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BBC Radio 4 In Touch
05 February 2008

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Factsheet

BRAILLE STATEMENTS

Listener Barbara Morris receives her bank statements in Braille – a point that has been causing her problems when it comes to buying items over the phone because her registered address appears to be that of the company that produces the Braille statement.

CONTACTS

THE BANKING CODE STANDARDS BOARD
33 St James's Square
London SW1Y 4JS
Tel: 020 7661 9694
Email: helpline@bcsb.org.uk
Internet: http://www.bankingcode.org.uk
The role of the BCSB is to monitor compliance with and enforce the Banking Codes and to ensure subscribers provide a fair deal to their personal and small business customers.


FINANCIAL OMBUDSMAN SERVICE
South Quay Plaza
183 Marsh Wall
London
E14 9SR
Consumer helpline: Tel. 0845 080 1800
http://www.financial-ombudsman.org.uk/
Arbitrate in disputes between consumers and financial institutions.


THE FINANCIAL SERVICES AUTHORITY
25 The North Colonnade,
Canary Wharf,
London E14 5HS
Consumer Helpline0845 606 1234 (call
Consumer website: http://www.fsa.gov.uk/consumer/
Consumer Information about credit and debt http://www.fsa.gov.uk/consumer/04_CREDIT_DEBT/index.html
Regulate the financial services industry. Can advise financial consumers on their rights.


NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF CITIZEN ADVICE BUREAUX
Internet: http://www.nacab.org.uk
Online advice centre: http://www.adviceguide.org.uk


EQUALITY AND HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION DISABILITY HELPLINE (England)
FREEPOST MID02164
Stratford upon Avon
CV37 9BR
Tel: 08457 622 633
Textphone: 08457 622 644
Fax: 08457 778 878
Mon, Tue, Thu, Fri 9:00 am-5:00 pm; Wed 8:00 am-8:00 pm.
Enquiry: englandhelpline2@equalityhumanrights.com
www.equalityhumanrights.com

EQUALITY AND HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION HELPLINE WALES
Freepost RRLR-UEYB-UYZL
1st Floor
3 Callaghan Square
Cardiff
CF10 5BT
0845 604 8810 - Wales main number
0845 604 8820 - Wales textphone
0845 604 8830 - Wales fax

9:00 am-5:00 pm, Monday to Friday (an out-of-hours service will start running soon)

Enquiry: waleshelpline@equalityhumanrights.com
www.equalityhumanrights.com



EQUALITY AND HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION HELPLINE SCOTLAND
Freepost RRLL-GYLB-UJTA
The Optima Building
58 Robertson Street
Glasgow
G2 8DU
0845 604 5510 - Scotland Main
0845 604 5520 - Scotland Textphone
0845 604 5530 - Scotland – Fax

9:00 am-5:00 pm, Monday to Friday (an out-of-hours service will start running soon)

Enquiry: scotlandhelpline@equalityhumanrights.com
www.equalityhumanrights.com


THEATRE PRODUCTION

Last week Peter went to witness the rehearsals of what is thought to be the first all blind cast for a theatre production not put on by a specialist company. The play is entitled The Blind.

Peter spoke to the director Jack McNamara and the actors; Margo Cargill, Amelia Cavalho, Tim Gebbels, Andrew Hodgson, Karina Jones, Gerard McDermott.

‘The Blind’ is on at the Arcola Theatre in East London from February 4th – March 1st.

The visually-impaired film-maker Tanvir Bush went along to the opening night and she told Peter how it went.

CONTACTS

ARCOLA THEATRE
27 Arcola St
London
E8 2DJ
Boxoffice: 020 7503 1646
Administration: 020 7503 1645
http://www.arcolatheatre.com/

TICKETS FOR THE BLIND
£15/£0 concessions
£15/£10 Concession
No Concession on Saturdays
Tuesdays are Pay What You Can (subject to availability)

DIRECTIONS
The nearest station is Dalston Kingsland Station (now part of the London Overground network, so you can use Oyster), and there are a multitude of Buses to Dalston from all-over London (30, 38, 67, 76, 149, & 243).

