind, written in 1820 by James Wilson, a self-taught blind man who wrote the book "with a view of rescuing my fellow sufferers from the neglect and obscurity in which many of them are involved."

Charities were not always appreciated. Activists claimed that too much of the money donated to the dedicated charities went on buildings and non-disabled staff, rather than on the welfare of the blind pupils themselves. Many of them imposed social and moral restrictions on who could apply for assistance. Some campaigners argued that it would be better if the donated money was paid directly to blind people themselves, to enable them to live in their own homes and support their families.

John Bird and others passionately advocated a "home and social" system which encouraged education in the community. In France and Belgium, blind and deaf children had begun to be educated in "common primary schools" alongside "five-sensed" children. They said it fostered better understanding and was good for the health of people with sensory impairments. Isolation in institutions, argued Bird, led to problems in both mental and physical health caused by lack of stimulation and enforced indolence.

The education of blind and deaf children in specialist institutions remained the norm until recent years.

Far greater effort now goes into integrating disabled children into mainstream schools, and has been backed up by new laws. But integration is not the same as inclusion, and even in 2014 campaigners are still arguing that there is further to go before disabled children are fully included in schools. They say there needs to be greater recognition that they have a right to an education and should be given support in ordinary classes, not in special units.

Dr David Turner is a historian at Swansea University. He was advisor on BBC Radio 4's Disability: A New History.

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Blogging her way back to health

Shake and pancakes, as instagrammed by Natasha Lipman

Why one chronically ill young woman swapped medication for a strict plant-based diet.

Like millions of others across the world, Natasha Lipman posts pictures of the food she eats on Instagram. But instead of cakes and fancy restaurant meals, she photographs her breakfast green juice concoctions and healthy superfood snacks.

Sixteen thousand followers watch the 25-year-old Londoner's daily progress, as she tries to maintain a diet of fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and grains.

She initially joined Instagram to help her diet stay on track by keeping a visual food diary but says that her success on the site is down to more than intriguing food photos of smoothies and pancakes with raw chocolate. "I'm specifically sharing my day-to-day story of how I'm using food to heal, and the ups and downs of life with chronic illness."

Born with the connective tissue disorder Elhers-Danlos syndrome, Lipman's joints are prone to regularly and painfully dislocating. Last year, however, she developed two additional chronic conditions, an autonomic system issue called PoTS which stops the body from regulating itself properly and a histamine intolerance that's left her with severe allergies to foods including tomatoes.

Natasha Lipman Natasha Lipman

"I started getting dizzy, lightheaded, tight-chested, constantly nauseous," she wrote in the Huffington Post of her new symptoms. "I couldn't stand without needing to pass out, I couldn't eat half a banana without thinking I was going to die and needing days to recover, rolling around in bed in agony." She stopped being able to work or leave the house.

The medication she was prescribed didn't work, she says, and gave her "uncomfortable and idiosyncratic side effects that the doctors had never heard of." One drug made her feel like her skin was being sliced off, others caused hallucinations.

On 1 January 2014, after a bout of serious illness, Lipman had had enough of symptoms and side effects and began to look at the role that food might play in her recovery.

"Natural foods have to be very good for me," she decided after months of internet research. "Let's just cut out all of the rubbish and see what happens." She stopped eating meat, dairy, gluten, refined sugar and all processed food in favour of plant-based foods, particularly those such as ginger, which are said to have healing or pain-relieving properties.

Within months Lipman says she had improved to such an extent that she could hold down a full-time job from home, and eat complete meals without repercussions. But while a few Instagram followers try to foist eating habits like the raw food diet on to her as a definite cure, Lipman says that evangelising about specific diets is dangerous.

"I don't try anything without research and self-experimentation," says Lipman, "and would never tell anyone that there is one right way. Just because someone has read a few of my posts, doesn't mean they understand my conditions and the complicated chemical reactions that are unique to each of us."

As she became less ill, Lipman very slowly began reducing her medication and despite a few health relapses, nowadays doesn't take any drugs at all. But the blogger is keen to stress that this is a personal journey and doesn't advocate that others stop taking their meds. "Drugs help a lot of people," Lipman tells the Ouch talk show. "At a point last year, I wouldn't have been able to stand up if it weren't for certain medication. At that time, it was what I needed."

Lipman says that many people in her "real" life find her diet "quite weird-sounding", so making friends on Instagram has been one of the best things to happen to her. "Connecting with like-minded people is amazing. And it stops me boring my family with my food talk all day."

Natasha's recipes: Fennel juice bar and super food balls

The ingredients for her fennel green juice are: one large cucumber, two fennel, four stalks of celery, half a head of broccoli, a bunch of fresh coriander, an apple, and quarter of a lemon, all juiced up together with a teaspoon of wheatgrass.

For her super food balls you'll need: 1 cup pitted dates, 1/5 cup chia seeds, 1/4 cup flax seeds, 1/4 cup raw cacao nibs, 1/4 cup pink Himalayan salted pistachios, 1/4 cup mixed seeds, a pinch of raw vanilla powder, a generous pinch of pink Himalayan salt and 1-2 teaspoons of a root called maca. Whizz it all up in a food processer until the dates are broken down and you can pinch the mixture together with your fingers. Then roll the mixture into about 14 balls and store in the freezer.


Hear Natasha Lipman's story on the latest Ouch talk show. She is on Instagram as nutritiouslynatasha.

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Ouch show 112: Green juice v bacon rolls

Kate and rob

On this month's show - the nutritiously popular blogger who swapped medication for a plant-based diet and how social media can help people with mental health difficulties.

Also, after the recent Disability Pride parade in Belfast, we ask can you be "proud" of being disabled? And a look at what's in Ouch's diary for the coming month.


Kate Monaghan and Rob Crossan present.

Your monthly way in to disability news with chat, humour and the little things of life.

How to listen

PDF download Read a transcript[235kb]

Show notes

More about this month's guests and discussions:

Natasha's date balls and a picture of Natasha
  • Natasha Lipman (pictured above) is a blogger. She has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. When she developed two additional medical conditions last year and medication wasn't working, she decided to slowly come off all prescription drugs and begin treating herself with food. She blogs about her experiences.
  • Gabriel McBird is also interested in food. He reviews food, drink and eating establishments and has recorded over 700 audioBoom reviews. As a blind person he is particularly interested in how accessible he finds the service at restaurants. Listen to his reviews.
  • Also joining Rob and Kate in the studio is Mark Brown, the former editor of mental health magazine One in Four. He tweets at @MarkOneinFour.
  • Our Ouch News section comes from BBC Ouch's Kathleen Hawkins who reports on what is coming up in the disability diary for October including the sentencing of South African Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius and a new exhibition for Dadafest.

