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Archives for January 2013

Disability arts: Has funding dried up since the Paralympics?

Emma Tracey Emma Tracey | 15:55 UK time, Thursday, 31 January 2013

A scene from Graeae Theatre's Reasons to be Cheerful

2012 was a big year for disability art, thanks to a Paralympics project, Unlimited, which brought an unprecedented amount of money to the sector. But arts funding is being slashed in many areas and the intense media focus on disability has gone, so how will disabled artists support themselves in 2013?

Testing the temperature in January, we find disabled artists facing an uncertain financial future.

Colin Hambrook edits Disability Arts Online, DAO, a well-known online forum and journal for disabled artists in the UK. Speaking of the Paralympic arts festival, he said: "Unlimited gave a real sense of value to the work of disabled artists in a whole broad range of contexts."

Not everyone was part of the 2012 festival, however. "The few individuals who got those commissions", he continues, "will now be very well networked and set-up to evolve what they do. But for those who didn't get those commissions, those who are outside the box, it is going to get much harder."

Last year, work started to dry up for disabled artists who had been employed consistently for ten to 15 years.

Hambrook says this is because there is now "very little public art being commissioned" and many artists working in schools "have seen their programmes closed down" due to loss of funds. Community art work of this nature has been mostly funded by local councils whose arts budgets were "slashed" last year, he says, adding: "Most of the UK's disability arts organisations have had to close for financial reasons in the past 10 years too, making it difficult for new people to "join the fold".

Arts funding in the UK comes from a number of different sources, including local authorities, regional development agencies and charitable trusts. But the biggest pots of money dedicated to the arts in the UK are held by Arts Council England, The Arts Council of Wales and The Arts Council of Northern Ireland, whose budgets have been recently cut. Scotland's equivalent arts body, Creative Scotland, has been told to "do more" with their funding, which has so far been protected.

Government funding to Arts Council England, ACE, is set to fall by 11.5 million by 2015. This follows on from a near 30 percent drop in funding announced in 2010.

The cuts have affected individual artists like Lincoln-based Amie Slavin, who was unsuccessful in her bid last year for funding by the Unlimited programme. Eventually, her piece Sound Spiral was supported by the arts council.

Slavin, who is blind, says she has "huge concerns" about budget cuts to the body she describes as "essential, not just as a funder but as a network and a giver of advice".

She's worried that cutbacks will lead to fewer opportunities to discuss project proposals with an advisor at the funding application stage.

"My relationship manager, my main point of contact, is being made redundant," she says. "I'll have to work with a new person who will cover a bigger geographical area and will not have years of experience with my practice."

An additional benefit is that they have funded Slavin's access needs as well as her art work.

In 2011, Arts Council England gave a boost to 695 established art groups by guaranteeing funding for core projects until 2015. These groups are known as NPOs, National Portfolio Organisations. In short, it means they don't have to apply for funding for each new project.

Nine NPOs, one percent of the total, are disability-led according to their definition. A further 44 NPOs, six percent, have told ACE that half or more of their programmes are disability focused.

All portfolio organisations have been recently encouraged to start conversations about disability and are now required to develop a diversity action plan. Hambrook thinks this is positive and reasons that the Arts Council want to move away from what he calls the "tick box culture" which has focused more on quotas than art from different backgrounds.

"They are trying to nurture an appreciation for how valuable diversity is in terms of innovation and creativity," he says, and hopes this may include more disabled voices.

The much respected disability-led theatre company Graeae (pronounced "grey eye") is one of the aforementioned NPOs.

2012 was a phenomenal year for them. Deaf CEO Jenny Sealey was co-artistic director of the Paralympic opening ceremony, and their Ian Dury musical, Reasons to be Cheerful, was performed at the Southbank Centre during the Unlimited festival and toured the UK receiving great plaudits.

Though Graeae is confident of gaining funding from a number of different avenues, Jenny says that 2013 is not a year for complacency.

"It is vital that our work carries on with even more drive and determination as there is a real danger, in light of possible cuts to benefits and the arts, that deaf and disabled artists and audiences will once again be relegated to the sidelines and forgotten. However Graeae had a phenomenal year in 2012 and we will continue to work with the government, funding bodies, trusts and foundations to make sure deaf and disabled artists take centre stage in 2013 and beyond."

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Why do people say they're not disabled when they are?

Damon Rose Damon Rose | 12:01 UK time, Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Oscar Pistorius

Oscar Pistorius doesn't see himself as disabled

Ricky Gervais' new series Derek starts tonight. Gervais says his new character is not disabled, Damon Rose looks at those who we would call disabled but who say they're not.

Comedian Ricky Gervais used a lot of energy last year trying to tell an unconvinced Twitter audience that the word "mong" has nothing to do with disability. Soon after, a similar discussion arose when he introduced his character Derek on a pilot aired on Channel 4. Lots said that Derek clearly had learning disabilities but Gervais said he was portraying someone who is innocent and child-like - not disabled.

The phrase "I don't consider myself disabled" is one we often hear, though not from a comedian who is abled bodied. Unusually we hear it from people who we judge to be disabled, even if they say not. So why is this?

Accessibility consultant Tracey Proudlock says that many who have the right to call themselves disabled, choose not to. She says: "I think it's anxiety and fear because everything around them tells them that to say they've got a disability, leads to bad things like unemployment."

Double amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius, is one of many who have used the words "I don't see myself as disabled". Successful (disabled) business people, Paralympians, school kids who've won prizes, we often see them featured in the press saying things like this, and the press love to report on their counter intuitive pluck. The press, you fancy, also want to believe it.

Being associated with the D-word rarely brings positive outcomes, so when they can, many disabled people distance themselves from it preferring to focus on other aspects of who they are.

Tracey Proudlock says this is understandable but finds the "see the ability, I'm not disabled" attitude as frustrating when coming from those who have achieved impressive things. She says: "They could be incredibly useful in my work promoting inclusion, they could be really inspiring to young people who have high access needs. So for [disabled achievers] to say 'I'm not disabled' is disappointing."

You can opt in or out of a disability identity, the boundaries aren't clear. Official forms always ask if you "consider" yourself disabled, implying perhaps that it's a state of mind. Indeed the government may be hoping that disability is a state of mind, something you can be shifted away from with help, as part of its ambitious drive to get disabled people back to work.

Perhaps the most noteworthy person who won't put himself in the disability bracket is the head of the Paralympic movement, Sir Philip Craven. He's a wheelchair user and "loathes" the word and its unspoken meanings. Before the Games he said: "Someone said to me recently that [disability] is very much a political word for differentiation." He says it doesn't normally need to be used.

Derek may or may not have an intellectual impairment. Gervais says he doesn't and the larger than life Craven would probably have sympathies as he strives for equality and respect. But if the comedy drama had conceived Derek as disabled, and said so, the programme would have to be a different beast.

"It would make it far more complex and would have to include things like direct discrimination and exclusion," says Proudlock. But Derek isn't that kind of show.

