Deaf News: Leaders of campaign to stop changes to Access to Work reveal their true identities

Posted on October 2, 2014

The leaders of the grass-roots campaign against changes to Access to Work for deaf workers have revealed their true identities.

The campaign and petition was set up by Emily Smith, a pseudonym, and the campaign established a petition that went on to amass almost 6000 signatures.

After starting their campaign, a petition was set up in late 2013 and then the campaign recruited Jenny Sealey, Creative Director of the 2012 Paralympic Games opening ceremony, as a spokesperson.

image-1Since then, Campaigners Ellen Clifford and Penny Beschizza have also joined. The campaign is supported by MP Teresa Pearce, DPAC, Inclusion London and Unite’s BSL interpreter union NUBSLI.

Now, as the campaign progresses, ‘Emily Smith’ has been revealed as being two people: BSL interpreter Nicky Evans and Deaf campaigner Geraldine O’Halloran both from London.

Evans told us: “[It] feels like a confession, which in some ways it is.”

“We decided that we could offer an independent voice and raise the profile of the issues facing Deaf people who were struggling with new rules and saw this as something that both Deaf people and Interpreters needed to campaign on together.”

“The campaign was only ever meant to be short-term. To give a push to the Deaf organisations and others that we felt should be prioritising this issue. The response we saw from them felt unconvincing, so we decided to continue with the work we were doing.”

“The campaign now comprises ten members: seven of whom are Deaf and another is a disabled person. The focus has always been the issue, rather than individuals, as we didn’t want people to be distracted by personalities.”

“A false name was used at the beginning of this campaign for several reasons.” Evans said.

“The biggest one being that our aim was to get the issue raised. It was never about us. It shouldn’t have mattered who we were. We knew that more and more people were experiencing problems, yet could see no action in the public domain being taken by any of the organisations that were there to represent [deaf people]. It was frustration that lead us to setting up the petition.”

“We felt that we needed people to show support of the issue – not personalities. This was a new thing for the Deaf community. However, thankfully, concern about the issue prevailed over concern about who was responsible.”

“Other considerations about using our names were around members of the group having relationships with AtW that they couldn’t afford to damage. We had to consider possible repercussions, and didn’t want our members to lose their AtW support as a result of campaigning.

“At the time of establishing the petition, I was also Co Chair of the AtW working group within ASLI and didn’t want this campaigning to damage any work I was doing there.

“To be clear, I always confided in a few trusted colleagues who became my ‘critical friend’ to ensure boundaries never overlapped”.

“Finally, people who would have been unable to campaign openly due to work, were able to get involved. Some members are maintaining their anonymity for this reason, and we fully support and respect that.

“Some of us are using our real names now as we need to do more. It’s a lot easier, with our individual connections, to do this as ourselves. I can see clear benefits in working in partnership with others but this has to be done openly. We could remain anonymous when we were working alone, but it’s harder to build relationships and get others to work with you behind a pseudonym.”

By Andy Palmer. 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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