By Tube:
Tube to Highbury & Islington then Bus 30 or London Overground
Tube to Liverpool Street then bus 149

If you require accesible transport, you might find it easiest to take bus number 149 from Liverpool Street Station and get off at Princess May Primary School (at the end of Arcola Street, a few hundred yards from the Theatre).

Peter also mentioned the following theatre companies:

EXTANT
http://www.extant.org.uk/

GRAEAE
http://www.graeae.org/


GENERAL CONTACTS

RNIB
105 Judd Street
London
WC1H 9NE
Helpline: 0845 766 9999
Tel: 0207 388 1266 (switchboard/overseas callers)
Web: www.rnib.org.uk
The RNIB provides information, support and advice for anyone with a serious sight problem. They not only provide Braille, Talking Books and computer training, but imaginative and practical solutions to everyday challenges. The RNIB campaigns to change society's attitudes, actions and assumptions, so that people with sight problems can enjoy the same rights, freedoms and responsibilities as fully sighted people. They also fund pioneering research into preventing and treating eye disease and promote eye health by running public health awareness campaigns.


HENSHAWS SOCIETY FOR BLIND PEOPLE (HSBP)
John Derby House
88-92 Talbot Road
Old Trafford
Manchester
M16 0GS
Tel: 0161 872 1234
Email: info@hsbp.co.uk
Web: www.henshaws.org.uk
Henshaws provides a wide range of services for people who have sight difficulties. They aim to enable visually impaired people of all ages to maximise their independence and enjoy a high quality of life. They have centres in: Harrogate, Knaresborough, Liverpool, Llandudno, Manchester, Newcastle upon Tyne, Salford, Southport and Trafford.


THE GUIDE DOGS FOR THE BLIND ASSOCIATION (GDBA)
Burghfield Common
Reading
RG7 3YG
Tel: 0118 983 5555
Email: guidedogs@guidedogs.org.uk
Web: www.guidedogs.org.uk
The GDBA’s mission is to provide guide dogs, mobility and other rehabilitation services that meet the needs of blind and partially sighted people.


ACTION FOR BLIND PEOPLE
14-16 Verney Road
London
SE16 3DZ
Tel: 0800 915 4666 (info & advice)
Web: www.afbp.org
Registered charity with national cover that provides practical support in the areas of housing, holidays, information, employment and training, cash grants and welfare rights for blind and partially-sighted people. Leaflets and booklets are available.


NATIONAL LEAGUE OF THE BLIND AND DISABLED
Central Office
Swinton House
324 Grays Inn Road
London
WC1X 8DD
Tel: 020 7837 6103
Textphone: 020 7837 6103
National League of the Blind and Disabled is a registered trade union and is involved in all issues regarding the employment of blind and disabled people in the UK.


NATIONAL LIBRARY FOR THE BLIND (NLB)
RNIB Customer Services on 0845 762 6843
Email: cservices@rnib.org.uk
Web: www.nlb-online.org
The NLB is a registered charity which helps visually impaired people throughout the country continue to enjoy the same access to the world of reading as people who are fully sighted.

Trustees from the Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB) and the National Library for the Blind (NLB) have agreed to merge the library services of both charities as of 1 January 2007, creating the new RNIB National Library Service.


EQUALITY AND HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION DISABILITY HELPLINE (England)
FREEPOST MID02164
Stratford upon Avon
CV37 9BR
Tel: 08457 622 633
Textphone: 08457 622 644
Fax: 08457 778 878
Mon, Tue, Thu, Fri 9:00 am-5:00 pm; Wed 8:00 am-8:00 pm.
Enquiry: englandhelpline2@equalityhumanrights.com
www.equalityhumanrights.com

EQUALITY AND HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION HELPLINE WALES
Freepost RRLR-UEYB-UYZL
1st Floor
3 Callaghan Square
Cardiff
CF10 5BT
0845 604 8810 - Wales main number
0845 604 8820 - Wales textphone
0845 604 8830 - Wales fax