Avoiding scary words like discrimination and exclusion, cousins to prejudice and hate, are perhaps the main reason for not wanting to explore disability too directly. It smacks of a battle, and where's the fun in that?

• Derek is on Channel 4 Wednesdays at 10pm, starting 30 January.

The Great Disability Scam, as told by Kate

Guest Guest | 16:06 UK time, Monday, 28 January 2013

Kate Ansell


TV producer Kate Ansell is disabled and was part of the team who made tonight's Panorama: The Great Disability Scam? Here she mops up a few facts that didn't make it into tonight's programme and gives her personal view based on the team's findings.

Tonight, a Panorama investigation into government efforts to get disabled people back to work broadcasts on BBC One. I co-produced the film, which examines how effective the government's controversial Work Programme has been in getting Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants back to work.

The figures are pretty stark: out of 68,000 ESA claimants placed on the Work Programme since it began, only 1,000 have found jobs lasting three months or more, a total well beneath the government's already not-very-ambitious targets for this particular group.

The question is why are they so low?

During the course of research, the team and I spoke to dozens of disabled people who would love to work but feel they aren't well enough at the moment, but also to others who feel they can and do want to work, and just need support working out how to do that accessibly and sustainably.

Like most disabled people, I could tell you a thing or two about barriers to the workplace. Yesterday, for instance, I found myself prostrate on the floor of an edit suite attempting to do physiotherapy discretely so as not to freak out any of my non-disabled colleagues, while calculating the precise dose of painkillers and anti-spasmodics I could take without losing the power of thought.

Even before this week, an alarming proportion of research for this film was conducted by me, from bed, in my pyjamas, on days when getting dressed seemed like too much trouble. On occasion over the last few weeks, I'd glance at all my paperwork and get confused about which of the DWP documents in front of me were for research, and which ones actually related to my own life.

As a working disabled person, I'm not quite in the minority, but only half of all disabled people in the UK are in employment, a fact which makes me want to weep every time I hear it. Meanwhile, there are two and a half million people claiming benefits because they're too ill or disabled to work, at a cost to the taxpayer of £13bn a year, a fact which is routinely thrown around and makes disabled people feel bad about themselves.

The government has pledged to get those people back to work. Over the past three months the team and I have met many of those people - disabled people who'd love to work if they can, but either feel the workplace is not appropriate for them at the moment, or need additional help and support to overcome the barriers presented by their impairments.

The Work Programme is part of the government's answer: a £5bn scheme aimed at helping long term unemployed people back to work. Clients are referred to private companies who take responsibility for preparing them for the workplace. They're only paid the lion's share of their fee for doing this after they have successfully found sustained employment for that person.

The companies get paid higher fees for people considered harder to find jobs for - almost all the people in that harder group are ESA claimants.

The idea is that the private sector takes the risk and pays its money upfront: it's a good deal for the taxpayer, as well as life-changing for the participants. It sounds great in theory ... but in practice?

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) have looked at the figures and say that so far no blind people have got sustained employment through the Work Programme. This was telling as we'd also interviewed Jemma Brown, who's blind and has been on the Work Programme since March last year.

Jemma has been placed with A4e, the second biggest company involved in delivering the programme. She told us of her frustrations with the service she's been offered, including failures to provide her with large print materials on courses, or to offer her accessible technology in their offices. A4e told us they take complaints incredibly seriously and are already working with her to resolve these problems.

Steve Winyard is Head of Policy at RNIB. His view of the work programme is that it's been a "disaster" for blind people. This might be the kind of thing you would expect him to say when faced with those figures, until you realise that the RNIB Group is itself involved with the work programme.

The big companies involved with the programme, like A4e, can subcontract their clients to other organisations. There are thousands of subcontractors, including hundreds of non profit organisations with disability expertise. The RNIB Group is one of them and has a long track record of supporting blind people into employment. So far, the group has only had 62 people referred to them through the Work Programme, doesn't get paid much for this until people find employment, and meanwhile has invested thousands of pounds in bidding for and providing the expert services.

Unsurprisingly, Steve believes this is no longer sustainable for them.

To find out how widespread this experience was, Panorama conducted its own survey of all 348 voluntary sector subcontractors to the Work Programme listed on the DWP website, and discovered they were far from unique in their concerns.

Of the 184 who responded, 40% said they weren't part of the work programme. Of those who were, 73% of organisations who responded said they'd had fewer referrals than expected; of those organisations with disability expertise, 77% felt their expertise wasn't being used effectively.

When you meet as many disabled people desperate to work and struggling to have their needs met as we have over the last few months, you do wonder why this is the case. The answer might be money. Simply, disabled people are expensive. A provider will get paid a one off "attachment fee" of £600 when they take on a client who's on ESA. If they refer them to a subcontractor, they have to give a percentage of that fee away to them, as they do if the client successfully gets a job.

Many of the subcontractors we spoke to told us they felt the main providers were reluctant to refer for that reason. And, as Anne Begg, Labour MP and chair of the DWP Select Committee currently looking into the Work Programme pointed out, "If they are expecting to get, say, £5,000 from the government for getting [someone] into work but.. spend £6,000 on that individual getting them into sustained work, then that is loss-making for the company."

We spoke to someone who used to work for a private company, Triage, a large Scottish company which specialises in support and training for unemployed people, and says on its website it has one of the highest employment success rates in the country. It also delivers the Work Programme in some parts of the UK.

She says she heard some staff refer to clients as LTBs - which stood for Lying, Thieving Bastards.

She told us that clients were routinely "parked" if they were too difficult to help - efforts to find them employment effectively stopped. She also says she was advised against asking clients on disability benefits how they are, because it would take too much time.

We put these concerns to Triage. They told us, regarding the phrase LTB: "this is not a phraseology used or accepted by Triage. We believe this relates to a single incident, apparently almost a year ago."

In relation to not asking clients how they are, they said: "this is a misinterpretation of a constructive approach to positively working with Health Benefit clients...We have found more effective ways of greeting a client...without using words that may refocus them on their health concerns."

On the issue of parking disabled clients, they told us: "Triage's delivery structure of the Work Programme does not allow for `parking'."

Dame Anne Begg has said she will be feeding Panorama's evidence into the ongoing inquiry into the Work Programme.

Employment Minister Mark Hoban told us: "I've got relentless focus on ensuring that the Work Programme delivers to the people who take part in it. I want to see this programme get more people into work."

Personally, I really want him to be successful in his mission to get disabled people into work. All the disabled people I know want to work, and would welcome help to find a way into employment. I'd like it if they did. It might be a bit easier to do stealth physio in the workplace if there were some more of us around.

Panorama: The Great Disability Scam? is on BBC One, Monday, 28 January at 20:30 GMT and then available in the UK via the BBC iPlayer.

Blogging the week: business journalist Johny Cassidy

Guest Guest | 17:01 UK time, Thursday, 24 January 2013

Businesswoman in wheelchair with laptop

Do some companies employ disabled people just for PR value?

