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Pauline Latchem’s speech – transcript

Pauline Latchem

My name is Pauline Latcham and I am profoundly deaf and I’m a sign language user.  I wasn’t born deaf, I was born hearing and I became deaf at the age of 11.  It meant that initially I had language, I had speech, I read, I had the skills of reading and writing.  I was lucky in many ways but I did become deaf.  I went to school but I wasn’t allowed to use sign language, it was an aural school and I had to do without.  I was easy for me because I could speak and I could read but I couldn’t lip-read so I grew up and I became quite depressed through to when I was 20 or 30 I became more and more depressed and I thought, where did I fit into this world?  Which world did I fit in?  Into the deaf world, into signing, but I didn’t understand that, into the hearing world?  I was stuck in the middle, I didn’t know where I was, I felt lonely and isolated.  I tried to kill myself twice, I didn’t want to live, I felt I didn’t want to be in this world.  I felt that it was my fault if I couldn’t succeed in doing things.  So it was my fault, everything was up and down.  It was linked to the – what Simone was talking about – the society, the medical model, the social model.  I felt really there was nothing for me to look forward to.  But now, now I’m 61 and I look back on my time: 40 years, wow, and I’m still here, and I’m still enjoying being here, and it’s fantastic.

When I think of that time though, ah it was so painful and emotional, a very difficult time for me and the thing that actually changed me was a disability organisation in Shropshire.  At the Shropshire disability group I met blind people, wheelchair users, all types of disabilities and they taught me about lots of models of disability and I was wowed.  There was social disability and I wasn’t used to that and the world was destroyed for me and it was a big change in my mindset.  I felt a little angry but I felt quite assertive as well; I wanted to actually kill myself but the anger was very powerful, it was a bit destructive really.  But I used that in a creative way, I learned how to channel my anger in a creative way.  I changed by doing campaigning, being involved in campaigns for access for deaf people, for disabled people, wheelchair users, all disabled people and also for people with learning disabilities, for everybody’s rights and for those people having space in the world.  And I wanted to find a way to respect everybody and everybody to respect each other and be involved.  I didn’t want deaf people to be marginalised or side-stepped or anything like that.  I couldn’t learn a lot of things because I couldn’t hear anything so until I had communication support and wow that did something for me.  It’s not like a one-off thing, it’s not like a ramp that you can put in, or level floor access, it’s not like that.  Deafness is not like that for the access you need communications support over and over again for different things, so you need a lot of money for that and the government is actually saying, well, they’re trying to take a side step so we have to campaign for access and more money.

So if I go back to public speaking I started when I was about 20, that was about 25 years ago and at that time there was a British deaf association, Congress, and at that time my sign language wasn’t that good really, I wasn’t a fluent sign language user and I wasn’t confident, d’you know I was very nervous.  But I was passionate because of some of the attitudes of some of the deaf people were “Ooh, I’m better than others, I’m better than other disabled people, I can walk, oh we’re not like that, our language is different, oh we’re not disabled.”  But the thing is I didn’t feel the same, like everybody is the same, you can’t separate us so I wanted to challenge that and I had to be brave and stand up in front of people who were grass-roots sign language users and then challenge their thinking, it was very nerve-wracking!  And I was scared that they would attack me, in a sense, but they listened and so that made me quite aware and surprised.  It evoked thoughts like “Oh, I didn’t think of that” so it sort of changed everything and then that was the start of the campaigning and getting involved and all the campaigns to improve access, to improve services, to set up interpreting services and then work with people with learning disabilities who were deaf and visually impaired.  I’ve worked with them now for a long time, it’s not easy at all but inside is all flabbergasted and scared and everything and my feet are shaking and I’m sweaty and it’s really difficult, it’s quite nerve-wracking.  But the more I did this, the more those feelings disappeared, I became more calm – it took time – so that the more I did this in front of small audiences like this, and big audiences, thousands of people, big conferences, for example, but I got very positive feedback.  The access for deaf people, for example, you need this very high-quality of sign language interpreter support to actually work with the interpreter and to make sure they represent my voice and my emotions so they can pick up on all of these things that they can translate my voice clearly and my message clearly.  I don’t want them to actually change any of those feelings because that would give me less confidence.  So it’s about my rights, it’s about my involvement, about the process of working with those interpreters to establish that.  The thing is of course it costs money, the thing is getting interpreters, the thing is I can’t actually go into a conference on my own but prior to that I have to plan about getting the interpreters, I have to argue about getting the access, setting up the payments, who is responsible for that?  It’s actually quite overwhelming and tiring.  It’s about arguing for this access all the time.  And now after all this time I have been quite patient and I have become calmer in myself, I have actually asked for what I have wanted.  Previously I felt like I was on a rollercoaster, I felt like I was being pushed and I was quite worn out – it was like a burnout, I felt quite ill.  Actually, now I’ve learned how to look after myself, sometimes I need just to pull the handbrake up, just to relax and I need to be just a bit more calm.  I can’t be responsible for everybody, we need more young people who are coming up now to be more confident, you know, to take over and be involved, you know, take part of that public speaking for their future, your futures.  I’m getting older now.  I mean, maybe, you know further along in my life I’m going to even take a step back but we still need to find the access we need to campaign and fight for this, we need to make people aware of the access issues and break down those attitudes, so we need to work ..

