I have a physical impairment – I don’t hear very well. The official title is ‘mid-range hearing loss’ and it basically means that I struggle a bit to hear people when they are talking. And especially when they have accents.
Now, I love the Orcadian dialect and the sound of the Orcadian accent. It’s beautiful. It’s poetic and evocative and I wouldn’t change it for the world, but I struggle to understand people when they are speaking Orcadian – or indeed anything other than BBC English.
Unfortunately, it has been my sad experience that anyone who is asked to repeat what they say too many times will just get frustrated after a bit – I used to work in Hampshire with a colleague with a very strong Glasweigian accent, who I swear just used to make his accent stronger if I dared to ask: Pardon? But I’m not being difficult, I’m being hard-of-hearing!
When I first moved to Orkney, I worked in an administrative post and I had to take minutes at team meetings – nightmare! One of my colleagues was also from England and she used to tell me what was being said, otherwise those team minutes would have been a bit bare …
So, I had been especially worried about hustings and meetings, in the run up to standing as a councillor – how was I going to understand what I was being asked, and what other people were saying? How was I going to do this without people thinking I was insisting that everyone spoke in BBC English? I didn’t want to alienate myself from people who might be thinking of voting Green just because I couldn’t understand what they were saying.
And then one of my friends told me about Inclusion Scotland who have an ‘Access to Elected Office Fund’ which is designed to provide assistance to disabled people who wish to stand for public office. I contacted them and had a telephone interview during which the gentleman from Inclusion Scotland spoke slowly and clearly! The decision panel subsequently awarded me a grant to provide a device called a ‘portable listener’ which amplifies the sound I need to hear, and also pay for someone to occasionally note-take so I don’t miss things. As a result I feel that the playing field has been slightly levelled for me.
But if I don’t understand what you are saying to me, please: I’m not being difficult, I’m being hard-of-hearing!