What are you reading on the web this week? BBC business journalist Johny Cassidy is blind and gives us his online findings, and insights, around the subject of disability.

"In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage." - John Steinbeck

It's not always obvious to those who aren't directly involved in business and economics on a day to day basis just how important they both are to society, but the last week or so has really brought it into stark focus how the downturn is effecting real people.

The raft of retail administrations has led to thousands more losing their jobs. This is going to have a very harsh impact on anyone with a disability looking for work.

An interesting blog by Barbara Otto questions some US models of employing disabled people in factories and on assembly lines

She makes some really valid points, namely, the PR that companies get from employing disabled people is the real driver behind it and not their altruistic nature shining through. Cynical? Perhaps, but I'd say undoubtedly true.

Another post that caught my eye was from campaigner Sue Marsh who was guesting on the award winning Benefit Scrounging Scum blog. She was voicing concerns over the imminent changes to the Employment Support Allowance.

The changes are due to come in at the end of the month, with the DWP hoping to cut millions from the disability benefit bill by forcing people back to work. It's bound to have an impact, but I suppose only time will tell how much. A rather tongue in cheek look at the benefits system comes from the parody Twitter account @UKJCP - that's Job Centre Plus. Well worth a follow.

Undoubtedly the big talk at the minute around the blogosphere for disabled people is the cuts. There's very real fear for a lot of people about what exactly the government will allow to happen. It's this fear that has pushed a lot of people into political activism, with the internet being the vehicle that has levelled the playing field. Together Alone, an article I read this week by Agnes Fletcher at Disability Now, gave a very succinct overview of the disabled activist landscape.

The article was written over three months ago, but hey, that's the beauty of the web. Things stay around forever.

A dangerous and worrying thought for disabled people getting involved in activism is no one knows what impact it might have on employment opportunities in the future. This week has once again seen the controversial construction blacklist story being brought into sharp focus.

On Tuesday, Cullum McAlpine, a director at construction giant Sir Robert McAlpine, confirmed to MPs that the company had checked workers against the list to protect against "deliberatively disruptive or unlawful" behaviour on sites.

One of the most notorious cases of construction blacklisting happened in the 70s. A group of workers who became known as The Shrewsbury 24, were jailed for standing up for their rights as workers. The most famous of this group is comedian Ricky Tomlinson who blogged about the issues and their continuing fight for justice.

There's no evidence to suggest any disabled activists are on any sort of employment blacklist, but by the same token, there's no reason to think that it's not a real possibility. Hopefully someone will do some work on this in the future.

This week has seen the great and the good of the financial world gather at the Swiss ski resort of Davos. Whilst we've all been floundering in two or three inches of snow, hundreds of the worlds richest and most influential business people have come together in proper snow to discuss the economic future of the rest of us. A report published earlier this week though by @Oxfam paints a rather bleak picture of how the spread of wealth across the globe has changed.

In the report, Oxfam's Chief Executive Barbara Stocking says that the £150billion amassed by the worlds 100 richest billionaires would be enough to lift the worlds needy out of poverty 4 times over. A sobering thought and proof, if proof be needed, that the gap between the haves and have nots, is growing ever wider.

Despite the obvious chimes of doom and gloom in my choice picks from the web this week, there's also been quite a few funny moments. If you get a minute or so, check out the latest offering on YouTube from @Cassetteboy.

Very funny and proof that cynicism is alive and well and doing just grand thank you very much. I'll never look at President Obama in the same way again.

You can follow Ouch! on Twitter and on Facebook.

Five disability people to follow on Twitter

Hotch Potch | 11:42 UK time, Thursday, 24 January 2013

Ouch's Hotch Potch mosaic

Amid anxieties that social media and mass sharing of ideas could be changing our very identity as human beings (gulp) ... we're bringing you a list of disability community people who we think you might like to follow on Twitter.

The positive sporting fever of last summer brought many Paralympians to the fore on the social network and anti welfare cuts campaigners have been building a respectable profile over the last two years.

Here's our list, we welcome any other recommendations in the comments below or direct to us via @bbcouch on Twitter.

Sue Marsh (@suey2y - Had it not been for social media, Sue probably wouldn't be campaigning. One of the new band of activists, her work has since gone beyond the internet to party conferences and you can hear her on Radio 4's You and Yours programme next Monday. Presently she is fighting against government welfare amendments from her hospital bed.

Recent tweet: "Patients come, patients go. I'm still here. Kind of like the treatment room or the sluice"

The minister for disabled people (@MinisterDisPpl) - The position is now held by former TV presenter Esther McVey, MP. Find out where she is and what she's doing. This feels like more of a signed-off government account than a personal account from Esther, though. So if you like personal insights, you might want to follow her other Twitter account @EstherMcVeyMP.

Recent tweet: "AccessToWork is very cost effective. The Sayce Review described a net return to the Treasury of £1.48 for every £1 spent"

Francesca Martinez (@chessmartinez:) - The comedian with cerebral palsy has been around for a while but is presently enjoying a post Paralympic bounce which is not to suggest she's not funny or talented - haven't you heard her getting laughs on Radio 4's News Quiz lately? Francesca has recently put her money where her mouth is and got all anti-cuts political by setting up the War on Welfare website and a petition calling for everyone to pause and think about the proposed reform, in a nutshell.

Recent tweet: "Francesca Martinez posted Please keep signing & retweeting #WOWpetition to protect the human rights of disabled people & carers! Nearly at 16000!" (100,000 could trigger a debate in parliament)
Ellie Simmonds (@EllieSimmonds1) - The swimmer from all the Paralympics posters, Ellie won two golds, one silver and one bronze medal at London 2012 and is now becoming a bit of a TV celeb too. This week she did rather well in Great Bake OffThe Great Comic Relief Bake Off in a week where fellow Paralympian Jonnie Peacock was on ITV's All Star Family Fortunes too - oh feel that aforementioned bounce.

Recent tweet: "Hope you are all enjoying the GBBOComicRelief, my chocolate and orange scone recipe!"

&bull Neil Crowther (@neilmcrowther) - Neil is worth a follow for his constant fresh thinking and retweets around disability, living and policy. He's a consultant in the field of human rights and disability and keeps an interesting blog too.

Recent tweet: "Something worth striving for? The Independent Living Act 2015"

You can follow Ouch! on Twitter and on Facebook.

Why an easy to read newspaper is needed for people with learning disabilities

Emma Tracey Emma Tracey | 12:03 UK time, Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Picture of a new NHS newspaper for people with learning disabilities


A newspaper for people with learning disabilities is to be launched at the House of Commons today. But why do learning disabled adults need a separate news source? And What will it look like?

When someone with learning difficulties says they're interested in the news yet seemingly don't understand all aspects of each story, then perhaps there's a problem that needs solving.

"I don't know why all the shops are closing down," said John Nettles, a 40 year-old from Trafford with learning difficulties, "but I want to know."