For other audio clips from Ouch, go to our audioBoom channel.

Producer: Damon Rose

Follow @BBCOuch on Twitter and on Facebook, and listen to our monthly talk show

Deaf dancers feel rhythm in the floor

Deaf Men Dancing rehearsal

The autobiographical dance show which tells audiences of experiences unique to deaf people.

"I ran over to the piano and put my hand on it to feel the vibrations of the music," remembers Mark Smith. Diagnosed as deaf at four years old, his first encounter with rhythm and dance was at his sister's ballet class.

Smith couldn't hear the music but was able to establish a rhythm from what he could feel. He says: "I began to copy the movements and the teacher encouraged me to join."He went on to study dance at degree level and has worked as a choreographer for the past 20 years. Now Smith uses those early experiences to teach other deaf people how to dance.

In the absence of a piano, Smith encourages his students to place their hand on a speaker to experience the pulses from the audio. "The vibrations move through their arms and into their bodies," he says. And when the students move away from direct contact with the sound, they maintain contact with the rhythm via the vibrations in the wooden floor. "That's why we always dance barefoot," he adds.

In 2010, Smith formed an all-male ensemble which he calls Deaf Men Dancing. It is made up of four professional dancers with varying levels of hearing loss.

He says deaf people are constantly alert to visual cues throughout the day and so his dancers are naturally tuned to what the others are doing, rather than taking cues directly from the music. He believes that this ability makes deaf dancers better at communicating with each other on stage than hearing dancers.

Deaf Men Dancing rehearsal with Mark Smith at the front directing the rehearsal Choreographer Mark Smith integrates sign language in his shows

Deaf Men Dancing's latest show Hear! Hear! looks at hidden or little-known aspects of deafness in a way that Smith hopes a hearing audience will be able to relate to.

He integrates British Sign Language, an artistic device he often uses in his shows. But instead of dancers making the shapes with their hands, the whole body plays a part. He says that deaf and hearing dancers interpret the movements differently.

Having more connections with the language, he observes that deaf dancers tend to perform his routines with lots of emotion whereas hearing dancers are strong at the more technical side.

The show also plunders Smith's childhood memories. His first hearing aid was a big box which attaches to the chest with a harness. Dancers wear these during the performance, which he says is a very visible badge of deafness and "gives them a bit of a superhero look".

The music in Hear! Hear! is encoded with sounds and patterns which aren't usually known to people with typical hearing. The first act includes noises that people with tinitus commonly hear from Deafboy One, a singer and guitar player who is hard of hearing. The score for the second act, by Michael England, is a piece of electronic classical music based on Smith'sown hearing test charts - he struggles to hear high frequency sounds like birdsong, dripping taps and rustling leaves. The second time the melody is played the higher frequencies are taken away, giving the audience a sense of how he hears music.

Deaf Men Dancing perform Hear! Hear! at Sadler's Wells on Sunday 28 September as part of the =dance series.

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From single mother to leading lady

Sophie Stone

Sophie Stone was a young deaf single mother when she won a place at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and is now getting recognition for her theatre and TV work.

About to start a tour in the UK, Sophie Stone is the lead actress in a new play Woman of Flowers. The production features a mixture of spoken and visual language, which echoes Stone's own confusing journey in communication as a deaf person.

Disabled playwright Kaite O'Reilly created the play with Stone in mind. Based on a Welsh myth, Woman of Flowers uses music, movement, speech and a sign-like visual language to tell the story of a farmer's wife who has forgotten her past but wants a different future to the one chosen for her by her husband and his uncle.

Looking back at Stone's own past, it might be considered surprising she's ended up doing what she does now.

It's been 10 years since, as a 24-year-old single mother living in East London, she became the first deaf person to study at Rada.

Stone has since performed at the National Theatre and with Deafinitely Theatre company, and has appearances in TV's Midsummer Murders, Casualty and Marchlands under her belt.

She says she developed the ability to communicate later than most and didn't start to express herself properly until joining a local drama club.

"I was a very frustrated, repressed and angry child, who couldn't articulate thoughts and feelings," she says.

Sophie and a male actor during rehearsal. He is holding both her hands and leaning in towards her.

She says that facial expressions, breath, touch and relationships with others on stage helped her release those tensions. From that point, she began to talk and use words. "I loved the feeling of words in my mouth, learning how to say them and how to affect people with them." On stage she now revels in the ability to connect and tell stories to others.

With echoes of Stone's own childhood language difficulties, Woman of Flowers doesn't use sign language or English exclusively. Most lines are spoken but Stone's character Rose's internal monologues are delivered physically using movement and theatricalised sign - a dramatic form of physical expression based on British Sign Language. The play is surtitled throughout, with the dialogue displayed on a screen close to the stage.

Stone's language journey began in what deaf people refer to as the "oral tradition", using lip-reading and spoken English as her main medium of communication. Born into a hearing family and educated in English, she didn't use sign language much until she started at a boarding school for deaf children. Here, she says she met an incredible crowd who she fell in love with: "I felt like I was finally understood and I was in a place where people got me."

Stone believes she now has a sense of the power of both worlds though doesn't always fit in to one or the other.

At 19, she had a baby daughter, Angel. She says that she felt very lost around the time of her pregnancy and didn't know who she was: "There was a general feeling from everybody around me that I was doomed and that my future had been taken away before it had even started. During the nine months of being pregnant I made the conscious decision not to live up to anybody's expectations, and to be exactly what I wanted to be."

She says she put all of her focus into being a mother until her daughter started at nursery then she had space to think.

"Theatre was my love and I wanted to go back into acting so I asked my mother if she would support me. She helped me with childcare and has been absolutely incredible, a real hero. Juggling it all was crazy but I wouldn't change it for the world. It made me and my daughter stronger, a real partnership. She allows me to be me."