9:00 am-5:00 pm, Monday to Friday (an out-of-hours service will start running soon)

Enquiry: waleshelpline@equalityhumanrights.com
www.equalityhumanrights.com



EQUALITY AND HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION HELPLINE SCOTLAND
Freepost RRLL-GYLB-UJTA
The Optima Building
58 Robertson Street
Glasgow
G2 8DU
0845 604 5510 - Scotland Main
0845 604 5520 - Scotland Textphone
0845 604 5530 - Scotland – Fax

9:00 am-5:00 pm, Monday to Friday (an out-of-hours service will start running soon)

Enquiry: scotlandhelpline@equalityhumanrights.com
www.equalityhumanrights.com


DISABLED LIVING FOUNDATION
380-384 Harrow Road
London
W9 2HU
Tel: 0845 130 9177
Web: www.dlf.org.uk
The Disabled Living Foundation provide information and advice on disability equipment.


The BBC is not responsible for external websites 

General contacts
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Transcript

IN TOUCH
TX: 05.02.08

PRESENTER: PETER WHITE
PRODUCER: CHERYL GABRIEL


White
Good Evening. Tonight: We'll be looking at one of the hidden perils of having your bank statement in Braille, and as we meet what's thought to be the first all-blind cast for a theatre production not put on by a specialist company, we also hear about some of the perils for blind actors.

Karina
I had to pour the inspector a cup of tea and I thought right I'll just do sort of it by - because I was playing a sighted part - I'll just do it by time, so if I just tip the teapot up quite quickly then that'll fill it up. I filled it up and unbeknownst to me I'd filled it completely, absolutely to the brim, and I said to the inspector: Would you like milk? And he went: Oh my god no.

White
More from Karina Jones and her fellow players later in the programme.

Being able to get your bank statement in Braille was a great step forward, but it seems, everything comes at a price; and Barbara Morris from Sheffield has been paying it. She and her husband have both been customers of the Halifax Bank for many years, and Barbara has received her bank statements in Braille. But now she's come across a snag.

Barbara Morris
We each have a cash card and every time I tried to spend this cash card or my husband's - the same with his cash card - they don't believe that we're giving the right address out. A few months ago I tried to purchase a clothes dryer on my cash card over the phone. I was told, no you can't access anything through your card because the wrong address is coming up. So I said: What do you mean by that? So they told me the address and I said oh I don't live there, it's where I get the Braille statements sent to me from. And it's that address that seems to come up on the cash card.

Gabriel
And they're not able to amend that to your address?

Barbara Morris
They're not able to do anything about it. And this really surprises me with the technology we've got today and computers. Since then we've been in touch with several people from the Halifax to try and get this sorted and I've been told you can spend money on your cash card or you can have your Braille but you can't do both. I was wondering if anybody else had had any similar experiences to me. But having said that other people that I've spoken to they are in different banks they can access their money with the card and they have Braille statements and they don't have any trouble. So why it's just the Halifax I don't know.

White
Barbara Morris talking with Cheryl Gabriel.

Well we didn't understand it either so we asked them. This is the statement we received from the Halifax Bank.

Statement from Halifax
Thank you for flagging this issue up and giving us the chance to investigate and fully resolve this for our customer. It's clear this was an error on our part and we apologise unreservedly to Miss Morris for the inconvenience and distress this must have caused. We have now resolved the matter and we will ensure that the colleagues involve receive appropriate feedback on this.

White
Ooh that sounds rather sinister doesn't it. Anyway the computer says no but now the Halifax Bank says yes. As for us we'd be interested to know if anybody has had a similar problem with any bank or building society and if so what's being done about it.

Now, we've often featured the small, but distinguished band of blind and partially-sighted actors who fight for work in this country; sometimes in specialist companies such as Extant and Graeae, sometimes as part of mainstream productions. But we think the small Arcola Theatre in the East End of London saw a "first" last night - an all-blind cast, not working with a specialist company.