He was particularly upset by news reports he'd heard relating to one of his favourite haunts, HMV - the long-established music retailer that went into administration last week. Perhaps relating it to the recession news, he complained to the United Response charity: "David Cameron stole all my DVDs."

In this instance, it's less about the double dip economic problems we hear about on the news daily, and more about the march of technology and how consumers are purchasing their music on the internet rather than on the high street. But with such big concepts regularly fed to us in an ever more complex world, it's understandable that some people might get mixed up.

United Response has discovered that just one in 10 adults with a learning disability read newspapers. A third of those who don't read them say its because they find the stories difficult to understand.

Spokesman Jaime Gill explains: "They might have limited or no reading ability or, the language used is so complex and full of jargon that they can't grasp what's being said."

There's more jargon around than we might realise. Politicians are some of the biggest language offenders, says Jaime: "They regularly churn out phrases like 'European realignment' or 'boundary changes'," expecting that everyone will understand what they mean.

According to a survey of 133 people with learning disabilities, mostly comprised of those who use United Response's independent living services, 38 per cent feel the news in papers is irrelevant to them but 56 per cent of those surveyed said that they would read the newspaper if it were made easier to understand.

Enter Easy News which the charity claims is the UK's first paper for adults with learning disabilities.

Picture of a new NHS newspaper for people with learning disabilities


The stories you'll see in the paper have been collaboratively chosen by in-house producers and learning disabled people who get paid for their work.

Jaime says: "For every issue, we'll present a range of stories to consultants and they get to decide what goes in to the newspaper". The consultants he refers to are people with learning difficulties, who, with support from a facilitator, are also employed to translate documents to Easy Read for external clients like banks.

Their research found that the learning disabled adults were most interested in news about money and benefits, transport, sport, health and celebrity gossip.

"The first issue recaps stories from recent times like the Jubilee and the sentencing of workers at Winterbourne View," says Jaime. "For future editions, we'll give them more current news stories to work on. "

We help them to pull out the key points. They decide as a group what is most important and what pictures to use. It is then Sent back to us and we design it."

Easy Read is where big type, simple language, clear layout, pictures and symbols are used to turn complex ideas into a more digestible form. The format was developed for use by people with learning disabilities but it is thought that others can benefit from it too, like those for whom English is a second language, people with general literacy difficulties or those whose eyesight is failing.

Last year the widely circulated Spartacus Report written by grassroots activists was reproduced in Easy Read form by United Response. Both parties felt that, due to it having details about ongoing welfare reform and its impact on disabled people, it was important to do so. The high level of positive reaction led United Response to have confidence in the idea that, with the right support, learning disabled people could become engaged with current affairs.

Activist Kaliya Franklin, who suggested the document's translation, saw it as a great way to get the complex details of disability rights campaigns across to people with learning difficulties and has been helping with the newspaper ever since.

The resultant publication will be produced every two months throughout 2013. At present it's a pilot project and gets most of its money from the Big Lottery Fund.

Pictures are at least as important as the text in Easy News. Unlike in other papers where photos play more of an illustrative role, Easy Read images and icons may literally tell the entire story.

"Having simple words right next to pictures helps people understand the news", says John Nettles, also one of the consultants on the first edition. "I can't read but I hope something like this could help people like me learn to read. It's important to know what's going on in the world."

• Take a look at Easy News for free on the United Response website.  

You can follow Ouch! on Twitter and on Facebook.

From bedroom to Big Apple: UK disabled rapper's album gets star producer treatment

Emma Tracey Emma Tracey | 08:41 UK time, Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Rapper Kray-z Legz

Man of the Street, is the title song from the debut album by Kray-z Legz, a new UK rapper with spina bifida.

Mixed in New York by well known hip-hop producer Anno Domini, the autobiographical track is about the rapper's childhood. During this time, Kray-Z Legz had over 30 painful operations. It includes personal lyrics like: "U had to be the man, who had to stand strong. Always stood by my side, Every time time every op."

The 24 year-old wheelchair user comes from Street in Somerset, which is arguably a little less "street" than New York and California where established disabled rappers Four Wheel City and Krip-Hop Nation, can be found.

Music has always been important to Kray-z Legz, aka Mark Humphries, who started playing the violin aged four. In his teens he became known locally as a drum and bass MC, working with acts such as Grooverider, and Drumsound & Bassline Smith.

Other words from the track: "Still I love u dad, Even now I'm a man. I'm a make things right, take ya hand from the can" Refer to this period of Mark's young life, spent living with his then alcoholic father.

Mark was failing English before he started writing songs. Penning lyrics led him to study poetry which helped him pass his exams. He went on to do a catering qualification before focusing completely on his first love, music.

All the lyrics are written and recorded in the home studio Mark and his best friend Gavin saved for years to create. They plan to release Man of the Street on their new record label, Lost4tz. But Mark has yet to make any money from his musical endeavours.

Sought-after US producer Anno Domini mixed the album for Kray-z Legz; he has also produced tracks for top artists Wu-Tang Clan and D12. He did the work for a nominal fee of 150 dollars because, in Mark's words: "He knows that I am in a wheelchair and live on benefits and would otherwise have been unable to afford to do it."

We'll play Man of the Street, by Kray-z Legz, on the next Ouch! talk show which you can download here from early February.

The album of the same name is due for release as a download next month.

You can follow Ouch! on Twitter and on Facebook.

Deaf women's football: The lowdown and the road to the Deaflympics

Damon Rose Damon Rose | 10:19 UK time, Monday, 21 January 2013

GB deaf women's football squad

The GB team need £50,000 to make it to the Sofia Games in July

Twenty-three year old Claire Stancliffe hopes to be going with the GB deaf women's football team to the Deaflympics this summer. With no national funding though, they're struggling to raise money to get themselves there. But many don't understand why deaf people want to play separately from non-disabled hearing people in the first place.

The 2009 Deaflympics were held in Taipei, Taiwan. Claire played at those Games which were attended by over 3,000 athletes.

"Their government spent 30 million pounds on just the opening and closing ceremonies," says Claire. "It was amazing and a once in a lifetime experience. The atmosphere was out of this world. I was being noticed and asked for autographs everywhere I went."

Women's deaf football was included in the Deaflympics for the first time in 2005; in 2009 the team came fourth in their event at the Games.

As in life, successful communication is the biggest challenge in deaf sport, rather than physical, cognitive or visual impairments that we're more familiar with from the Paralympics.

"It does take a while for the squad to understand certain tactics," says Claire about the training sessions. During gameplay, she says the referee has a whistle but also a flag: "Players cannot be penalised for continuing play unless it's obvious they saw play has stopped. The players who are aware that play has stopped will help by raising both hands above their heads."

When deaf people play together they can communicate more successfully as they use sign language and hand signals between themselves. But beyond that, Claire says she has a sort of sixth sense, a learned awareness, and can tell where other players are on the pitch even if she can't directly see or hear them.