At almost 15, Angel already knows she wants to direct films. "So I'll be in front of the camera and she'll be behind it," says Stone.

Woman of Flowers tours the UK until 1 November 2014.

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Blindness, by those in the know

A blind person holding a cane about o cross a road

There are a small number of questions that blind people seem to get asked regularly. But here are five lesser-known things about blindness from those who know.

Can blind people hear better than sighted people?

There is an often-quoted view that a blind person's remaining four senses are heightened to compensate for their lack of vision. In popular culture, sightless superhero Daredevil makes use of his super senses to save the world, and in the film Scent of a Woman, Al Pacino's blind character could tell one perfume from another at the drop of a hat.

Many blind people feel their hearing is no better than sighted people's - it's just that they have to listen more intently to sounds around them. They gauge distance and direction of traffic by ear to avoid being hit by a car, and will tune into announcements at stations to find out which platform their train is on. Sighted people are more likely to focus on the display boards when travelling.

But there is some evidence to support the heightened senses theory. Research at the University of Montreal in 2012 suggests that a blind person's brain does re-wire itself to use the visual cortex. Normally preoccupied with seeing, it's hijacked to improve the processing of other information such as sound and touch.

Many blind people use reflected sound waves to build a mental picture of their surroundings (similar to bats and dolphins) in a process known as echolocation. Most use it all the time without realising, to avoid walking into things. Others claim to be able to tell an object's distance, size, texture and density by clicking their tongue against the roof of their mouth about three times per second and are able to go hiking and cycling without a white cane or a dog.

Can blind people see in their dreams?
Two people asleep in bed, a man and woman

People who were born blind have no understanding of how to see in their waking lives, so they can't see in their dreams. But most blind people lose their sight later in life and can dream visually. Danish research in 2014 found that as time passes, a blind person is less likely to dream in pictures.

The same research says that people who are born blind have more nightmares than sighted people. The theory is that nightmares are mental rehearsals of potentially distressing events, and they can help develop coping mechanisms. For example, blind people in the study reported dreaming about getting lost, being hit by a car or losing their guide dog.

How do blind people choose their clothes?

Over time, many blind people will get a feel for the shape and style of clothes that suit them and they will tend to shop with trusted people.

The fashion-conscious blind person puts considerable energy into ensuring that their outfits match, but technology is often needed for differentiating between colours. A colour detector is a talking gadget which, when pressed against a piece of clothing for a second or two, loudly announces "light olive green" or "dark blue" in a posh English accent. They aren't totally accurate and tend to be used occasionally when sorting laundry and checking items which feel similar.

Blind people have various systems for keeping track of their clothes. Some will sew different shaped buttons on to labels to denote colours. Others might cut the labels in various ways. Some favour the Pen Friend, a barcode reader with labels that can be loaded with information about the clothing, including colour and washing instructions. Others will just try and remember the information or buy clothes that all match.

What do guide dogs actually do?

Contrary to popular belief, guide dogs do not tell their owner when it is time to cross the road and they do not take their owner where they want to go based on an instruction such as "find the shops".

Guide dogs walk in a straight line, always on the left of a person, and are trained to keep an eye on their owner's right shoulder to protect against collisions. They avoid obstacles and stop at kerbs. They know their left from right. Sometimes dogs might lead their owner into overhanging branches because its trickier for them to judge overhead obstacles. It all takes practice. It's a partnership and owners often consider they're driving the dog rather than being led by it.

A guide dog lying down asleep in the middle of a group of people

Unofficially, guide dogs can provide good companionship for isolated blind people. Their presence can help owners feel safer while out and about. And of course, a dog can be a good ice-breaker in a social situation.

How do blind people use computers and smartphones?

Blind and visually impaired people use computer technology in three ways. Some, who can see a bit, can get software that magnifies everything on the screen to a size they can easily read.

Totally blind people have two options. A Braille display can sit underneath a keyboard and provide a tactile version of words on the screen, one line at a time. But less than 1% of the two million people with vision problems in the UK can read Braille, and anyway, the display can cost thousands of pounds.

A far more popular option is a screenreader - software which reads the screen in an intelligent way, using a synthetic voice. Voices are improving in quality all the time but many old-school blind computer users stick to the one that sounds like Stephen Hawking, because it can be understood at a fast speed and because they're used to its pronunciation. After a while, users stop noticing what their screenreader sounds like and crank it up to a speed that's unintelligible to the average person. Some use both Braille and speech together.

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Should there be a TV channel just for sign language users?

See Hear filming in the Isle of Wight. Can see the cameraman and soundman and the presenter Memnos

This week a consultation by media industry regulator Ofcom comes to an end. It could lead to more funding for television programmes made in British Sign Language (BSL), if there is enough support. But should there be a dedicated sign language channel?

Other British minorities have television channels funded via government and the BBC licence fee. Gaelic speakers have BBC Alba where you can watch Gaelic versions of TV shows like Peppa Pig and the much anticipated drama Bannan, due to be broadcast later this month. In Wales, S4C delivers Welsh language television like its famous soap Pobol y Cwm and their nightly news, Newyddion.

Many are programmes created from scratch, made and presented by people who speak that language and who were brought up in the corresponding culture. Bar one or two exceptions, when sign appears on TV it's as a translation of a spoken English programme from an inset signer. But should there be a channel where the signing happens centre-screen, coming from the presenters and a deaf perspective?

On a dedicated BSL channel, the newsreader would sign, and half-time sports analysis would come from a sofa full of people using their hands rather than their mouths. Drama, children's programmes, and others would also be signed by the presenters or actors.

Start Quote

Sign language recorded on camera is exactly the same as writing on paper - it is the only way of archiving our language and culture”

End Quote Brian Duffy Deaf film-maker

But Gaelic and Welsh are languages woven into the very fabric of the UK itself. They're part of its culture and its history. Is BSL on the same footing as these ancient languages?

BSL can be found in the UK's history though has only been around in force since the mid-1800s. But do we judge importance by the amount of time that's passed or in other ways?

See Hear, BBC Two's long-running sign language magazine programme gets around 200,000 weekly viewers. By way of comparison, BBC Alba and S4C together claim around 600,000 weekly viewers.

Though there are some estimates of up to 200,000, Ofcom's own research commissioned in 2006 estimates that 66,000 people understand sign language - that's more than the 58,000 who speak Scottish Gaelic. There are around 750,000 Welsh speakers in the UK.

