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PROGRAMME ADDRESS.. 1
ROYAL NATIONAL COLLEGE FOR THE BLIND.. 1
GENERAL CONTACTS.. 2
BBC Radio 4
Ian Macrae tested the new BT Freestyle 750 telephone.
For further information go to:
ROYAL NATIONAL COLLEGE FOR THE BLIND
Peter talks to David Adams, Chair of the Board of Governors at the Royal National College for the Blind, in the wake of news that the principal, Christine Steadman has tendered her resignation.
ROYAL NATIONAL COLLEGE FOR THE BLIND
Tel. 01432 265725
Fax 01432 376628
For more information on the College.
105 Judd Street
Helpline: 0845 766 9999 (UK callers only - Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm)
Tel: 0207 388 1266 (switchboard/overseas callers)
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
Tel: 0161 872 1234
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)
Tel: 0118 983 5555
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
Tel: 0800 915 4666 (info & advice)
Tel: 020 7635 4800 (central office)
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
324 Grays Inn Road
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)
Far Cromwell Road
Tel: 0161 406 2525
Textphone: 0161 355 2043
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.
DISABILITY RIGHTS COMMISSION (DRC)
Freepost MID 02164
Tel: 08457 622 633
Textphone: 08457 622 644
The DRC aims to act as a central source of advice on the rights of disabled people, while helping disabled people secure their rights and eliminate discrimination. It can advise on the operation of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).
DISABLED LIVING FOUNDATION
380-384 Harrow Road
Tel: 0845 130 9177
The Disabled Living Foundation provide information and advice on disability equipment.
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TX: 04.11.08 2040-2100
PRESENTER: PETER WHITE
PRODUCER: CHERYL GABRIEL
Good evening. Today the very latest in accessible phones for visually-impaired people; our gadget expert Ian Macrae shares his latest finds with In Touch listeners.
But first, we return to the troubled atmosphere at the Royal National College for the Blind in Hereford. The college, which provides a range of vocational courses for post-16 students in a residential setting, has been undergoing a period of radical change under a new principal and we've been hearing from a number of people, both staff and students, who've been unhappy that the changes weren't in the college's best interests. More specifically a number of staff had been summarily dismissed and it was alleged that some courses, which had traditionally led to good secure jobs for blind and partially-sighted people, such as piano tuning, were being phased out.
The weight of complaint was such that last July we devoted a whole edition of In Touch to try to find out what was really going on. In that programme we talked at length both to the chair of the governors - David Adams - who'll we'll hear from again in a few moments and to the principal Christine Steadman. Of course change in an institution with a long history - it's been going 130 years - is always painful and change almost inevitably has its casualties. It was also pointed out to us that it was very early to judge the impact of these changes.
Christine Steadman was at pains to point out the many positive things that were happening at the college, including a new multimillion pound sports and complementary therapy centre and the intention to fit students for the jobs which really existed in 2008 rather than necessarily those we depended on for many years.
Well first of all I'd like to just put the story straight. We've got more learners than ever coming through this year. The local education authorities, the learning and skills councils are buying our provision because of its quality and they will continue to do so because we live in a demand led world and we are going to be providing the appropriate courses for our learners.
So does that mean that the residential part of it will - it will stay, is that the intention?
Absolutely, there is no question to diminish it, in fact part of our build is a brand new residential centre that will open later in September, it's state of the art to enable learners to develop their independence and their living skills.
But despite those reassurances complaints to us have not stopped and we've now heard that five former members of staff are taking the college to employment tribunals. I've been talking to two former teachers who are taking legal advice - Elaine Edwards and Phil Kennedy, who had taught piano tuning at the college for many years and in that first programme told us how he'd been escorted from the premises after his dismissal. I asked Phil Kennedy what had been happening in the intervening months.
Since leaving the college I've started work as a self-employed piano tuner and I've been enjoying that work but I've also brought forward a claim against the college which is going to employment tribunal.
Yeah because when you talked to us first you weren't quite sure whether you were going to do that, what made you make that decision?
One issue was the fact that I'd heard on the grapevine that they'd actually employed somebody else to do my job and I was uneasy about that. And so I really felt in order to be fair to myself I had to take legal advice and obviously that's what I did.
Because you'd been - had it indicated to you that the job was no longer there, that's why you were being let go?
Yes that's right, that's why I'd been made redundant, that's right, I'd been led to believe the job was to cease. And I really felt very uneasy in the fact that somebody else was doing this job and consequently this was the reason I took legal advice and am now taking an action against the college.
Can I bring in Elaine Edwards at this point? Elaine, first of all, can you just explain what you were doing at the college, what your job involved?
I was charged with establishing three social enterprises, which are three businesses which would ultimately create work placement opportunities and sustainable jobs for the students of RNC.
And what went wrong for you?
The fact that seven and a half months down the line, after a major restructuring, Christine Steadman decided that it was no longer the way forward for the college.
So effectively you were dismissed, you were told you were no longer needed?
And you've taken legal advice too, I think, what decisions have you come to?
I have taken advice and I too have submitted a claim to the employment tribunal.
