Merfyn Williams, co-founder of Stagetext, stepped down from its Board of Trustees on 2 November 2010. Merfyn has been profoundly deaf since birth and uses both speech and sign language. He has wide experience of working in community advocacy roles in relation to access and deaf awareness.
“I was born profoundly deaf and was educated to speak but I have deaf speech. This confuses a lot of hearing people who think that a profoundly deaf person would not be able to speak but only sign. I am bilingual and sign in Sign Supported English (SSE). The issue of full access in theatres still leaves a lot to be desired. With captioning, I can access a play in the English language. This gives me a personal growth and development; I am empowered and not patronised.
“At the start of our mission to make theatre accessible I was very much involved with technicians in the theatre, setting up the units and trying to negotiate the best possible position so that deaf people could fully enjoy the show, and not be choosing whether to watch the show or the captions. I have realised how poor the understanding of deafness is within the arts world and how long it will take before attitudes change completely so people recognise that disability is a normal part of human experience.
“I have met some technical and production staff with positive attitudes and it has been a pleasure to work with them. I think more engagement of deaf people in the arts, both behind as well as in front of the stage, will be good for everyone.
“As an audience member, I have enjoyed theatre in a way not possible before captioning. The variety of theatre is amazing and it is wonderful to change from a passive spectator at a show to feeling really involved with characters and plot as they develop. The downside is of course, that I get access to theatre that is sometimes just bad, but that’s equality for you.
“I am proud that Stagetext has been able to work with arts organisations to push the boundaries, with the result that deaf and disabled people are more included in society. Much more needs to be done, but good practice that results in greater customer satisfaction is the key to the growth and maintenance of new audiences.”
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