Some say BSL is an endangered language and is being whittled away on several fronts. Cochlear implants, controversial in the deaf community, though life enhancing for some, are seen as shifting people away from being natural sign language users. The trend for closing down deaf schools is leading to deaf children being mainstreamed and learning by lip-reading English speakers, not by sign.

Though many would see medical solutions and equality in education as positives and logical progression, a large number of those in the deaf community prefer to think of themselves as a minority language community rather than disabled, and the idea that their culture might be "cured" is offensive. It's inescapably political.

A still from an episode of Doctor Who including an in-vision signer in the bottom right-hand corner About 5% of the BBC's coverage is signed either with an in-vision signer or a signing presenter, including Doctor Who

BBC Alba and S4C help keep their respective language and culture alive. So if BSL really is an endangered language then perhaps television, presented by sign language users, is needed more than ever.

The closest the UK has to a sign language channel comes from the British Sign Language Broadcasting Trust (BSLBT), who air their programmes online, as well as on Film4 during the day, and on the Community Channel. They make about 20 programmes per year and have employed many hundreds of deaf people behind and in front of the cameras.

BSLBT receives money from smaller channels, those with between 0.5 and 1% audience share, like Sky One or Dave, who opt to give them money instead of making their own signed content. Each channel pays 20,000 pounds, giving about a million pounds to the trust. The amount has not risen since BSLBT began in 2009 and this current consultation process by Ofcom seeks to find out if they should be receiving more money.

S4C gets £100m a year from the BBC and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. BBC Alba receives around £15m each year from various sources, with a minimum of five hours of new content each week.

BSLBT's million pound budget makes programmes which typically draw 20,000 viewers on TV with more on the website.

Find out more

See Hear titles
  • Watch William Mager interviewing Ofcom's head of Content Policy for See Hear.

Deaf film-maker Brian Duffy has made and appeared in BSLBT programmes and is a passionate advocate of sign-presented TV. He says: "Language should be delivered in its natural form from a native speaker of this country, having it translated is not the same thing. In-vision signing is quite literally the language being pushed aside to the corner. That's an indication of the attitude we get from providers."

But Duffy also points out that, being a language of gestures, BSL cannot be written down like English, Gaelic and Welsh. He says: "Sign language recorded on camera is exactly the same as writing on paper - it is the only way of archiving our language and culture."

In making decisions about the future of television for deaf people, Ofcom faces a confusing picture. Not all deaf people use sign language, and the TV regulator says many more deaf people in the UK rely on subtitling rather than signing.

When, in the final of 2011's the Young Apprentice, the BBC ran live subtitles with a delay of five seconds, there was uproar. But when the BBC News channel decided to drop its scheduled 1pm BSL bulletin for breaking news coverage such as Nelson Mandela's funeral, they didn't get many complaints. Ofcom could be forgiven for thinking this means subtitles are far more important than sign language.

Whatever your views on the importance of BSL on television, they're worth sharing. Ofcom's review of signing arrangements closes at 5pm on Monday 22nd of September. In particular it will look at whether funding for BSLBT should start to rise with inflation. For more information follow this link.

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'Stand up' says Kanye West to wheelchair-user

Kanye Weston stage for his Yeezus tour

US rapper Kanye West hit the headlines this weekend after stopping a show in order to ask a disabled person in a wheelchair to "stand up". There have been arguments both attacking West's actions and defending his intention but is it ever OK to point out someone's difference in a crowd?

It was one of those moments that quickly sweeps the internet. Kanye West stopping his concert and repeatedly asking a wheelchair-user to stand up, and caught on YouTube.

"I decided I can't do this song, I can't do the rest of the show until everybody stands up," West told the Qantas Credit Union Arena in Sydney. "Unless you got a handicap pass and you get special parking," he added.

It turned out that some of his fans did qualify for a "handicap pass" and, rather than being passed over, they were brought to the attention of the entire arena who urged the disabled fans to "stand up, stand up" as prompted by the star.

Another fan who remained sitting was then pinpointed by West who complained: "This is the longest I've had to wait to do a song, it's unbelievable."

With the crowd booing, some closer to the fan tried to signal to West that the boy was in a wheelchair.

After apparently seeking further verification from a bouncer, West realised he had made a mistake. "If he's in a wheelchair, then it's fine," he said before launching into his next song.

Start Quote

To call out people for not standing up, when they are disabled and cannot stand up, in front of thousands of people, is humiliating”

End Quote Craig Wallace People With Disability Australia

Despite encountering much negative attention in the media over the weekend, according to the Courier Mail Kanye West has once again decided to ask for proof of disability from the fans in the crowd at his latest show in Brisbane.

"If you can not prove to me that you are in a wheelchair you need to be standing, if you can it is OK to sit down," he is reported as saying.

According to those in attendance West defended himself against the media furore in a five-minute rant saying: "I'm a married, Christian man with a family, pick another target."

West has been criticised about the incident in Sydney by local disability campaigners. "To call out people for not standing up, when they are disabled and cannot stand up, in front of thousands of people, is humiliating," says Craig Wallace, of People With Disability Australia, in the Herald Sun. "What if it was a young person who's coming to terms with their disability?" he adds, saying West should apologise and would also benefit from disability awareness training.

The situation proved comical for some, disabled and not. On Twitter, Australian comedian and prosthetic leg-wearer Adam Hills joked about the situation: "Dear Kanye, I ain't sayin you should know better, but she won't dance if she a no-legger," he quipped.

Some take the incident more seriously. Scott Jordan Harris, a disabled journalist writing for the Telegraph, believes disabled people shouldn't have to prove they're disabled and adds that they have the right to go out without being interrogated.

"Kanye West gave so little thought to disabled people that he was surprised to find two among an audience of thousands," writes Jordan Harris. "When he did, he felt it was his right as an able-bodied person to determine whether those people met his personal standard for disability. This attitude comes from the belief that public spaces belong to the able-bodied and that disabled people can only ever trespass in them."

With 11 million disabled people in the UK alone, disability comes in many shapes and forms. But the rapper referred specifically to wheelchair-users as those who might not be able to stand.