"Recently we competed at Keele Cup and another manager said how amazing our awareness was and was wondering how he could improve his own team,"
says Claire. "But awareness is not something you can coach. Deaf individuals grow up and naturally learn to be aware."

She notes that deafness can affect balance in some players and others have difficulty playing in the dark.

Claire plays for AFC Rushden and Diamonds the (mainstream) women's football team. There is only one 11-a-side women's team in the country Fulham Deaf Ladies FC but no league due to the relative small number of players, hence many of the women come from mainstream sides.

You'd be forgiven for thinking that Deaflympics is a new thing but it pre-dates the Paralympic movement by 36 years. The first big Paralympic Games were in Rome in 1960 whereas the first Deaflympics were in Paris in 1924.

At the Deaflympics, rules for all games are the same as standard rules. The main differences are that athletes must have a 55 decibel hearing loss in their better ear, and, when on the field they must not wear hearing aids or cochlear implants to ensure equal advantage.

There are no starting guns to begin races, instead a traffic light system is in place to indicate to the athletes when races start.

All funding for Deaflympics was stopped by UK Sport, the main funder for Paralympics and mainstream sports, back in 2008 as budget priorities got tighter with London 2012 in sight. A small amount of national fundraising for grassroot development does remain.

The vice chair of UK Deaf Sport, Stuart Harrison, understands the budget change but sticks up for deaf sports people in competition. Controversially he says that at the Paralympics "the spectacle of them being mobility impaired is a higher draw than wanting to see them get their times down. With deaf sport it's about the times."

The summer Games are to be held in Sofia, Bulgaria, from July 26 to August 4.

The deaf women's football team have an estimated 50,000 pounds to raise and are not even half way towards their target.

Claire, whose day job is sports coach to primary school children, is presently trying to raise money for herself and has received support from Liverpool FC, West Bromwich Albion, donations from the public, and hopes to hold an event with Rushden and Diamonds soon. She believes she can do it.

If they pull out they face a big fine from the Deaflympics organisers. Claire says: "To lose a lot of money could potentially destroy the squad. However I am hopeful we can do it. The public have been so generous so far."

You can follow Ouch! on Twitter and on Facebook.

Blogging the week: One in Four's Mark Brown

Guest Guest | 07:44 UK time, Friday, 18 January 2013

Mark Brown

With so much on the web, it's hard to know what to read or watch. Mark Brown is editor of One In Four, a glossy quarterly about mental health and lifestyle and is very "out" about his own mental health history. Here's what caught his attention in the online world of disability over the past seven days.

I'm a big fan of social media and the possibilities it presents for people with disabilities, including people with mental health difficulties. I think social media is finally taking its place as a particular force of its own with other aspects of civic and political life. It's like the opening up of a new frontier.

On 14 January We are Spartacus put out their response to the proposed changes to eligibility for Motability that will occur along side the planned replacement of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) with Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

We are Spartacus are fantastic: Somewhere between a network and a movement, they've come together via social media and are generating high quality research in response to proposed changes in government policy around benefits for disabled people, doing so with next to no money, and quicker than charities and think tanks.

The report, Emergency Stop, is an update of their previous report Reversing from Recovery which came out in 2012. It makes for scary reading. To quote the executive summary: "It is estimated (using DWP projections) that, once PIP has been fully implemented in May 2018, 42% fewer working age disabled people, and 27% fewer disabled people overall, will be eligible for the Motability car scheme." The groups findings were covered by BBC News on Monday.

One of the remarkable things about We Are Spartacus is that, despite responding to things that are pretty grim and depressing, the campaign and its actions maintain a sense of optimism and approachability.

This week I also read The Centre for Welfare Reform's report A Fair Society? How the cuts target disabled people. It was written by Dr. Simon Duffy on behalf of The Campaign for a Fair Society. The movement, launched in February 2011, is governed by a steering group comprising people with disabilities and disability organisations and supported by similar.

It's a pretty angry document, closer to a traditional manifesto for political action, seeking to point out how unfair the cuts that target disabled people are.

The relative newness of mass social media means that, in lots of situations, the rules haven't quite settled yet on the right way to use it. There are differing understandings of what is correct and appropriate and what isn't. Especially fascinating is the interaction between what organisations think is right and what individuals think is right.

Victoria Betton is deputy director of strategy and partnerships for
an NHS Trust in Leeds and, as part of her PhD, has been exploring the interaction between mental health services and social media. This week she published a blog post which details the existing guidance to NHS Trusts on social media usage by mental health inpatients.

Allied to that, in a recent joint post with mental health tweeter and blogger ChaosandControl, ChaosandControl asks: "Not that long ago, a pocket watch was the must have latest gadget. Were patients allowed to keep them when they were admitted to the asylum? Or, did they have to refer to the clock in the main building several fields away?"

So, are concerns about the use of social media by people with mental health difficulties legitimate? Or are current fears just based on the possibility that new technology will disrupt the way things have previously run?

I'd suggest that social media has a big potential to change things, because it connects people directly to other people without anyone standing in the middle, leading them to form new links and find out things they wouldn't have otherwise learned.

If you want to use social media in hospital you need to be able to connect to the internet, so I was chuffed to come across John Popham and his #freewificampaign on Twitter asking all hospitals to offer patients free Wi-Fi. It's obvious that people would want to use the internet when in hospital, but the NHS hasn't caught up yet.

Finally, here's an example from this week of where using social media can mean you're more in the loop than before it came into existence.

Comedian and actress Francesca Martinez appeared on BBC Breakfast on Tuesday. She talked about her upcoming tour and what it was like being a "wobbly lady" and performer - she has cerebral palsy. But if you follow her on twitter, you may have been expecting a very different topic to be discussed.

Martinez is the person who started the WOW (War on Welfare) petition, asking the government for a "Cumulative Impact Assessment of Welfare Reform, and a New Deal for sick and disabled people based on their needs, abilities and ambitions."

This is the successor to Pat's Petition, which asked for similar government reconsideration but failed to gain the 100,000 signatures necessary to trigger a debate in Parliament.

Many on social media had thought the Breakfast interview would be an opportunity to discuss the petition and why disabled people and allies would like the government to reconsider some of its decisions. But they and Martinez were surprised that this topic did not emerge on the programme.

As she tweeted to her nearly 8,000 followers later that day: "Gutted I couldn't mention #WoW Petition- needed more time!" And: "I was told they'd ask me about welfare cuts so I was geared up to talk about WOW but interview was over before they did!"

Sure, it's not a conspiracy that'll bring down a government, but still an example of where social media can give you a chance to see just what goes on backstage and to get an idea of how things do, or don't, happen as expected.

• For the government's view on planned changes to disability benefits, visit the DWP's pages about welfare reform

• Mark Brown was on the January edition of Ouch's talk show, available to listen to or download as a podcast. With his smooth and considered way of talking, we've dubbed him the Brian Cox of mental health.

• Next Friday: Blind BBC business journalist Johny Cassidy will be blogging the week.

