UKCOD’s Jim Edwards explains their aim to find a ‘common purpose’ for deaf organisations

Posted on September 23, 2014

The Chairman of UKCOD, the umbrella body for deaf organisations in the UK has said that a lack of progress by deaf organisations compared with organisations representing other groups is the motivation behind an aim to develop a ‘common purpose’ for the sector.

Jim Edwards faced criticism from some deaf people over the plans when they were revealed on Limping Chicken two weeks ago. Comment posts on social media accused deaf organisations of ‘forgetting why they ever existed’ and said that the plans were a ‘waste of time’.

In response, Mr Edwards said that groups representing sufferers of medical conditions like dementia had done better through the years and there was a desire among deaf organisations to do the same.

He said: “Look at the progress areas like dementia have made in last few years, and you compare that with the progress we have made in the field of deafness and hearing loss and you end up saying, couldn’t we do as well as that, if not better?

“And then ask yourself why don’t we do better and sometimes its because we don’t have a defined common purpose”

With the aim of presenting a single voice to government on deafness issues, Mr Edwards claims that developing a common purpose would bind organisations to work together and put their differences aside.

But with such a variety of deaf organisations and often apparent conflicting priorities, some might question whether it is possible to reconcile organisations under a single strap-line.

“There is always much more that people agree on than disagree on and that people have particularly a desire to see equality.  What you see most often is people choose to take a different approach to creating that equal world but each approach has its value.

“So I think that we can reconcile the variety of approaches, if for no other reason, that you have to respect that deafness is not a uniform single issue that affects everybody in exactly the same way.

“That means the solutions have to be varied but that doesn’t mean that those organisations can’t work together. Nor does it mean that they’re not sharing a common purpose. What they’re trying to do is find solutions to different aspects of the problem.”

The move to create a new common purpose comes after recent heightened activity in the political world involving deaf groups. It is true, Mr Edwards said, that frustrations surfaced among UKCOD’s members during negotiations last year and caused what outsiders might see as infighting and disagreement.

The battle between rivalling factions of deaf people, usually drawn along cultural and language lines, is nothing new. UKCOD’s founding concept was to act as the united campaigning front, which some would argue it has failed to do given the new desire for common purpose among some of its members.

Should deaf groups that can’t get along drop any pretence and go their separate ways to campaign independently?

“That’s for the sector to decide.” Mr Edwards said

“This is a personal opinion, but if a few deaf organisations walk into government and one says ‘I work with sign language users’ and the other says ‘I work with people with an acquired hearing loss’ I think you immediately start to devalue, in government and politicians minds, the sense we are speaking with a single voice.

“It’s about taking the figure of 1 in 7 having some sort of hearing loss. In that enormous number, there is a vital number of people who culturally identify with very strong positive messages about deafness and their voice has to be as respected as those who say ‘I have a hearing loss, please cure it’.

“Either one of those voices has to be heard with equal weight.”

Views on what could constitute the wording of a common purpose are being sought from a range or organisations including charities, social enterprises and business, many of which have felt the consequences of austerity and recession.

Mr Edwards believes a common purpose can help bring together organisations which may not have traditionally campaigned side-by-side, including ‘medical model’ manufacturers of cochlear implants and ‘social model’ deaf rights groups.

“We all know that the economic climate has created real challenges for charities and businesses providing services for deaf people. In that climate, it is more likely that we will be more successful if we go to government with a single united ask about a particular issues.

“There is something that says we should be speaking, where we can, with a common voice and saying to government that these are the things we believe will improve the lives of deaf people and we are willing to work with you in partnership to deliver that.”

If UKCOD achieve their aim, organisations who don’t sign up might just find themselves with reduced lobbying influence while a team acting for the ‘common purpose’ group represents the interests of the UK’s deaf people.

As much as trying to achieve that feel-good common purpose, Mr Edwards is also trying to avoid repeats of recent divisions on the deaf side of the negotiating table.

Andy is Chairman of the Peterborough and District Deaf Children’s Society and teaches sign language in primary schools. Contact him on twitter @LC_AndyP

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Posted in: Andy Palmer