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RIBA Role Models

We have a long history with our client Mr Stephen Ware…

We first met Stephen when he was studying for a degree in Architecture at the University of Greenwich. We have subsequently supported him through the interview process into employment with his current Firm, Archer Architects, where Stephen receives support from a team of our Signers via the Access to Work scheme.

We were absolutely delighted when both Stephen and the RIBA approached us for BSL support for at the launch of their Role Models project – particularly as this was such a fantastic opportunity for Stephen and which reflects on the d/Deaf community as a whole. The RIBA were definitely engaged from the start and eager to ensure that the correct levels of support were in place, which is an extremely refreshing attitude and one that we do not always see as often as we would like when support is booked. I am sure some of you know what we mean…..

At first Stephen was reluctant to engage in the project – by his own admission he was very nervous about what it may entail. However, the RIBA were very generous in the amount of pre-event information they shared with us, which enabled our staff to prepare very carefully for the event with Stephen and his colleagues at Archers.

Stephen has been kind enough to share his reflections of the evening with us and we in turn are delighted to share them with you via our WordPress blog.

RIBA Role Model Launch 2nd June 2015

When I was asked by the RIBA to be one of twelve role models for their Role Model Project, I was very reluctant to take part. This is because I am a very private person. Also I was worried about the time I would have to give to it.

Eventually I agreed, but this was after a lot of persuasion from my mother (Mary Ware), Danna Walker (Architecture for Change) and Bobbie Williams (RIBA Professional Standards) who all felt that I had a good story to tell.

Before I attended the launch on the 2nd June, I read the interesting profiles of all the other role models. I enjoyed learning about their experiences and their views about diversity and inclusion. I agreed with most of what they said because it is really important for the future of the profession to start thinking now about the things that need improving. Several role models mentioned about providing more work experience in practices so that students can learn about the structure of real buildings and to go on site while they are still studying. They felt it was important to welcome more women, and students from other countries, into the profession because everyone can add something new and different to architecture. Also to encourage the interest that young school children may have in buildings.

Three role models, Elsie Owosu, Dan Benham and Maral Ramantalab took part in an informal discussion with Jo Bostock (Pause Consultancy). Their experiences and views were discussed and I particularly liked what Dan said about how he encouraged every student to try to do their best and how he valued everything they did - the good and not so good.

Among the other speakers were Stephen Hodder (RIBA President), Jane Duncan (RIBA President Elect) Jo Bostock (Pause Consultancy) and Danna Walker (Architects for Change) and they talked about some of the work they had done, and how they could play an important role themselves in making the project a success because of their experiences. I really liked listening to Danna talking about her determination to overcome the problems she had gone through as a black woman who wanted to be an architect.

After the speeches, everyone sitting at each table was asked to have a debate about various issues. On my table were three deaf people Martin Glover (architect), Chris Harrowell (design consultant) and myself, also Nicola Hughes, another architect. The fifteen minutes we were given for this was not really long enough to get through every question but we covered several important points. Martin opened our debate and spoke passionately and at length about the difficulties he experienced when trying to maintain his position as part of a team.

A lot of the time he felt excluded because of his deafness. My mother (who was my guest) spoke briefly about the need to place more value on those dedicated students from this country who have invested a lot of time and money into pursuing a career in architecture and who cannot find employment. Afterwards a representative from each table had to tell everyone about one of these. We chose Nicola because during our debate she had said that because architecture, design and buildings are such visual things then a creative deaf person who has very strong visual perception would surely be a great asset to the profession. A spokesman from another table stood up and said “people should be judged on their merit.”

When Nicola had finished speaking, I indicated that I wished to add my views. I stood up and asked that the microphone be given to my BSL interpreter and then I started to sign. Everyone in the audience gave me their full concentration. I told them about the problems that I experienced in the workplace, especially when I am waiting to receive information back via emails and the delay that can be caused when I have to ask people to make a phone call on my behalf, when I have not received a reply. Sometimes I have to wait for one of my interpreters to do this. I pointed out that on the days that I do not have interpreters I communicate with work colleagues by writing things down and by email as my lip reading skills are weak. However, it is a real bonus if people can learn a few signs for business and social interaction. When I had finished everyone clapped, I could not believe it. I was speaking on behalf of all deaf people not just myself.