You can follow Ouch! on Twitter and on Facebook.

Accessible "brothel" for disabled people to open in 2014 [updated]

Emma Tracey Emma Tracey | 09:10 UK time, Wednesday, 16 January 2013

A woman in a room, lit by a red light

One of the UK's most famous madams, Becky Adams, ran brothels for over 20 years. Now the Buckinghamshire based 44-year-old plans to open what she calls a "sexual health centre", specifically for people with learning and physical disabilities.

"We realised that there seems to be a great need for people with disabilities to access sexual services, slightly like they do in Europe," she told BBC Radio Ulster's Stephen Nolan on Tuesday. "So we're basically fulfilling that need in England."

Adams says that disabled people can and do form sexual relationships in their own right. She tells Nolan that, in her experience, they also want access to sexual services as much as non-disabled people do, yet can face physical barriers as sex professionals don't have accessibility on their mind when they establish their service.

"Working ladies often set up in a flat above a chip shop which is difficult to access," she says, "so it is about setting up somewhere that is totally accessible."

Premises which sell sex, known as brothels, are illegal in the United Kingdom. But Adams has an answer ready for this. She believes that her project has a higher positive purpose, maintaining that: "If you are educating or training people with disabilities with their sexual functions, it is not a brothel."

Adams plans to furnish the centre with ramps, hoists and other helpful equipment.

She has invested 62 thousand pounds in the project, which is due to open in 2014. Though the centre may be a year away, Adams says she is already providing an "enabling" sexual service called Para-Doxies for people with disabilities, based out of Milton Keynes. The name of her service is an old English word for prostitute.

Adams says Clients can be men, women or couples, and come from a range of backgrounds.

"We see service men who've been wounded. They are going through traumatic times and so choose not to try and form a relationship. They like to boost their confidence by seeing a lady and maybe having a massage."

The women, who she refers to as body workers, sometimes show men with autism how to chat up girls. Sex, Becky explains, is often not on the cards.

"A lot of our clients have no ability to perform a sexual experience," she says, "it could be just about holding somebody naked skin to naked skin for an hour."

The not for profit company has been running since last year and Adams says she already receives around 12 enquiries a week. The service aims to help disabled people to find workers and there are experts available to give advice to disabled people, parents and carers, on any legal questions arising.

Peter Lynas is Northern Ireland chairman of the evangelical alliance, the largest body representing evangelical Christians in the UK. Joining Becky on the Nolan programme, he comments that "difficulties in forming relationships could be due to disability but it could also be due to the unwillingness of society to accept disabled people."

He is concerned that her service might be exploiting that lack of acceptance rather than helping to fix it.

Lynas suggests that putting "two vulnerable groups together" in this way- prostitutes and disabled people - is "not a good combination".

He cites a recent formal dance evening between regular and special schools as a good example of intermingling and believes there is a host of "healthy" ways for young people to form a relationship rather than "separating sex from relationships".

Defending her service, and the people involved in it, Adams says: "We have a very small number of ladies, most of whom have come from the nursing profession or caring profession. They see themselves as holistic body workers, rather than prostitutes," Becky explains, "and Most work on a voluntary basis."

Does the service cheapen the idea of sex? Adams doesn't think so.

"From the comments we get from clients, they have a much better human experience afterwards, because many of them were in residential care all their lives and have no human experience.

"After his first session with a body worker, one client said that he hadn't realised women have warm skin."

[Update: Thursday 17 Jan:]

Becky Adams has since appeared on Thursday's Jeremy Vine show on BBC Radio 2. Click the play button below to listen to the discussion.

You can follow Ouch! on Twitter and on Facebook.

It might be 'silly' but I don't want DLA says disabled journalist

Damon Rose Damon Rose | 09:24 UK time, Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Sean Dilley


As the fractious national debate about benefit reform rolls on, a disabled political journalist admits he doesn't draw what he knows he's entitled to.

Sean Dilley, a freelance parliamentary lobby journalist for Talk Sport and others, says he chooses not to receive Disability Living Allowance - a non means tested benefit which covers those extra daily costs you have as a disabled person.

He is blind and uses a guide dog. In Sean's case, he may be turning his back on over £400 per month.

Speaking on January's talk show from Ouch! he explains that refusing benefits is a "very personal" thing for him and bashfully adds: "This is my own pride and my own sort of ego."

Though Sean has chosen to stay out of the disability benefits system, he tells how he almost returned to claiming DLA again fairly recently: "About three or four years ago, I was thinking, well, crikey, I'm spending a heck of a lot of money on taxis and everything else - I'll do them. And I did the form."

The form is said by many to be long, and difficult to fill in.

Sean says it asks very personal questions: "I got my references, I got my medical stuff all together and, on the day that I actually went to post it, I thought well do I really want to put myself back in that system?"

As well as not wanting to "beg" or feel beholden to the state, he believes that staying financially independent simplifies his position as a journalist.

He speaks to politicians for a living and has to ask them difficult questions, sometimes on this subject.

Sean says: "I just like the fact when I'm interviewing be it the prime minister or anybody else, I can, if you'll forgive the expression, 'look them in the eye and say: 'If I'm quizzing you now about welfare it's not out of self-interest.'"

Sean does, however, take advantage of the Blind Person's Tax Allowance - an income tax concession on his earnings.

Three million people in the UK claim Disability Living Allowance though the Citizen's Advice Bureau note that there are 11 million disabled people so up to a potential eight million more are entitled but don't claim. This year, the much-loved DLA is due to be replaced by PIP, Personal Independence Payments, in order to save taxpayer money and target those who need help most.

Though he chooses to remain outside the benefits system, Sean doesn't encourage others to follow his example: "everybody, no matter what you earn, is entitled to those benefits. We do have extra costs with taxis and stuff so do claim it, don't do what I do, because I'm an idiot."

• You can download the Ouch! talk show and subscribe to it as a podcast on iTunes. Details are all on this helpful page where you can also listen to it right now, streamed to your computer. Ouch! is a monthly show and exclusive to the internet.

My web: Hawking's birthday, #Cut4Justin, Braille

Emma Tracey Emma Tracey | 09:15 UK time, Friday, 11 January 2013

Stephen Hawking at the Paralympics

With so much stuff on the web, it's hard to know what to read or watch. Our own Emma Tracey brings you what's caught her attention this week in the world of disability.

Stephen Hawking turned 71 on Tuesday. He's one of the world's most famous disabled people and so very clever too, but as someone who uses a computer with synthetic speech, it is his robotic voice which always grabs my interest. Quirky blogger Maria Popova has posted-up a long forgotten film about the life of the celebrated physicist; it's called A Brief History of Time, the same name as his famous book. The 1991 production features original music by Philip Glass, interviews with his family and close friends, plus, an older, slightly less understandable version of that famous voice.

The hashtag #Cut4Justin was trending Monday evening on Twitter. The pop star had been photographed smoking a joint and fans were posting pictures of self-harm injuries, apparently inflicted in a plea for Justin to stop taking drugs. Outraged tweeters then claimed that Bieber fans had 'hijacked' a real mental health problem, and were using it to show their devotion.