Well the production seems to lend itself particularly well to this experiment - it's called "The Blind", it's a play by the 19th Century experimental dramatist Maurice Maeterlinck, and its portrayal of blindness probably won't find its way into a modern disability awareness training video.

Clip from The Blind
I'm tired of sitting here. I'm tired of being here. I feel as if we're all too far apart, let's try to get closer together, it's beginning to feel cold.

I don't dare get up.

Best to stay where we are.

You never know what there might be between us.

Well I've drawn Jack McNamara, the director, of the play aside, possibly so he can be blunt about the cast but not necessarily. We're in the little waiting area in the Royal Court Theatre.

Jack, first of all, just tell me a bit about this play and its setting.

McNamara
Well the original play is set in a kind of forest area, it's very kind of mythological, with a group of blind patients from a kind of hospital institution who find themselves lost and sitting around on tree stumps and bits of rock. And they have a dead priest in the centre of them who they don't see for the majority of the play and they discover him towards the end.

White
And what drew you to it and perhaps more particularly the idea of having an all visually impaired cast?

McNamara
I was always drawn to the play since I first read it because I was so excited just by the drama of it, or the lack of drama of it, it's kind of a completely static piece the whole way through. I suppose I started thinking why do it with sighted actors, you'd have to have a very good reason I think, for the simple reason that all the characters are blind in it. And so you'd have to have something very specific to say.

White
And what about casting it, because of course what productions always say when there are blind characters, they say well you can't - there aren't enough actors about, you can't find them, and you had to find six, so was this difficult?

McNamara
Well I was actually as strict with the casting as I would be for anything, I felt I really had to get the right people and I did - I mean, yes there are less actors probably in London that I can access but I did feel like I met quite a lot of people and had to make some difficult decisions, as you always do.

White
What about the challenges of direction for you as far as this play and working entirely with blind or partially sighted actors?

McNamara
Well I think there was a time early on when I thought to myself well I haven't actually thought this through completely, how am I going to do it, this is going to be impossible. There are a couple of things you have to negotiate between you and discover and all the rest of it - different ways of working, different needs. But I genuinely haven't found it to be more challenging because of the visual impairment.

White
Tell me about the set because when you were directing back there you were talking to Tim, you referred to the U, can you describe what the set will be like?

McNamara
Yeah, we were interested in evoking a kind of urban atmosphere more than the original but we didn't want to be too concrete with that and say you know they are under a railway bridge or they are in Peckham today. So we decided on this concrete formation, which is kind of U shaped, a kind of square U, it's something that we thought was a sort of a little island of security which all the actors were stuck on. As the play progresses they slowly move away from it. I mean the main problem with this play is why do the actors not move, is their blindness enough to keep them stuck there? What we've discovered is that at the root of the play is a sort of psychological problem - that everyone is stuck in other ways.

Clip from The Blind
If he doesn't come back we'll have to go down to the water's edge. Big ships pass there night and day and the sailors will see us on the riverbank. Is anyone ready to follow me?

Let's stay sitting here. Let's wait. Let's wait. We don't know which way to go for the great river.

[Director] If you can try and position yourself on the right side of the U which would help you, I think, because then you're right on the diagonal for later on in the play, do you see what I mean?

White
Well we paused at that point and I met the cast of six at the Royal Court, where they've been rehearsing before taking the play to the Arcola. Actors, many of whom have worked for Extant and Graeae, but with a range of other theatre experience under their belts, everything from Shakespeare to musical review, plus television and radio. Tim Gebbels began by telling me a bit more about the play itself.

Gebbels
It's a very interesting piece. It's symbolist theatre which means that it's all kind of quite funky, it's quite short but it is actually quite intense, quite a tiring piece to do because it's - the themes it's talking about are very deep and the sort of acting it requires is quite full on.

Cast member
But still isn't it, it's very sort of - I find it quite difficult to be very still.

Gebbels
Exactly, you haven't got any offs, you've got no waits where you can putter off to the dressing room.