Yogada and Jasmina were talking about presentations, about what disabled women want and I accept we want to feel valued, we want to feel confident to go out, to feel relief and the way you explained it was just so amazing, it matches me in my world now.  I’m a counsellor, I work with deaf people, regularly with deaf people with additional disabilities, maybe deaf blind, people with other disabilities who have no confidence, they feel worthless, they feel unappreciated.  I work with them and I counsel them to build up their confidence and to feel accepted and to feel some strength within them, not to feel pressured or about what other people want.  It’s about being more confident about themselves.  And that lady talked about religion and you’re right, some people do use religion for that space and it’s true, the spirituality has to begin, it’s not about the outside influences, it’s actually about the inside influences and how we take the views of others and how we incorporate that within us.  It’s important to encourage that confidence in women, and in men as well, of course, don’t forget the men, to feel accepted and feel okay about themselves and not for them to change.  But it’s about how to respect yourself and respect others in front of us as well and how we match those needs of the people around us.  And about the public speaking, I think that when I feel really nervous and when I feel the most passionate, that’s when I feel the most nervous, but that’s when I feel that’s the time when we should be using our voices and speaking out, that is the time when we should bring this out – bring your passion out and then give that information to others to give them the confidence for their lives because we want to see more and more of that, of people being involved and being more assertive and sharing learning with others, to stand up in front of an audience and say they feel confident about themselves.  It’s easy for me to stand up on the stage, I can do that physically, but when it comes to communication I need interpreters for that support and the access.  Recently Helga was asking about going to Woman of the World (WOW) festival in the South Bank to speak there.  I would be nervous about that but I said that okay then, I will do it, I was asked to do that.  But it was so fantastic, it was just – the access was amazing and it was a fantastic woman who was managing the interpreters.  She had brought in 5 interpreters for this day and 2 were in front who were watching me and 2 were on stage for the disabled and deaf people in the audience.  And we had the pallantypists who were typing for the screen and I had a small one in front of me and so I could watch and watch the interpreters at the same time.  The chair of the panel was sitting alongside, her name was Laura, and she asked me prior to that “What should we do to make sure you’re fully involved in this festival?”  So I thought about that and I felt quite calm because she had asked me if everything was fair, we had the interpreters in front of me on the stage, I had the pallantypists inside the audience, everything seemed to fall into place.  And we had a light technician, who asked me about the lights to make sure that everything was fine, that I wouldn’t be blinded by these lights, so there would be the appropriate lighting.  It was just an amazing – it was a wow experience really.  It’s not done every time but if it’s done that way, correctly, it would make everybody’s experience, and my experience much, much better.  And I wouldn’t be so nervous, which I was on that day and I really did feel, wow, so I’d like to thank Helga so much for providing and making me feel that day it was a really amazing experience so hopefully next year some of you will be involved as well in the WOW festival and be doing a talk and giving a speech to them as well to show people what you’re thinking, what you’re feeling and it helps to change their perception and that will happen.  So you have so much to offer, really, go out there and do it.  So thank you very much for listening.

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