It is not distance that keeps people apart, it is the failure to hear and be heard.
Every minute of every day we are communicating. The texts we send, the words we speak, the looks we give, the touch we offer – all send messages to those we are linked with and in relationship to.
Imagine not being able to do that. Imagine that your words are misunderstood, your texts do not get sent but stay on your phone; your presence is resisted and your touch brushed off.
To be excluded because you cannot communicate, to be shut out because people do not understand, to be ignored because you are not valued and recognised … that must surely be real emptiness and abandonment.
Yet that is precisely what the day to day experience of tens of thousands of our fellow Scots feels like every single minute of every day. They are excluded because we have created a distance which separates them from us and us from them. We have failed to hear and allow people to be heard and thus the distance has grown into a divide.
I have, to my shame, only recently become as fully aware of the enormous extent of hearing issues facing the population of Scotland. The fact that in Scotland 40% of the population over the age of forty, 60% over the age 60 and 75% over 75s experience some sort of hearing difficulties I was wholly unaware of.
For thousands of these individuals this means that they are excluded from any real and meaningful participation in society. It is not just that they miss out on snippets of conversation here and there it is to put it simply that they have a cloak of invisibility and absence even if they are physically present. Their contribution is not recognised, their voice is not heard.
We have for too long made hearing impairment and hearing difficulties the butt of humour. For too long we have presumed that hearing difficulties are just an inconvenience rather than accepting the reality of their exclusion and their immense impact on individual mental health and well-being. For too long we have considered issues of hearing loss to be the inevitable consequence of age and a condition to be accepted and tholed. For too long we have disabled those born deaf by failing to adequately change the fabric of our society to include, value and treat these individuals as citizens with equal rights and the same entitlements as any other.
On Thursday this week Scottish Care will be hosting a morning workshop with deafscotland to argue for greater priority in general to be given to these issues and for the importance of the care sector addressing the challenges and welcoming the opportunities which are brought by individuals who have hearing difficulties. This is a very real attempt to start a wider public discourse around how we better include and value people who are receiving care but whose hearing difficulties have served to further dis-able and exclude them from engagement, participation and involvement.
In essence this is a matter of individual rights and collective responsibility.
I hope you will come and join us on the day and begin to work with us and deafscotland as we challenge the societal barriers and lack of resource which continues to fail to hear the voice of those with a right to be heard.