A tweet. People at the Kanye West concert tweeted his comments

For Suzanne Bull, the CEO of a charity that improves deaf and disabled people's access to live music venues, it is important to teach others that not all disabled people are in wheelchairs.

"There are a range of facilities that disabled people need from a music venue," she says. "For example, non-wheelchair users find the viewing platform safer to be on in large crowds, visually impaired people need front row-seating, and provision needs to be made for assistance dogs."

Though widely reported as another of West's now famous gaffes, some believe his words have been misconstrued.

"Once he realised they were unable to he launched into The Good Life almost immediately," the Independent reported. And fans at the gig have defended him saying he exempted disabled people from his game from the start. They say he made it clear that if they were in a wheelchair they need not stand.

Jessica Kearney was in the arena at the time and says West's comments have been unfairly attacked. "There was no malice, if anything the audience (myself included) "booed" the person as no-one knew that person was in a wheelchair," she says. "Kanye asked and no-one replied, even though he repeatedly said, 'If you're in a wheelchair that's ok.'"

In the past, West has shown support for disabled fans. In June he asked his security team to give a wheelchair-user his microphone as a gift after spotting he had been blocked in and was unable to see the show properly.

Though stars often urge their audiences to get up and dance, disabled fans aren't often forced into proving their disability to those they admire. We're yet to hear how these particular fans felt about being singled out by the rapper.

Are you disabled? Have you ever been in an incident which resulted in someone on stage looking foolish? And who felt more humiliated, you or them? Email

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Photographer with Down's syndrome 'sees the world differently'

Oliver Hellowell documents the world as he experiences it

Photographer Oliver Hellowell has Down's syndrome, which his mother says means he sees the world differently to most other people.

Oliver's unique way of capturing the natural world has recently gained him a lot of fans.

Just over a year ago his mother Wendy O'Carroll set up a Facebook page for the 18-year-old's photography. That page now has over 10,500 followers.

"It's not just the numbers that have surprised the family, it's the range of people," says Wendy. The page has fans from Brazil to Alaska.

Oliver hopes that photography - particularly of birds - can become his full-time profession.

To watch a non-subtitled version of this video, click here.

Video journalist: Kate Monaghan

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Mum and daughter give dyspraxia help

Kerry and Phoebe at a cake sale

A mother and daughter with dyspraxia have been making friendly, informal videos to help those who share their condition.

Kerry Pace loves gardening and dancing. She runs a company that helps disabled students who find regular learning methods difficult, mentoring them over Skype on time management and organisation.

Kerry's daughter, 17-year-old Phoebe Pace, loves baking, craft and her Staffordshire bull terrier. She's currently studying for her A-levels and recently started a blog about how she tackled overwhelming anxiety.

They both have dyspraxia, a common disorder which affects motor co-ordination. It can make activities such as writing or riding a bike difficult, and can cause problems with language, perception and thought.

In their spare time the mother and daughter from Hornsea in East Yorkshire make chatty video blogs full of helpful ideas for others with dyspraxia - from sleep advice to tips on how to use a toothbrush, all based on their personal and professional experience.

In your videos you often talk about eating. Is it a typical dyspraxia problem?

Phoebe: I used to struggle getting everything on to my fork so it didn't fall off on the way to my mouth. One day, however, when there was no proper cutlery around, I resorted to using the child-sized forks left in the drawer. I found them so much easier to manage because they are lighter and have bigger handles. I love sporks - they're the perfect mixture between a spoon and a fork and are deep enough to balance food on. After watching our video, loads of people tried it and said "Wow, I wish I'd known that earlier."

And why did you make a video about sleep?

Kerry: Sleep can be a real problem. Like many with dyspraxia, I have a sensory processing disorder. So, if you know that you can't sleep but can't quite pin down the reason why, take time to evaluate what your senses are feeding you. Is the room temperature right? Is it dark enough, or light enough? Do you want music on or off? What are you wearing - is it tight around your wrists? Does it have an itchy label? I like flanellete bedsheets because they are warm when I get in, but Phoebe prefers cold cotton ones. I have a hot blanket that has a setting which lets you regulate feet and body separately, good for me because my feet are always cold.

You connect dyspraxia with anxiety in your videos. Why?

Kerry: On one of Phoebe's blogs, Dyspraxia UK commented that of all the associated secondary difficulties people can get with the disorder, anxiety is high on the list. That's because we use so much energy just to do everyday things. Coordination is the main symptom of dyspraxia, everyone knows about that, but many start to believe they have a mental health problem because they panic and can't function on an escalator, for instance. Escalators are known to be particularly difficult to use successfully because you need to process multiple things at once, like the fact you're going downwards, at an angle, or at speed. It takes longer to plan your movements to get off safely at the bottom. Occupational therapists tasked with assessing you for dyspraxia will often ask how you get on with escalators. In the video we talk a lot about self compassion. Be easy on yourself and be realistic in your goal setting. And take breaks, they're vital.

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Lesser-known things about being deafblind

Liz Ball communicating fingerspelling with a friend

For Liz Ball, who no longer has hearing or sight, communication happens mainly through touching other people's hands. Here she reveals five lesser-known things about being deafblind.

The word on the breeze, and through the floor

Deafblind people aren't affected by things that many would consider a distraction. This means they can work through lively conversations, office tea parties, loud music, thunderstorms and the like.

But, create the tiniest of drafts by picking up a sheet of paper, or the smallest of vibrations by placing a foot gently on the floor, and this might instantly attract the attention of a deafblind person.

There are other kinds of distractions. I've declared one meeting venue unusable because its wooden floor amplifies vibrations from the fridge in the adjacent kitchen. The hearing people with me were unaware of the vibration until I drew it to their attention, but I found it intolerable.

You are what your hands say you are

There are many different forms of touch, or tactile, communication. Deafblind manual is a form of tactile fingerspelling, where each letter of the alphabet has a sign that is made against your hand. There's hands-on signing, where a deafblind person puts their hands over the hands of the person they are communicating with to feel the shapes and movements of British Sign Language. Some may use the block alphabet where large capital letters are drawn with a finger onto the palm.

The way a person touches can say a lot about them. From stiffness in the hands, to firmness and rhythm, or tactile language ability, snap judgements can be made about someone's personality or motives just as they can be with a look or a tone of voice.