Later another role model Sofie Pelsmakers said that she was amazed at how brave I was to do such a thing and it made her realise just how difficult life can be for a deaf person and that after this she looked at her own problems in a different way. Sofie asked if I would be interested in being involved with a couple of ideas she had. I agreed because this is what the project is about. Darren Bray, another role model, asked me if it would be okay if he put me in contact with an African student he is teaching at the Portsmouth School of Architecture. She is totally deaf, but has exceptional talent and he felt that my story would encourage her. I readily agreed to this.

Representatives from other tables spoke about the need for better salaries, to have more women in the profession (whatever their status, e.g. working mothers), and also gave positive reasons for educating and employing foreign students and creating more diversity as a whole in the workplace. Another important point was made regarding the need to rethink and change the seven years study period usually required to become a qualified architect. The long commitment and high fees were turning away good talent from a working class background and perhaps this is why architecture is generally considered to be a profession for the middle class. (NB My family is not wealthy and therefore many sacrifices had to be made to help finance both of my degree courses and my five years of unemployment)

Just before leaving the event, during a discussion I suggested that the RIBA should set up a careers advice service in each of their regions, a drop in centre in Central London, to provide support and training opportunities, especially for unemployed students to keep their skills up to date so that they remain employable. (These connections would have helped me greatly when I was unemployed.) My views were supported by Lucy Carmichael. Head of Professional Communities at the RIBA.

What an evening! My mother and I arrived at the RIBA building in Portland Place at 5.30pm and left after 10pm. I was so pleased that I had agreed to take part, it was one of the best things that I have ever done. I feel more confident too because people took such a lot of interest in me and my achievements and also some of the problems that I have experienced for so many years. People showed me respect and a lot of warmth. I feel that the role models will all work together to bring about many positive changes but it is going to take time.

After meeting the other role models I can see why they were all chosen from the 50 people who were contacted for this very worthwhile project. They are all passionate about what they do and are very hopeful that they can convince others in the profession to bring about change for the sake of all those people in our communities whose lives are influenced by what we do. During the evening I mentioned to several role models and architects about how fully supportive both my parents have been and that this is something that is needed for a career in architecture, especially for a deaf person.

I hope that by participating as a role model I can show young people what is possible and to tell them how stimulating the world of architecture can be because it is forever changing. Whatever direction my career takes me I hope to be able to use my skills to the full and to gain respect from the profession.

I consider that by bringing all those people together at the launch, the RIBA has achieved what it had set out to do…. to create more awareness about diversity and inclusion and to make people passionate enough to want to do something about it. People felt that it was in their hands, that it is their responsibility. However it was agreed that not everyone in the profession would be agreeable to such changes or would put them into practice.

Finally I would like to say a sincere “thank you” to Archer Architects for giving me full-time employment and a much needed income over eighteen months ago - it was a turning point in my life and career. They also employ female architects and students from abroad. These are fine examples of what is needed and I am sure that Archer Architects will gain the respect of others in the profession who are interested in this Role Model project.


After the event, Stephen updated us to say he has received a number of tweets from other Role Models at the event. He was very complimentary about the Deaf Umbrella staff he has worked with, saying he really appreciated how hard they all worked that evening. Apparently some of the speakers had accents and used some strange phrases so they had to really concentrate and to think fast to put everything over to Stephen accurately! Stephen is very keen to praise both his parents for getting him through so many challenges with his architectural studies. He credits his success to their influence and guidance.

Stephen has kindly praised the support he receives from Deaf Umbrella and it’s team of Signers too, for always being so interested in his career in architecture and most recently the Role Models Project, which he hopes will be of great benefit to him and to young deaf people wishing to have a career in architecture.

Stephen believes that having good quality support makes a big difference and that his support needs have been managed extremely well by Deaf Umbrella. We are delighted to hear this!

Congratulations to Stephen for being part of this high profile project – what an achievement indeed!

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