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BDA Lobby Day

Venue – the Houses of Parliament. One of our valiant team attending BDA Lobby Day.

The BDA lobby group was easy to spot - hands moving in all directions! David Buxton, CEO of the British Deaf Association, stood on a plinth and gave a general briefing for the afternoon, another BDA staff member gave a briefing to all the interpreters and assistant guides. Interpreters wore yellow ribbon sashes, and guides wore red ribbon sashes. This was very useful later on as you will see. Those wearing sashes were accelerated through the airport style security checks. Bags were scanned, I had to take off all metal items and pass through the metal detector arch. One unfortunate person had to be searched when the arch went off. Then, suddenly, through into the courtyard, with views of a lovely fountain and Big Ben we were propelled.

We continued through into the main lobby area which is the original Westminster Hall. Here members of the Deaf Community who wished to meet their MPs had to fill out, in duplicate, ‘Green Tickets’. This is a small green form with the person’s name, address, MP’s name, and reason for the requested meeting. A large double queue ensued, and the clerks seemed a little bit overwhelmed by so many Deaf people. The guides with red sashes helped with communication support, and interpreters were on hand also. On a large screen a projected list of MPs names and appointment times came up. This refreshed with new details every minute or so. Deaf people milled about, catching up with old friends. Every time an MP appeared in the lobby, a board was carried around to ‘announce’ the person and the MP, the Deaf person appeared from the crowd, grabbed a yellow sashed interpreter and started to discuss grievances with their MP.

A tour group of around 25 formed around an official Parliament Guide, with an interpreter alongside. We heard about the Westminster Hall, and the beginnings of the Parliamentary system, Henry VIII, Charles I and various humorous anecdotes, including one about Henry VIII’s tennis balls which were discovered lodged in the wooden beams recently. The group then went into St Stephen’s Hall, and then into the central lobby.

All the Deaf group were very interested to hear that at any time, they could come to the central lobby, obtain a ‘Green Ticket’ and request to meet their MP, who is then obliged to either come personally or send a member of staff to apologise if they are in a committee or waiting to speak in the House of Commons chamber. During a Deaf group viewing in the public gallery with an interpreter present, the Speaker of the House had to be informed, as he will stop the House proceedings if he discerns anything unusual or a ‘disturbance’ in the public gallery.

The security staff became a bit edgy when Deaf people were standing chatting in the narrow St Stephen’s Hall. Culturally Deaf people face each other when conversing, but security staff insisted they all sit in line on the benches which is the cultural equivalent to ‘sit down and be quiet’ and therefore not very Deaf aware.

Back in the Westminster Hall, plenty of MPs and Deaf people were engaging in dialogue ably facilitated by the interpreters. I listened to one voiceover which was a joy to watch and hear. One MP was certainly struck by the lack of progress in the facilitation of telecoms technology for Deaf people. Also on the steps various speakers addressed the large group of Deaf gathered there. David Buxton spoke, as did Terry Riley. I also saw Jason Sharpe, John Smith, Mark Nelson, and many other faces that I recognised, but couldn’t quite put a name to. In all, 300 Deaf came to the Lobby Day. Jeff Bratton-Wilson said at 5.30 as I was leaving “I hope today means that you will have taken part in Deaf History”.

Tuesday 18th March, I looked on the internet to see if the day had been reported in the media at all. The result? Not a great deal!

Hopefully Deaf Umbrella can change that today!

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