Deafblind people might not see what others look like, or what they are wearing, but first impressions still count, and these get transmitted by hands.

Two men fingerspelling

Tense hands and awkward movements? Neurotic. Firm yet relaxed hands with a steady rhythm? Conscientious and open.

Like all ways of forming first impressions, it can be wrong, but who can stop themselves?

Talking while you eat

If you communicate by touch alone, it can be difficult to chat with friends over dinner. It involves stretching arms and contorting in order to communicate across the table while trying not to knock over drinks and other such messy hazards.

In a recent blog entry, deafblind poet and essayist John Lee Clark suggests putting people in the middle of the room and the table around the outside. I've seen people communicating with each other like this at events and it looks like a good way to make socialising at mealtimes more accessible.

There are more ways to communicate with deafblind people than there are deafblind people

Communication can happen in lots of different ways - clear speech, tactile fingerspelling, signing made more easy to see or feel, and so on. But, to complicate things further, deafblind people evolve their own variations on these methods.

I communicate using deafblind manual but use five different ways of communicating numbers, depending on who I am speaking with and what they know.

Some people might dot Braille numbers on the back of my hand or draw print numbers on my palm. Or those more familiar with BSL might adapt it. For example one is gripping my index finger, two is index plus middle, three is index plus middle plus ring.

Liz Ball on a bus fingerspelling with a male friend Deafblind people might carry information when going out to instruct people on how to communicate with them
Touch to talk

If a deafblind person is touched, they assume someone wishes to communicate with them as they cannot see or hear them.

When someone touches me I try and guess their intention. For example, if I am sitting on a train I assume it's the ticket inspector, and hold my ticket out.

I can speak and am able to explain how the person can communicate with me. I offer my Braille and print deafblind manual card so they can spell out words to me on my hands. But I may be speaking to thin air or to someone who touched me accidentally. Ironically, it can then take ages for them to explain on my card that they don't actually want to talk.

To get my attention, tap my shoulder, arm or hand. Stand close if you want to communicate but step back if you don't - I communicate very closely with people but also like a bit of personal space.

My colleagues and I invented a secret Morse code signal to use with me if they see me travelling alone and looking stressed or ignoring normal taps. We invented it after an incident at a London railway station where I was waiting for a colleague one morning. Staff and passengers were grabbing at me and not listening to a word I said about communicating with my card. I ended up getting very upset.

When my colleague arrived, she tapped me but I spoke out loud to tell whoever it was to leave me alone. So we invented the secret Morse signal as a quick way for colleagues to say "it's ok, I know what I'm doing, I can communicate with you".

Though I've been concentrating on touch communication on this page, it's worth noting that many people who call themselves deafblind can see and/or hear a little.

Liz Ball works for SENSE the deafblind charity where she is Campaigns Involvement Officer. She has been blind from birth but also became deaf at 26.

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The voting influence of disabled Scots

saltire and union flag

Disabled people in Scotland have said they feel they've been ignored in Scottish referendum campaigning by both sides. But how are disabled people voting, if at all, and why? BBC Scotland reporter Ian Hamilton looks at the situation with just over a week to go until the polls open.

The last UK census showed one in five of Scotland's population claims to have a disability or long term health condition - that's one million people. That's a sizeable enough community to influence the outcome of the 18 September referendum on independence.

In August, Disability Agenda Scotland, a consortium of six of the nation's largest disability charities, found that 73% of disabled people didn't feel engaged with the forthcoming referendum. This figure was the result of a survey of just over 100 disabled people. Not a huge number and not representative of the whole population admittedly, but the only number we have in the absence of any bigger disability focused polls recently.

Billy Watson, chief executive of the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) says: "For people with a disability, the outcome of the referendum could have profound and far reaching implications, touching on the services that they depend on much more than most Scots. Services such as health, social services, welfare and transport, for instance."

So how might disabled people vote? We can't assume that all disabled people in Scotland are a homogenous like-minded group, because clearly they are not. But many will be on benefits and so potentially affected by the recent cuts from the coalition government.

A disabled person getting into their car transferring from their wheelchair The referendum decision could change services for disabled people, including transport

Why might disabled people vote "Yes"? Some of those I spoke to believe the welfare changes coming from Westminster were having a disproportionate impact on them, so by voting for independence they would help create a fairer society.

A couple of disabled voters went as far as to say: "What have we got to lose by voting 'Yes' when you think of the further proposed cuts?"

It's clear that welfare changes are having as unsettling an impact on disabled people north of the border as they are elsewhere across the UK. The difference here in Scotland is that some disabled people feel they can actively avoid further changes by voting "Yes".

The Scottish government says they will halt the rollout of Universal Credit, stop the change from Disability Living Allowance to the new Personal Independence Payments and end the controversial Work Capability Assessments. They believe Scotland can easily afford to look after the poorest in society through a better distribution of wealth, plus getting more people into work and increasing Scotland's population.

And what about the disabled "No" vote? Those disabled people who would prefer Scotland to remain part of the Union say that the Scottish government's plans for welfare after independence are unclear and unaffordable. Given that the UK is struggling to maintain a large welfare bill, they ask, how could Scotland, with a population of five million, maintain disability payments for the one million who need that extra financial assistance?

Speaking on this month's disability talk show from BBC Ouch, Pipa Riggs, a blind voter who intends to vote "No" to independence, said: "It's all well and good the SNP and the Scottish Parliament giving us everything at the moment to show us how nasty the UK government has been, but once, and if, they become our 'supreme rulers', the shoe will be on the other foot, they will be the one having to watch their spending and possibly tightening their belts."

Somebody holding stirling pound notes and Scottish notes

Two of the Better Together parties, the Liberal Democrats and Labour, have pledged to reverse cuts in housing benefit which have reportedly hit disabled people the hardest. So if Scotland remains part of the UK, some of the controversial welfare changes may be abolished after the general election next May depending on the outcome.

Perhaps curiously, it's only recently that we've seen the Yes Scotland and Better Together campaigns target the sizeable disabled population as voters to be won over.

Hundreds of disabled people attended an event in Glasgow last week to question representatives from both sides of the debate. But is this attempt to communicate with disabled people coming too late in the game?

Other minorities have been courted: there are images of people of all races and backgrounds in campaign material from both sides, but none to my knowledge reflecting Scotland's large disability community. Also, perhaps further reflecting the lack of effort put into attracting the disability vote, some disabled people have complained about poor access at campaigning events and lack of accessible information.