Lived experience bloggers have helped me understand lots of disability things over the years and this post by Rosie Mullender in Cosmopolitan is no exception. Rosie cut herself for over a decade. She says that any one of these girls is "very likely to have self harmed in the past, and is using the hashtag - however misguidedly - to expose her suffering to a wider audience; a cry for help seen by millions more than her usual handful of followers."

Actor Michael J Fox, who lives with Parkinson's, is to star in a new show. The Associated Press reported on Sunday that Fox will play a newscaster in a US TV comedy based on his personal experiences of Parkinson's. In the series, due to air on NBC in the US in September, Michael J Fox leaves his job due to the illness but returns when a new medical regime starts controlling many of his symptoms. He currently plays lawyer Lewis Canning in The Good Wife which I really enjoy because he uses the discomfort of colleagues on witnessing his physical jerks and other symptoms, to gain sympathy and win cases. It'll be interesting to see how Fox portrays the condition in the new show. And it's rather impressive that he's continuing to get jobs and is keen to explore his life with Parkinson's.

Why depression has made me a better doctor. This was a blog post by Dr Ronan Cavanagh which caught my attention on Saturday. The piece is a great insight into the life of someone with a unique point of view.

Cavanagh, a rheumatologist from Galway in Ireland, writes that he can see the system from a patient's perspective and is more empathetic as a result. "It has made me much more attuned to psychiatric symptoms in my patients (even when they may not be aware of them themselves) and to develop a language that allows me to engage them in discussions about their mental health in a non-threatening way."

He says that as many as a quarter of doctors will meet the criteria for a depressive illness by the end of their first year of training and up to 51 percent of female doctors have a lifetime history of depression.

World Braille Day took place last Friday. To celebrate, History Today magazine tweeted an article from their archive on the life of Louis Braille, inventor of the famous tactile reading method for blind people. It is hard to believe Braille has only been around since 1829. Before technological advances caused the medium to become less than essential, it was the one and only way for blind people to access the written word. And it was particularly welcome for me as a child in a blind boarding school, when I was desperate to continue with that Enid Blyton adventure after lights out.

• Emma Tracey is a Broadcast Journalist at the BBC. She's been blind since birth, has a natural love of accessifying technology and her idea of a good night in is watching a box set of Grey's Anatomy with Twitter and a glass of wine.

What were your favourite links from the past seven days? Let us know in the comments.

You can follow Ouch! on Twitter and on Facebook.

Do disabled people work in forensics like in Silent Witness?

Emma Tracey Emma Tracey | 11:39 UK time, Thursday, 10 January 2013

Liz Carr as Clarissa Mullery with her working partner Jack Hodgson.

Clarissa Mullery with Lyell Centre colleague Jack Hodgson

A new regular disabled character appears on Silent Witness from this Friday.

The long-running BBC One crime drama follows four forensic experts as they attempt to uncover the truth behind suspicious deaths.

Wheelchair user Clarissa Mullery, whose arms and hands are also affected by her impairment, will join as a forensic lab scientist at the Lyell Centre from the second episode of this series. But are there disabled people doing this kind of fascinating job in real life?

In fiction, disability is no barrier to working in forensics.

Clarissa Mullery is preceded on television by CSI's coroner Dr Robbins, played by double amputee Robert David Hall. And in books, by Jeffery Deaver's forensic consultant Lincoln Rhyme, who is quadriplegic.

Rhyme gained his expertise prior to becoming disabled; the field work and other physical aspects of his job are now carried out by a partner. Dr Robbins' physical impairment is rarely referenced in CSI and has no bearing on his work.

Screen writer Tim Prager had been keen to create a visibly disabled character for prime time as he is father of a young man with cerebral palsy. Silent Witness is the vehicle in which it eventually worked out.

Tim has met people with a range of disabilities working in labs but never specifically a forensic scientist. He says: "If you don't know of someone who does a job, does that mean that they can't?"

Tim believes that limiting horizons is the greatest outrage and that it happens because most people don't have an experience of success around disability.

"My son has faced loads of people telling him things he can and can't do. At an early age, it was 'You can't be in a mainstream school'. Then 'You'll never be successful', 'This is way too hard for you' and later on it was 'You really need to moderate your ambition for university'. Well, I've Just dropped him off for his second term at Oxford."

Due to the high level of sensitivity in this line of work, firms providing forensics services are not keen to single out individual staff members for interview. Though we've heard that disabled forensic scientists exist in a lab somewhere, we haven't been able to speak with them at time of writing.

Clarissa is played by actress and comedian Liz Carr, who also co-hosts Ouch's monthly talk show. She explains what her character's job involves:

"My character checks DNA and investigates physical evidence and facts to help when putting a case together. In the series, I've examined spent shell casings from bullets, maggots and insect larvae. From checking info on a computer, analysing photo evidence and looking at actual evidence under a microscope, with chemicals and on databases, her job has loads of different elements."

Liz and the team got expert forensic advice on the activities she'd need to carry out in the show and then checked whether she could physically manage them all to maintain authenticity.

"The only thing I couldn't do," says Liz, "was go into the cutting room where an autopsy was taking place. It was a sealed environment and my chair couldn't wear scrubs or be sufficiently clean to go inside."

working on Silent Witness has left Liz quite confident that a physically disabled person could do the job of a forensic scientist.

"Perhaps the main problem," she adds, "would be the height of the work surfaces in a lab. Through the magic of TV, they're often raised and lowered to get the best shots and to enable me to reach them but in reality, their positioning might be an obstruction however it's nothing that can't be sorted with a bit of imagination and some creative carpentry.

"I hope disabled people watch the show and think they can either be an actor in a drama or work in forensics. Now all we need is for schools and university courses to be accessible and for employers to see these possibilities."

• The new series of Silent Witness starts on BBC One and BBC One HD tonight. Clarissa Mullery can be seen from part two which airs Friday at 9pm.

• Read Damon's interview with Liz Carr, published shortly after her role as Clarissa Mullery was revealed.

• Actor David Caves, who plays Clarissa's working partner Jack Hodgson, writes about his audition for the BBC's TV blog

Switching on my hearing - William's cochlear implant story

Guest Guest | 09:50 UK time, Wednesday, 9 January 2013

William with his head bandaged, in a hospital bed

William recovering after implant surgery

Thirty-five-year-old William Mager has been profoundly deaf since birth. He uses sign language and lip-reading to communicate. In November, after many years of thinking about it, he chose to have a cochlear implant surgically fitted. The device was activated just before Christmas and since then he has been learning how to interpret the sounds and impulses that it feeds to him.

"Your son will never have a reading age better than that of an eight-year-old, but he can be happy doing a simple, undemanding job. He won't be a high achiever."

This is what a doctor told my mother after I was diagnosed as deaf.