For what exactly?
Unfair dismissal under the guise of redundancy.
Phil Kennedy, I imagine that you're keeping in touch with the college, you still in the area, you have friends there, what's your understanding of what is happening now?
It seems to be very, very confused I think, would be one word I would use. I think really it's due to the general public now some honest transparency is needed as to what is in fact happening at the college because over these last two years, since 2006, August 2006, since Christine Steadman took over I think there's been a lack of clear leadership. One thing I would like to say Peter is one has - from my own point of view - the college has given me a career and in the years past when I studied at the college I'm grateful for that but I don't feel that is any excuse for the way it has behaved in the last couple of years.
There have also been increasing rumours circulating, both amongst staff and students, that Christine Steadman was no longer working at the college. Well there have been more developments today. Earlier today I was joined by David Adams, who's the chair of governors at the college, and I asked him if he could tell us now what the position of Christine Steadman was.
Well Christine has been on holiday and she was then sick and yesterday, when I arrived at the college, she submitted a letter of resignation and so she has left the college with effect from the end of October.
What do you understand are her reasons for that resignation?
Well she's been working tremendously hard and got through a massive amount of work in restructuring the college and setting up the new facilities, just about to finish a £50 million development programme that you referred to earlier for the sports and complementary therapy centre. We just took the keys to Orchard Hall, which is our new residential village for students and that's now in our hands. The job's pretty well done that she started, she's been working 20 hour days sometimes and many weekends and I think she wants a bit more time to spend with her family and friends and ...
But you say the job - you say the job has just about been done but surely the job is just beginning, I mean Christine saw this - the process - through, this does seem a very odd time, just when it's coming in to fruition - the sports academy is intended for its climax in the Olympics in 2012, this seems an odd time to resign.
Well there are times in life when you take a view on what you want to do, you'd probably have to ask Christine more about that. But there's an old saying that the chap who designs the ship is never the captain and the ship is redesigned, fit for purpose, we've got a terrific team of people there. Obviously a few disaffected people, who did lose out in the restructuring process, will complain and quite properly might decide to take legal advice about their position, we encourage that, it's their right ...
Five people taking you to possible tribunals is a lot of people for a small workforce surely?
Well in the context of the small workforce Peter we've had 250 new contracts written in the last 18 months and most people think that five people, who are considering - and you say five I'm not sure it's five - but five people are considering it...
We are certain that it's five.
Okay, well if it's five that's fine, it's their right and it's appropriate that they do that and it's the proper mechanism for them to talk about it.
But it's not good news for a college like Hereford to have this number of tribunals, are you really saying that Christine's departure has nothing to do with that level of discontent, both indicated by those tribunals and the programme that we did last July?
Christine's made her own decision and you'd have to ask her about that. But ...
No but you know whether the college has been concerned about the level of publicity and the fact that five people are taking you to a tribunal.
They say all publicity is good publicity, I'm not sure about that Peter but clearly what we have is a really good news story, we've got a lot of developments in the college, they're massive on the capital front, they've been very significant on the staff front but when you are doing what we're doing to try and create a college for the next century then you've got to have the team fit for purpose, professional, properly aligned with proper contracts that all match up with each other and that's been achieved.
So, for example, with the piano tuning course, which did create a lot of concern and a lot of people said - representing this as a job which wasn't really a worthwhile one for blind people in the future wasn't really very honest, are you saying that that policy will continue and that things like the piano tuning will be discontinued?
No, what we said before and what I'll repeat is the piano tuning course has been suspended, we still have all the pianos, we're working as hard as we can to find a way forward but the sad fact is - and despite what you told me last time about New College Worcester - there are no new students coming forward. I've talked to Mardy at Worcester, she says there may be two students who might be interested and we can't employ people on the basis that there might be some future activity ...
But people can't come to the college if there doesn't appear to be a future, is anybody teaching piano tuning at the moment?
It's still in our prospectus and ...
That's not quite the same is it - is anyone actually teaching it, would you get a course if you came?
Yes we have people teaching and we're working with the Association of Blind Piano Tuners to try and find a way forward.
What do you feel about the impact of all this because a college like yours does depend very much on its reputation, you have had two and a half years of disruption?
Can I just go back to piano tuning for a second because what our plan was was when we had no new learners was to actually subcontract the existing learners to another college where they do teach piano tuning, for some reasons that did not work out and so we had to actually restore the piano tuning teaching and that is happening, but on a much reduced basis for the last two learners.
And what about other courses - I mean, for example, we heard about the business development courses, what are you saying is going to be the emphasis of the college in the future, as far as real jobs is concerned?
Well very much both vocational and academic courses will continue. We're looking very much at horticulture as a way forward. In the new complementary therapy centre we'll have better facilities than ever. Gyms and health centres are flavour of the month up and down the country and we're certainly developing career prospects in those and we're doing and checking out lots of other opportunities.
You say a few disaffected people, I can't ever remember getting so much communication from a college, an academic institution, since I've been doing the programme. It's not just a few disaffected people, is it, there are a lot of people who are deeply unhappy about what's happening at Hereford at the moment.
