How to give odd advice and alienate people

Last month, Network Rail posted an awareness video on Facebook and Twitter to draw attention to the dangers of not being fully alert at level/railroad crossings (pick the term suitable to where you’re from.)

Here is the video in question:

https://www.facebook.com/networkrail/videos/1944181585605896/

An alternative link is here:

http://limpingchicken.com/2018/06/29/controversy-over-network-rail-safety-advert-showing-deaf-couple-being-hit-at-level-crossing/

On the off-chance that Network Rail are shamed into removing this advert before you have a chance to look at it, here’s the upshot, in bullet form:

  • Deaf signing couple walking down the street, signing.
  • They pass beneath an open gate to a railway crossing, with no lights flashing.
  • The female of the couple realises that she’s lost something and frantically pats herself down while her partner looks on, concerned.
  • The gates come down and the lights start flashing.
  • The girl looks down the tracks in a sudden panic and the screen goes black.
  • A warning flashes up on the screen, which reads:

    “Lives can change in a split second. Look, listen and live. #Bossingthecrossing.”

There is no question that this is a controversial advert. I spent a few hours thinking about this after seeing it (I couldn’t stop thinking about it!) but after some considerable mind-chewing, I’m still falling on the side of the fence which says, “Network Rail, you’re an abominable set of ignorant, patronising nerks.”

It’s quite loud on that side of the fence, as clearly shown on Network Rail’s own FB page, which (at the time of writing) shows 28 angry faces, two likes, and one ‘wow’. And not one of the comments is complimentary, the general gist being, “we’re deaf! not stupid!”

This is a copy of the response given by Network Rail to one of the more vociferous complainers:

“Firstly, many thanks for taking the time to write this email.

Secondly, we apologise that you feel the advert is distasteful as this wasn’t our intention to be insensitive. This particular film is part of a larger safety campaign for a wide number of pedestrian level crossing users including cyclists, dog walkers, young people, parents, and people with sensory impairments. We wanted to be inclusive so we created these targeted films to relate to our varying audiences and increase engagement, not alienate them. In addition to this we engaged a profoundly deaf colleague, Paul, and he provided valuable input before signing off the storyboards and film. Paul said “this scenario could happen to anyone from any walk of life.” Furthermore we have been working with the following charities and organisations for them to support our safety message so we best reach our target audiences:

RAD (Royal Association for Deaf people); RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People); Ramblers Association; Scope; Mencap; Dogs Trust; Sustrans, and ROSPA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents).

Finally, the purpose of our campaign films is to raise awareness about level crossing safety – it has nothing to do with ethnicity, sensory impairment, religion, or sexuality. It’s really important for us to ensure that everyone is safe around level crossings and therefore we hope you might now look to support this campaign.”

I’m sure they mean it. I used to work for the Home Office, within the Honours system. I know how much time I spent making sure things were as fair as humanly possible, while having to listen to people sneering about how the whole system was an old boy’s club whenever I went to the pub. I have a great deal of sympathy for any underling or official who’s worked like a slave to get a number of ambassadorial bodies to comment positively on a borderline project.

I can also appreciate the following basic points:

  • The earlier adverts had shown people putting themselves at risk from sheer stupidity, and no doubt they wanted to make it clear that danger also occurred to the blamelessly vulnerable.
  • There are inattentive wazzocks across all walks of life. Deaf people are not immune.
  • Level crossings are not as safe as they look.
  • Trains move faster than we think.
  • Train drivers suffer lasting trauma from accidental human impacts.
  • The folks at Network Rail are human and simply do not want people to die on the railways.

All this, I get.

But even with this burst of philosophical support, the advert is still so wrong on a number of levels. Lemme break this down.

Procedural Reality

  1. Crossing gates come down earlier for non-stopping trains than for stopping trains.
  2. If NR are seriously trying to say that you will get splatted within seven seconds of being caught between the crossing gates, then they have global safety issues to reconsider. Surely, with such a short lead time between gates coming down and trains roaring through, there should be inward-facing flashing lights, not just ones directed towards oncoming traffic?
  3. ONE deaf person has been killed on a level crossing in 30 years. One. We don’t represent the vulnerable demographic of people likely to be slain by trains.

Deaf reality

  1. We can’t hear, so we tend to pay MORE attention to our surroundings for residual hazards, not less. But thanks, y’know, for the vote of confidence.
  2. We might not be able to hear. And indeed, we might have a moment of panic about the whereabouts of our vital possessions while crossing a level crossing, but… IF A TRAIN IS ONLY SEVEN SECONDS AWAY, WE WILL FEEL THE SODDING VIBRATIONS AND LEG IT.

Wider Perception of the deaf

  1. From the mildly deaf to the profound, we ALL spend more than enough of our lives hearing the phrase ‘are you deaf or something?’  This advert does not help, with its closing warning about looking, listening and living.  Deaf people can still listen. It’s hearing we can’t do.
  2. Signers have excellent peripheral awareness. They need it. The chances of them not spotting gates closing just feet away are really quite slim.
  3. Gate visibility aside, and referring back to part 1, deaf people are NOT stupid, and more likely to confine their mad, panicked hunts for missing valuables to one side of a level crossing as a matter of self-preservation.