I've spent most of my life trying to prove that doctor's prognosis wrong. I like to think that I'm succeeding.

I work for the BBC, I've made several award-winning films, married an amazing woman with whom I've had a son, and we have a home filled with love - and far too many children's toys.

Despite being very happy with my life, I recently took the rather big decision to have an operation with lots of associated risks to remedy a hereditary condition I've got - deafness. I chose to have a cochlear implant.

I went under the knife in December. They cut behind my left ear, lifting the whole earlobe up like the bonnet of a car, drilling a tiny hole through the skull between the facial and taste nerves into my inner ear. They inserted a silicone circuit board, magnet and an electrode array directly into my cochlear.

After checking it was all connected correctly, they sewed me up and sent me home four hours later, though it wasn't to be switched on for a few weeks until the swelling went down.

The surgery was the start of a journey that I hope might lead to an improvement in my hearing.

There are lots of reasons I wanted a cochlear implant but chief among these was a deterioration in the little hearing I had been born with. Lip-reading was getting more difficult and the world felt like it was receding from me.

Cochlear implants electrically stimulate the inner ear to create a simulation of sound. It's not the same as hearing.

I've never been able to hear the radio. I've never watched television without subtitles. Would I be able to when the device gets switched on?

The staff at the hospital tried their best to manage my expectations of what an implant could bring me. They said that the best I could hope for was to understand speech a little better, and to be able to identify environmental sounds in day-to-day life.

I privately hoped for more. Perhaps I would be able to understand speech? Perhaps I could listen to the radio, or the telephone? My expectations were spiralling beyond a reasonable level. Perhaps because of that, the day they activated my implant was horrible.

"The switch on is usually the worst day of most people's lives." The audiologist told me this just before turning the device on, two weeks before Christmas, adding: "The only thing I can tell you gets better."

The first time it was activated, it felt like an electric shock in my head, nothing at all like sound. It affected me so badly I went grey and began to tremble.

After switching on all the channels and checking they were working, they sent me home with the implant at a very low volume and with me wondering if I'd done the right thing. It was the worst day of my life, just as the audiologist had predicted.

After day one, the electric shocks started to sound like pulses and the pulses gradually started to become actual sounds.

After nearly a month, I'm now hearing new things that I'd been deaf to since birth, even with hearing aids. Music, the TV, even my son's voice all sound different to before.

Life with the implant is better than it was with the hearing aid, but also worse. I'm struggling to understand people as I adjust, and learn to hear all over again. I don't really feel like my old self yet. But still, things are happening every day that give me hope.

On Sunday I was working through my listening homework given to me by the audiologist - it's a list of environmental everyday sounds. My mum and I went around her flat opening drawers, rattling coat hangers, ticking all the items off.

We reached the telephone. I'd never ever been able to hear the phone at all. Not even with hearing aids, or with amplifiers - it just sounded garbled and quiet to me.

I picked it up and called a number. I could hear the dial tone, the ring tone, and the beep of the answering machine.

I then went into another room and rang my mum. I asked: "What time will lunch be ready?" I just about heard her short response: "Two o'clock."

My mum and I had spoken on the phone for the first time ever.

I'm trying to keep expectations low - but after only a month, there's still hope. Instead I'm quietly defying the prognosis of the medical profession once more.

I'm never going to be hearing. I'm never going to stop being deaf. But hopefully this little computer that now lives in my head will make life a bit easier.

When people talk about a cochlear implant journey, it implies a destination. I don't think the destination is as important as the journey itself, but it's going to be a fun ride.

"I think this is the first time we've actually danced in time to the music."
My wife to me, New Year's Eve 2012.

• The above audio interview with William is taken from January's Ouch! talk show, a lively monthly programme about disability life. It's available for free right now as a podcast and to download or stream from the BBC website, via iTunes and more. The presenters are Rob Crossan and Kate Monaghan.

You can follow Ouch! on Twitter and on Facebook.

Ouch! Talk Show 93: What cochlear implants hear ...

Damon Rose Damon Rose | 16:01 UK time, Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Rob Crossan and Kate Monaghan in the Ouch! talk show studio

Available monthly

Show 93 is out. Press play in the above player to listen now, or download it as a podcast.

This month: Is it helpful when celebs reveal they have mental health difficulties? Do you find it humiliating to receive disability benefits? And the personal story of William who had a cochlear implant fitted before Christmas and is now hearing the world in a new way.

Rob Crossan and Kate Monaghan present.


One in Four - glossy mental health quarterly lifestyle mag - find out how guest Mark Brown's magazine started.

Swiching on my hearing: William Mager tells his cochlear implant story on the Ouch! Blog

Sean Dilley's blog - read the latest from the parliamentary lobby journalist who describes himself as being politically incorrect about being blind.

• The Ouch! talk show is a BBC News programme made exclusively for the internet and produced monthly by a team of disabled journalists and presenters.

• You can subscribe to Ouch! as a podcast on iTunes or via your preferred podcast software. Details are all on the BBC's main downloads and podcasts page.

Read the transcript

You can follow Ouch! on Twitter and on Facebook.

Ben's dyslexic mind on TV

Emma Tracey Emma Tracey | 12:55 UK time, Monday, 7 January 2013

Newsround reporter Ben

One in ten children are believed to be dyslexic to some degree, which means there are two to three children in every classroom who have the condition.

My Dyslexic Mind is a CBBC Newsround film about being diagnosed with the learning difficulty and getting the right help at school. The 15 minute special report is presented by 12-year-old Ben Hunter, who found out he had dyslexia when he was seven.

Before the diagnosis, he says school was a frustrating experience: "I thought I was just dumb and I couldn't do the work very well. I had to just keep on trying and miss would be disappointed with me."

An estimated six million people have dyslexia in the UK. It affects reading, writing and memory.

In the film, Ben meets fellow dyslexic Dominic Wood, one half of kids TV duo Dick and Dom.

Ben notes that a significant number of people in the arts and sport seem to have dyslexia. Dom agrees and says it's because "your creative side is a lot more alert" if you are not excelling academically.

The presenter tells BBC Breakfast: "Without having all those learning difficulties, it wouldn't have helped me channel into the route that I'm now in".

Pleased to have met a worthy role model, Ben says he and Dom could talk about dyslexia all day.

In the same interview on Friday, Ben tells viewers it's important to let people know you're having problems and to get diagnosed as early as possible.

He concludes with important advice: "It's not an excuse in life, you have to still try your hardest."

• My Dyslexic Mind goes out on the CBBC channel at 5 PM on 7 January and it will be available for seven days afterwards on BBC iPlayer.

•Check out Try Being Me, CBBC's interactive dyslexia experience, and find out how it was created in this post from the About the BBC blog.

More from Ouch! on dyslexia

Marcus Brigstocke: dyslexia helps my comedy

Video: My Adapted Life: Gizmos that help me read and study

2011 Apprentice winner Tom sees his dyslexia as a positive

You can follow Ouch! on Twitter and on Facebook.

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