Much of the campaigning has been done via social media, but there is also a grassroots movement taking us back to an old fashioned form of politics which has been filling town halls across Scotland, and disabled people feel as though they have missed out on much of this.

It's estimated that one million people will vote either for the first time or for the first time in many years. They've been dubbed the "missing million". The "Yes" campaign argues that these groups previously didn't feel the political process was for them, but the independence debate has succeeded in engaging them.

We know that the poorer the area you live in, the more likely you are to have a disability or a long-term health condition and so it could be that a significant proportion of the "missing million" are disabled.

Polling expert Prof John Curtice has urged caution over concluding that poorer groups could have a significant effect as it emerged that there are now fewer voters on the electoral register than 2012 in deprived areas of Scotland.

I've heard disabled people say it's up to both sides to work at including disabled people in any campaign strategy, and express the opinion that they could have a major impact on the outcome of the referendum. However, with two weeks to go, is it too late?

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Disabled singer responds to childhood bullies in song

Ilse singing into a microphone in the studio

A Belgian singer with one arm tells BBC Ouch how she composes lyrics, and also displays a talent for turning negatives into unlikely positives.

As a child, when Ilse Gevaert was teased for having a prosthetic forearm her father bluntly advised: "If you get bullied just take your arm off and hit them on the head with it."

Unlike many amputees who eventually reject the idea of wearing a prosthetic arm due to it being cumbersome or unhelpful, the Belgian has continued to wear hers into adulthood. And just as Prof Stephen Hawking hasn't updated his 80s speech synthesizer despite more human-sounding ones being available now, she has kept her original arm and hand. "It's a little heavy," she says, "but it's all I know and I can do everything with it except handstands."

She admits that the vintage prosthetic isn't ideal in a number of ways. A middle finger broke recently after attempting to fall properly in a yoga class, and, she says, "I'd love to be able to paint my nails but the varnish won't stick to the skin." Referring to an older covering, she says: "On my previous skin I could, but if I lent on a newspaper, the entire article would be printed on it."

Gevaert, who grew up in the college town of Ghent, and who has loved singing from an early age, studied psychology instead of her preferred subject music. She says this is because her parents were anxious about letting her study an arts subject. "My mom was worried because I couldn't be a waitress," she says unexpectedly, going on to explain that most actors and artists wait tables. "Mom told me I had to study something where you don't need your arm."

Black and white picture of Ilse sitting on a crate looking back over her shoulder, wearing a very glamorous dress with her prosthetic arm clearly visible

Though she was a little unhappy about taking her second choice subject at the time, Gevaert says that ultimately it has helped her to create better lyrics.

In her day job she mentors young song-writers. The degree, she says, "helps me to get to their core right away, because a young artist doesn't always know who they are.

"I always go back to their childhood: What did you want when you were a little girl or boy? What did you envision for yourself? That's who you really are. We change too much I think."

Gevaert has been living in New York City for seven years and says the first few years there were spent in poverty. "At one point I could only afford to eat bread and cheese, and then I found out that cheese isn't good for your vocal chords."

To keep her head above water, she took every singing gig offered but says she overdid it and lost her voice. She had developed a polyp, a fluid-filled collection that forms on the edge of a vocal cord when it isn't rested enough. She wasn't able to pay for surgery and her parents begged her to come home. Gevaert was then offered the chance to become a guinea pig for new laser treatment and decided to do it.

"It turned out to be the best surgery out there because they don't have to cut into your vocal cords," she says. "It's exactly the same treatment Adele had."

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  • You can hear Gevaert's track on the latest disability talk show from Ouch, available via stream or podcast.

Gevaert was told not to speak for six months after having the procedure. She believes this silent period made her a better listener and helped improve her song-writing. In fact, she cites the polyp as a turning point in her career.

The Belgian singer then quickly built a fan base in her adopted home city and went on to sell out the famous New York alternative venue Joe's Pub. She has shared the stage with Lana Del Rey and worked with producers synonymous with R&B singer John Legend and Mercury prize winner James Blake.

On the internet, the video for I am Human, the title track from her forthcoming album, has received over 300 thousand hits on YouTube and she has 90 thousand Twitter followers.

She puts her song's success down to it being "from the heart" and says it's a response to the bullying and cruel looks she got as a child.

Gevaert's album is due out later this autumn.

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Special needs changes a 'landmark moment' in education

A boy in a wheelchair with two female friends, one of them is sitting on a bench

Changes have been made this week which give children and young people with special educational needs (SEN) and their families a greater say in the support they receive. So how do the people affected feel about the new system?

The new measures are being described as some of the biggest changes in special education for 30 years. For a start there's been a name change - we now use the acronym SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities).

The new system will also give parents the option to apply for a personal budget. For the first time they can have more financial control over their child's education.

The government has said the new system is a "landmark moment" for children with SEN, which will stretch from birth to age 25. For children and young people on a statement - they receive statutory support in school - they will be moved onto Education Health and Care plans. This means the local council, NHS and school will work together to create a plan for the child.

For many of those I have spoken to - teachers, parents and young people - while the changes bring much hope there are concerns at the speed with which they have been rolled out.

There are currently 1.7 million students with various learning difficulties - about a fifth of England's schoolchildren - so creating one system that works for all is no mean feat.

Robert Bailey, who has high-functioning autism, and his mother discuss how the reforms to special educational needs will affect them

The previous system is testament to that. In 2010 Ofsted carried out a wide-ranging review of SEN and found real frustration from parents who felt they had to "fight for the rights" of their children. The inspection body carried out detailed studies of 345 young people and found that although in some areas it was working well, there was not enough consistency and equality in the support being given.

Assessments were often time-consuming and repeated a number of times leaving young people without the help they needed to reach their full potential at school.

After visiting a centre in Greater Manchester which gives extra tuition to children with special educational needs including dyslexia, autism and Asperger's Syndrome, it is clear some parents are tired. Tired of fighting for their child's education but terrified by what they are calling "the unknown". It seems these parents didn't have much respect for the old system but feel in the dark about the new one.

This fear is reflected by Robert Bailey, a 14-year-old I spent time with over his summer holidays. He has high-functioning autism, and likes routine. What he doesn't like is "the unknown" as he says the support is important for his education.