White
You'd think on the face of it people would think oh that's good, no falling off of the stage, no tripping - is that good or is it really hard to act being still?

Cast member
You've got the concentration level that you need but it means that you can really get into character.

White
Is that actually more difficult to do, do you think, for a visually impaired actor, in the sense that you're perhaps - I don't know, I'm thinking of myself as a totally blind person - you're not maybe quite sure what to do with your face, what to do with your expression?

Cast member
I think it heightens your awareness as an actor of what's going on and what the other actors are doing and really having to focus, rather than just reel off your lines.

Cast member
Whereas a lot of times with performances you can have a lot of - just sort of everyday movement, like right now I'm moving my hands because I'm speaking - but in this particular piece if I were to do that in the middle of one of my speeches it would be really weird and out of place, so it makes you very aware of your physicality.

Clip from The Blind
Does anyone remember the way we took to get here? He was explaining it as we were walking.

I didn't take any notice.

Did anyone listen to him? We'll have to listen to him in the future. Was anyone of us born on the island?

You know very well that we've all come from elsewhere.

I come from somewhere quite different.

White
The one thing that's different about this is that it's an all blind cast coming at it as a group of actors who aren't, as it were, a familiar group of people acting together all the time and with Jack producing blind people for the first time.

Cast member
It's really nice working with all visually impaired people because we've all got the same needs. You're [indistinct words] and said actually I have to have this line fed or I need raised lines on the stages, it's all taken as read. And nothing's been a problem or anything strange, that's been so good. There are a couple of things that we thought yesterday, we were talking about taking a bow and how we'd manage it and I've never had to do that when all the company's visually impaired. So how are we all going to manage to get off the stage? Because usually you know if I'm the only visually impaired person I'll bow first and everyone will follow me or we'll do a squeezing hands method and so we were thinking oh god, how are we going to do it?

Clip from The Blind
We're here. We're all around you. Don't be scared. Don't cry like that. What can you see?

Footsteps coming this way.

Cast member
I think it's been a bit of a relief to just have the same needs because I was always feel like when I'm in a performance where I'm the only visually impaired person there there's a lot that's about that that I have to get over and that's never been a question with this at all, it's been really relaxing.

White
There almost seems to be a bit of a contradiction in a way here because Amelia said, sort of said very strongly, that it was quite good not to have all this business of being blind but that to some extent is caused by the nature of the play.

Cast member
No, absolutely not. The fact that us as the actors are all on the same playing field is a relief but that's not because of the nature of the play, as far as I'm concerned we could be doing a chorus line and that would still be the case. That doesn't have to do with the fact that the play is minimal and we don't move that much, the play is minimal and we don't move that much because that's what it calls for and that's regardless of our visual impairments.

Clip from The Blind
Something is passing under the [indistinct word].

Why did you come here?

Who are you talking to?

Our young sister.

They told me he'd be able to carry me. He says I'll be able to see one day then I can leave the island.

We all want to leave the island, we'll stay here forever.

My eyelids are closed but I can feel that my eyes are alive.

Mine are open.

I sleep with my eyes open.

Let's not keep talking about our eyes.

Cast member
I think that some people when they hear it if they're visually impaired might think oh god is it a symbolist piece or is it a realistic piece and if it's a realistic piece they might think oh well you know they're not empowering disability or empowering the visually impaired movement. So I think it's a good thing to remember that it is a symbolist piece and it's symbolic of the human condition, not of being blind.

Cast member
My whole character - her thing is wanting to see and there's this view from a lot of sighted people that blind people constantly think about seeing, which isn't true. And I in myself, if that was a literal thing, I'm not sure how I'd feel about that but there's a lot more behind it than ...

Cast member
If people come with too much of their sort of 1980s and recent sort of PC heads on, you know, political correctness heads on and they might find some of it a little bit offensive, hopefully.

White
So don't come for the awareness training course? Well look thank you all very much indeed and the very best of luck in your run.