I really don't know the answer to that, I know I've been in college this morning, I announced the resignation of Christine to the whole staff, they seemed to be - and I'm told - that the atmosphere is very good in the college and that they're working forward strongly.
Is that partly because Christine has gone?
It might be because a lot of people have gone.
Did the governors appoint Christine to do the job that she did and which she stated very clearly was what she understood as her role?
Christine was appointed with a remit and she's carried that out.
So are the governors concerned that this has caused the amount of disruption that it has?
I think it would be facile to say that. If you are moving people around, restructuring, changing jobs, starting new projects and generally disturbing people's comfort that it doesn't affect them. Change always affects people and people always resist change but the change is behind us and we're looking to the future now.
Is Christine's resignation with immediate effect?
As I said to you she resigned with effect at the end of October.
Which is in the middle of a term, which suggests that it's not a smooth seamless change.
It's as smooth and seamless as it can be, we've got the executive carrying on as normal...
So who's running the college as the moment?
The executive, its four directors.
How do you see this being resolved and when do you think a new principal will be in place?
We're debating that at the board meeting this very day, so I don't have an answer, I don't want to predict the outcome of the deliberations.
Just one final thing: Phil Kennedy said people now needed transparency, I mean you rely to a large extent on the public's good view of you, college's view of a good place to recommend to people that they go, parents view of that, students view of that - do you think that's been damaged?
Transparency's a great thing Peter and I think the college is a good employer, has been for many years, which is why you don't hear much about us normally ....
But we have heard a lot about you lately.
Lately but as I say I'm sure it's behind us. And Phil - I was surprised to hear him say in that clip that he'd started his own piano tuning business, he's been running one for years. Let's be transparent.
Okay but transparency suggests there's work for blind piano tuners to do.
Indeed there is and if we can get some students we'll take them on and we will train them.
David Adams, chair of the governors of the Royal National College at Hereford, who I spoke to earlier today. We have made every effort to contact and talk to Christine Steadman, so far without success, we would of course be eager to hear her side of the story.
Now there have been a number of developments in telephones recently, of help to visually-impaired people, particularly mobile phones but this time our gadget expert Ian Macrae has been looking more at the domestic market and the phone at home. Ian, what have you got for us?
Well Peter if you talk to people about what they actually ask for in a phone, and I think you'd agree with some of these, they want something that's easy to use, big buttons that are easy for them to find and a screen that you can read. This is particularly true for many older and disabled people who don't want lots of whistles and gongs.
Okay, so what's this one actually like, describe it for me?
Well it is quite big, it's actually about twice the size of the phones that we have on the system that we currently have at home. It's got good large buttons and they have very strongly contrasted print numbers on them. But it somehow manages not to appear clunky, that's partly because it's quite slim and partly because it's a nice kind of silver finish to it. In fact to me it looks quite kind of graceful and stylish sitting on its base.
And what about the base itself?
Well that houses the answer phone, which is another thing that people often want. Again it's got good big buttons, it's got a red LED display showing the number of messages that are waiting for you and quite often visually impaired people find those easier to read than the more conventional and modern LCD displays. And some of the keys give speech feedback, as you can hear from this demonstration.
So let's imagine I've just come in from work or whatever and I want to find out whether I've got any messages. Well there's a big button on the front of the answer machine marked play, when you press it:
You have no messages.
Oh well Billy no mates again eh. Never mind. A couple of the other buttons that talk. You may want to know whether the answer phone is on or off and it gives you speech feedback to tell you.
Answer off. Answer on.
And all these buttons, by the way, are marked in very clear quite high contrast print, so they're quite easy to use. And then finally if you want to find out whether there are any messages to delete then you press the delete button:
You have no old messages.
So Billy no mates for quite a long time then.
Quite a lot of these things you've got on phones but you have to dial numbers up to get this kind of information, are you saying you can just press these in?
Yeah you just hit the button and it tells you whether or not you've got any messages or whether there are any old messages on there that you need to get rid of.
Okay, anything missing?
Well the phone book, which is where you can store numbers that you might regularly call, friends and family and so forth, on this model has a relatively small capacity, with only 50 slots for numbers but you know who has more than 50 friends anyway? And I have to say that this is the first handset on which I've actually been able to put in names and numbers into my phone book on my own without sighted assistance, simply because of the size of the letters and the numbers that the screen displays.
And that was actually what I was going to ask you - are they on their on in this or do you think other people are trying to introduce similar kind of aspects to their phones?
I think it's fair to say that many manufacturers are becoming increasingly conscious of not just the access needs of visually-impaired and other disabled people but the fact that the senior market, if you like, of which many blind people are part is becoming bigger. But this is - for me this is the most accessible domestic phone that I've seen around at the moment.
Ian Macrae, thank you very much indeed. And that's it for today but if you've any queries or comments to make, either about the phone Ian's been talking about or about developments at Hereford, you can contact our action line on 0800 044 044 or you can e-mail us via our website. And you can download a podcast of today's programme from tomorrow morning. From me Peter White, my producer Cheryl Gabriel and the rest of the team, goodbye.
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