"If I didn't have extra support I don't think I would have coped, I think I literally would have snapped like a small tree branch."

A little girl with Down's syndrome playing with an abacus

Changes to SEN

  • Statements of special needs and learning difficulties will be replaced by education, health and care plans (EHC)
  • SEN support will replace School Action, School Action Plus and their equivalents
  • The system will support those from birth to 25 - instead of only those aged between five and 19 years.

His mother, Justine, is one of those parents who has battled hard for her son's education and she feels that finally they have got to a place where Robert can learn and flourish. Looking through the new Code of Practice she is positive but is concerned about the speed in which they have been introduced.

"I just hope that local authorities are geared up to put those resources into place to be able to respond to that need because one thing we can't do is wait. Our children can't wait, they need support all the time," she says.

Teaching unions are worried the changes are coming in too quickly, but the government says they have done everything they can to involve the teaching profession and have also held several courses for teachers, headteachers and special needs co-ordinators. A fifth of local authorities have been implementing the changes over the past 18 months. I went to Hawkley Hall High School, a mainstream school in Wigan which also has specialist services for children with autism. The feeling I got - both from the children and their teachers - is that they played as much of a part in the overall tapestry of the school as the other pupils.

SEN (and disability) is very important to this school - and the changes have been introduced gradually and thoughtfully over the past year or so. Roy Halford, the headteacher, is positive about many of the changes and says it will give more tailored support for pupils.

Overall it is clear that everyone I met who is involved in special education is passionate about a child's ability to learn and reach their potential and the overall consensus appears to be that these changes are a good thing, they just wish they had had a little more time to implement them.

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My disabled festival diary

Eileen Hutchinson at the Leeds Festival

Music fan Eileen Hutchinson has rheumatoid arthritis but she was determined - with a bit of help, planning and the correct facilities - to live it up at this year's Leeds Festival. This is her diary of the weekend.

Day one

On arrival, my personal assistant (PA) and I are given great directions to the disabled campsite and so miss loads of the festival traffic. I bought my festival ticket as normal and then used my reference number and proof of disability to apply for a free PA /carer ticket under the two-for-one disabled access ticket scheme. Many other major UK music festivals have similar policies.

We get to park right inside the site, whereupon my PA and volunteers from Oxfam unpack the car and put up my tent. I have brought a high, off-the-ground, camp bed, which is easier for me to get into, and a tent that I can stand up in to make dressing more comfortable.

The disabled campsite is run by the charity Attitude is Everything, a very cool bunch who believe that access to festivals by people with all types of disability is essential. There is room around each tent so that us self-described "wobblies "don't fall over guy ropes.

Picture of tents

Once settled in, I meet everyone staying at the disabled campsite. They turn out to be lovely friendly people and we immediately start talking about which bands we want to see - mine are The Kooks, and (ex-My Chemical Romance member) Gerard Way.

The disabled campsite has proper showers and toilets. There's also an info tent, with loads of helpful things including an air pump, phone and wheelchair charge points and a kettle. I use this to fill my hot water bottle, which helps with my joint pain, and to make pot noodles. Yum. You don't get such luxury on the main campsites.

I quickly discover that the disabled campsite is within the guest area, with its own bar and food place. It's like being a VIP.

Day two

Music starts today. We are so excited that we get up early, even though we stayed up whirling about to cheesy disco music until late. When we got back to our campsite last night, it was nice and quiet, with on-site security. It's hard for me to get out of bed quickly, which can make me feel vulnerable, so it's nice to know that someone is looking over my tent.

Disabled people sit on a raised viewing platform at the Leeds festival The view from Eileen's seat

I have a pass which lets me use the disabled viewing platforms. They are situated above the crowd, which allows me and other disabled music fans to see the stage from a seated position. The Attitude and Oxfam volunteers make sure that the platform has enough room and that everyone can see. People don't fall over me or elbow me in the face like they did before I found out about the platforms. It makes me feel safe.

Next we head for the autograph signing tent. My legs won't let me queue for an hour, so a lovely security guy lets me sit in a safe area until it's my turn. Then they help me up to meet the band. I of course turn into a wreck, not saying any sensible stuff to Luke Pritchard from the Kooks, only managing a mumbled "I like your suit" and "I think you are cute." Doh!

Eileen meets the Kooks Eileen meets the Kooks

The food is great but it is hard to find somewhere to sit and eat - I can't get down to floor level. There are some benches but as a disabled person, I am allowed to take essential pieces of equipment onto the site, so my PA carries a camp chair for me to sit on.

Day three

I'm exhausted so we opt for a chilled-out Sunday but then it all builds up for The Hives and Arctic Monkeys in the evening. The crowd looks amazing from our viewpoint and we can see the stage from the platforms really well.

Liz and a fellow festival-goer

Dotted around the site are disabled toilets. There is usually one beside each viewing platform, so we don't have to fight our way through the crowd. They are kept impressively clean too, which is great for those who transfer manually from chair to loo.

We wait on the platforms till the main crowd goes so as not to be pushed or shoved. Paths have been put in so that our wheelchairs or crutches don't get stuck in mud. As we head back to the campsite, we all sing "Follow the yellow brick road" because of their colour.

After swapping addresses, we all go to bed. Tomorrow, everything will get packed up again and we will be offsite with great memories and wishing it was already next summer.

Eileen and friends at the festival
Attitude is Everything

More than 3m deaf and disabled people experience live music each year, and as accessibility improves, this number keeps growing.

The charity Attitude is Everything works with musicians, disabled music fans and the industry, to make gigs more inclusive.

More than 90 venues and festivals have signed up to the charity's charter of best practice, which encourages them to go beyond legal requirements for accessibility.

Promoters that work with Attitude typically report a significant rise in ticket sales to deaf and disabled customers - often by more than 100%.


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About Ouch disability

Ouch explores the disability world in blog posts and a monthly internet radio talk show.

It is brought to you by an award-winning team of disabled journalists – Emma Tracey and Damon Rose – with help from guest contributors who all have personal connections to disability.

Ouch goes behind the headlines of disability news, and also lifts the lid on the little details about being disabled that are not widely talked about. You can add your comments on each story - click here for the house rules on taking part.

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