And as well as Tim Gebbels and Karina Jones, already mentioned, we also heard there from
Gerard McDermott, Andrew Hodgson, Margo Cargill and Amelia Cavallo.

Well, that was recorded last Friday; first night was last night, and we asked visually-impaired film-maker Tanvir Bush to go along for us. Tanvir, as everyone's been making very clear, this is not about visual impairment as we would be experiencing it in the early 21st Century. So what did you make of the play, first of all?

Bush
Well the play - I was - I was very moved and very challenged by this piece. Maeterlinck is not somebody I know particularly well, he was a Nobel Prize winner for literature, I know that about him.

White
You know more than me, that's the first time I've ever heard that.

Bush
And in terms of symbolism I understand that he is reaching to find through mystery a kind of poetry that's underneath language, which is why he's kind of repressed - he's taken out all this naturalism, he's made it very, very - paired it down, as the director also in this - Jack McNamara - has done - paired it down to the very essence of the play. The repressed physicality makes this experience almost religious and I think that's what Maeterlink was trying to get at.

White
What do you think about the fact of using blind and partially sighted actors because you might almost say - it's in a funny way it's almost wasted in a sense if you wanted to show off as a blind actor because there's no moving about to be done is there?

Bush
Well that's what's so interesting about it because they're not allowed to move, because - and I think as one of the actors was saying there that she wasn't even gesturing naturally, again this repression creates a tension. And that tension is even deeper because of the blind actors because there we are as the audience gazing at actors who can't necessarily gaze back at us. And the gaze are very powerful thing and it's almost aggressive in a way.

White
That's interesting, see I'd never have thought of that, as a totally blind person, I wonder how conscious the actors are of that, maybe the ones who have got some sight would be very conscious of it.

Bush
Well I'm interested that there is this sort of - oh this is not to do with anything to do with being PC. I mean the very fact that you're a blind actor is political, the fact that you're out there, and this is a piece which is talking about disempowerment, about isolation. And there's a dead priest on the stage - is it talking about god being dead? There's a child who can see but is never heard. There's so many different levels, different things going on with this play. But to say this is not a political play is like talking about South Africa and not mentioning apartheid.

White
I guess what Gerard meant was that if you looked at it from the kind of - you know the blind activist point of view of the 1980s and 1990s, where almost everything has to be about blind people being positive, this isn't a positive image of blindness is it?

Bush
It's certainly not but you know the funny side of that is I turned up at the theatre and actually it's a very hard place to get to. And not only is it very hard if you're visually impaired, the studio is on a lower level and quite difficult to access as well. So you know there is an irony there in terms of access, which they have recognised and they'll certainly try and sort out in the future.

White
What about the performances generally?

Bush
Very powerful, this is a very good looking physical cast and they - the really rich voices and a very - the presence - this sort of repressed thing - I keep going back to this - I mean the static nature of the play with these very powerful actors who are still is - really does create this remarkable nightmarish tension. This is a creepy play.

White
So a bit of an uncomfortable watch or a listen if you're totally blind. But it's at the Arcola Theatre and it's on until 1st March. Tanvir Bush thank you very much indeed. And I'm delighted to say we'll be hearing more from you in the weeks to come.

That's it for today. As ever your comments and queries welcome, you can call our action line on 0800 044 044 or you can e-mail us via the website and you'll be able to download a podcast of this programme from tomorrow. And of course exits from programmes can be tricky can't they, just as they can be in the theatre.

Cast member
I was doing Whistle Down the Wind and I had to exit on my own after the first curtain call and there was only me on the back line, I had to exit through this door which was a completely mirrored wall. And we took our first bow then I tried to sort of clock this exit but I couldn't find it, so I was feeling my way - no one could have found it, even a sighted person couldn't have find it, it was just completely flush with the wall. And as the lights went up for the second curtain call and the principal actors came on I was still feeling my way up the wall, like Eric Morecambe you know trying to get off.

Clip from The Blind
Have we been here long?

I feel as if we've been here for centuries.

White
Oh come on it was only 20 minutes. Goodbye.


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