I could rant about this all night, but I’m not going to. I think I’ve set out the key problems with this ad, and I sincerely believe that adverts like this set back public estimations of deaf people by twenty years all over again.

We have enough obstacles in being taken seriously as intelligent, contributing members of society without this nonsense.

If you’re not deaf, but annoyed by proxy, then please SHARE. Share on Twitter, Facebook, Blogs and casual conversation. Let’s drive this kind of thinking back into the ‘unapproved’ pile, where it belongs.

Please.

 

 

 

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Enjoy the silence…

No, I’m not going to inflict Depeche Mode on you. It’s tempting, though. I remember it as being a damn good song, and I’m sure I could find a clip on YouTube somewhere…

Even so, that’s not what this post is about.

I was somewhat bemused today to pick up little man Bas (nine years old now) from school, to find him gesturing with perfect clarity and shared meaning to a teacher as he waved goodbye. All fine in principle, except that the gestures didn’t resemble Sign-Supported English (SSE) in any way, let alone BSL. I kept my distance, curious, as they exchanged hand-flurries, and waited for him to bound up to me before voicing my “what the hell was that about?” bewilderment in slightly more warm and maternal tones than might be apparent in this blog.

Here’s the thing… I’m only now learning to sign, and I’m still shit at it.

I’m learning sign language online gradually (for free and at limited speed), because although I’ve become increasingly deaf within the profound bracket for some time now, it’s only been in the last few months that my left ear has become useless through infections, making me fear that my stronger right ear might go the same way. So, to get ahead of the worst case scenario, I’ve been doing an online course in SSE, which is good enough for me to pass on enough useful signs to Bas for us to engage in mutually acceptable pre-school communications:

  • I want toast
  • cereal, please
  • I can’t find my shoes
  • seriously, where are my bloody shoes?
  • Why are you asking ME where your shoes are, you shoe-deserting berk?
  • what’s for lunch?
  • I think what you mean is, ‘Mummy, please could you help me pack my lunch?’
  • What do you mean you don’t have Peperami?
  • But I LOVE Marmite
  • If we don’t have Peperami/Marmite, then you can’t have it! Stop raging and pick something else!
  • Just popping for a pee, join you in the car…

By now, my son has some grasp of situational signing, but he’s hardly a hardened signer, and he won’t be one until I’ve found a British Sign Language (BSL) course which is both affordable and taught at a time and in a place which makes family engagement possible.

Anyway, I seem to have veered off on a tangent…

My point is this: I’m slightly terrified of other parents thinking, courtesy of Bas’ wild improvisational SSE, that we use BSL at home as a matter of course. It’s been put about by friendly mums that I’m profoundly deaf (so that people email, rather than try to call me), but there are quite a few people who still assume that profound deafness = fluent, native BSL signing. It’s almost like I’m letting the side down by still speaking. The curious looks, as I continue to largely rely on lipreading, make me feel paranoid and hemmed in at times.

Anyway, today, Bas sustained his peculiar silence until we’d left the school gates, and then explained, with no gaps between his words, “I did a sponsored silence today and raised loads and loads! It was fab! Everyone was in on it! I mean, I might have accidentally spoken a couple of times, but I don’t think anyone held it against me.”

I frowned, trying to remember if a sponsored silence event had been mentioned. I really had a good memory dig, and came up blank. I’m pretty good at school events, so this one had me scratching my head.

“Sponsored silence? Since when?”

“Oh, I mentioned it this morning as a possibility for cancer research, and my tutor signed up immediately. Said he’d put a tenner in, and set up an online page, and that he’d tell the other teachers that I was trying to keep quiet all day for a good cause.”

“Hmmmm,” I said, suppressing my unmotherly instinct that his teacher had leapt onto a rare opportunity to teach a class uninterrupted. I could picture the teachers in a huddle, agreeing on the principle of the sponsorship feat in a heartbeat, but squabbling over the most noble cause.

I love my son to the ends of the earth. I do. He’s a kind-hearted, bright lad with lots of ideas. He has innumerable human qualities, but sustained periods of quiet reflection aren’t generally within his comfort zone. Offering an opinion on anything that moves is generally more his forte.

“He was really helpful, because I was allowed to stay silent ALL DAY,”  Bas added keenly, skipping alongside me on the pavement.

I grinned cheerfully on the basis that a day of impromptu silence and fundraising couldn’t really raise any harm. “So,” I ventured, anticipating a nice quiet drive without repeatedly reminding him that I could only talk and lipread at the traffic lights (or in jams), “how about another tenner to remain silent until the England Match?”

“God no,” he spluttered, rolling his eyes as he made a sharp right turn towards the sweetie shop. “Today was a killer. Tell you what, give me a tenner, and we’ll sponsor Harry’s silence tomorrow.”

I just smiled as he got stuck into the noisy business of trying to negotiate sweets as well as funds for a small slushie.

I’ll cough up for Harry’s silence when I see a sponsorship form, and not before!