A leading Deaf dance and film performer has launched an angry attack on the organisers of the Paralympic Games over their failure to provide any facilities for Deaf spectators at a key London 2012 venue.
David Bower, previously best-known for his role in the hit film Four Weddings and a Funeral but now just as well-known as artistic director of the “signdance” music theatre company Signdance Collective, was attending the equestrian dressage event at Greenwich Park yesterday with the company’s disabled dance director Isolte Avila.
But Bower, who is Deaf, described how he was chased and shouted at aggressively by a London 2012 “games-maker” (volunteer) “because they spoke to me and I didn’t hear them and they took great offence”.
He said: “So then they chased me and that of course made a scene. It looked like I had done something wrong and people around me were wondering what was happening.
“It happened throughout the entire day. In the end I felt it was safer just to remain in one seat, as it was embarrassing.”
He said he was even “worried that they would attack me and I would get hurt”.
Bower said he would not attend any more London 2012 Paralympic events because there were “so many dos and don’ts I just cannot understand what they are saying”.
He said the London 2012 organising committee LOCOG had apparently failed to provide any volunteers with basic British Sign Language (BSL) knowledge.
Bower was also unhappy that there were no subtitles or BSL interpreting on the films that were shown to spectators during the afternoon on the screen in Greenwich Park.
The lack of captions meant Deaf people were excluded from the information being given about the riders and events, but also instructions about the need to keep quiet while the riders were competing, to avoid startling the horses.
It is the latest in a series of access failures by LOCOG across its London venues, including a failure to plan for disabled parents at its ExCeL multi-event venue, forcing wheelchair-users to use an expensive telephone helpline to book London 2012 tickets, failing to provide Braille and easy-read information on its Olympic Park information points, and failing to provide basic facilities or vital information for powerchair-users.
Bower said it was clear that games-makers had not been trained in Deaf awareness.
He said: “They were constantly telling people what they cannot do as you are trying to get to your seat to watch the event, and there is someone running up behind you saying, ‘excuse me, excuse me, you can’t go that way,’ and they got upset.”
He added: “I was interested in the background of the athletes, and it was impossible to have any information unless Isolte was interpreting, but we were both [trying to relax] at the Paralympics. We were both exhausted and looking forward to a fun day.”
Avila, who was with Bower, told Disability News Service that the lack of communication support for Deaf people had been “amazing”, while one games-maker had been “really aggressive” with Bower when he failed to hear her instructions.
She said: “I feel that Deaf people have been excluded from the Paralympics. It is a shame to work so hard for the London 2012 festival and come to the only Paralympic event we could come to and there is no access for our artists.
“None of the films they showed had subtitles. There was nothing at all for Deaf people.”
Even more embarrassingly for LOCOG, Signdance Collective has been performing this summer as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad.
Bower and Avila were at the dressage event as guests of Ju Gosling, director of the Together! 2012 festival, which is taking place in the Paralympic borough of Newham, and Julie Newman, acting chair of the UK Disabled People’s Council, which is organising Together! 2012.
Newman said she was “embarrassed and angered” by LOCOG’s accessibility failures.
She said: “Signdance Collective have generously given of their time and energy to contribute their work to our festival.
“It has been a very long and full season for them and this would have been the one opportunity to be part of the games experience. Instead, the ignorance and ineptitude of other people intruded on our day in a way which was inexcusable.
“We have been talking to the organisers about full and proper access for years, building on the tremendous consultations that were originally done with the Olympic Delivery Authority [which was responsible for building and developing London 2012 venues] by a full range of individuals and organisations within our sector.
“I am very disappointed that consistently LOCOG fail to implement basic accessibility standards, and refuse to be challenged on this.
“They continue to betray any understanding that disabled people are part of the rich mix of our society, and this is at a time when international attention is focused on us. There is no justification.”
A LOCOG spokeswoman said: “We continue to exceed standard practice, providing for a wide variety of accessibility requirements.
“We have worked with the Royal Association for the Deaf [the Royal Association for Deaf People] and also held an access summit last year for the deaf community – they advised us on what they wanted us to focus on.
“For example, our ticketcare scheme ensures that spectators who are deaf or have a hearing impairment can bring in their signer for no additional cost.
“Deaf spectators could also request a seat with a direct view of the screens in venues. We have also ensured that we have a lot of visual content on our screens in venues so that all spectators can enjoy the events, and the content for our sports presentation films is predominantly imagery.”
As part of Together! 2012, Signdance Collective is performing at 3.30pm today (Wednesday) at St John’s Churchyard, Stratford Broadway.
5 September 2012