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Manchester's Jane Cordell listed as one of the most influential disabled people in Britain

Jane Cordell
Jane Cordell

Jane Cordell is an amazing woman. She was a successful orchestral musician when she became deaf through an infection in her early twenties, something which could have been a devastating blow to anyone. Since then, she's worked in the Foreign Office, chairs DaDaFest and works within several organisations to encourage marginalised people to achieve their potential. 

Having just been named as one of the most influential disabled people in the country, Jane talked to Time Out about her achievements and living in Manchester.

Congratulations on being included in the 'Power 100' List of influential people with disabilities and impairments. How does it feel?
'A bit bewildering, to be honest! You don't walk around thinking "I wonder how much influence I'll have today". I love meeting people and making new contacts though, so I think that must have helped. It's a real privilege to be included. I hope to use it to get across important messages about the contribution disabled people can make in the UK.'

You've been recognised through several roles working with social enterprises and charities. Keep you busy?
'Work is never boring! Over the past week or so I have met Salford Dadz, a fantastic self-led community group in Little Hulton doing superb work to support each other - that's via my work with Unlimited Potential. I have also had the pleasure of meeting Colin Bridgford, CEO at Manchester County Football Club, to discuss using football for positive change. As a Director at Result CIC I co-facilitated a brand new personal development course at the University of Manchester working with their staff with disabilities which has seen the group really flourish. And we will shortly be starting a project with the charity, RECLAIM, which will see us coaching to promote the confidence and talents of 14 and 15 year olds in Salford. We are also developing a new product to bring disabled employees, job seekers and managers together to bridge what I call the 'fear gap' which can prevent people getting work and progressing in the way they want. This week I got to be on local radio with Andy Crane for an interview- quite a surreal experience for a deaf person, but I enjoyed it.'

What's Manchester like for you as a deaf person? Is culture accessible?
'I am a culture vulture, definitely! Living here means I am spoilt for choice. As a deaf person, I always try to make it to captioned theatre and cinema performances. I am happy that most of our theatres now include at least one captioned show. I encouraged the Royal Exchange last year to provide a lipspeaker (who makes English lipreadable) for "Uprising" with the fabulous Alex Wheatle. For a solo performance like that it worked really well. The People's History Museum also hosted their very first captioned guided tour a few months ago - really great that they did that. I enjoyed the talk a lot. It lights you up to be able to catch every word and nuance when generally speaking you are lucky to get 50%. The Lowry has been great at engaging with deaf audiences. I helped to organise an event last year to encourage more deaf and hard of hearing people to visit. I also look out for subtitled films, sometimes foreign of course which Cornerhouse is great for, and even opera which is sometimes captioned. Most visual arts are accessible. I love The Lowry's exhibitions and they are great there at reaching out to groups which may feel marginalised. I helped to run an event to encourage more deaf and hard of hearing people to come and enjoy The Lowry's exhibitions and performances. I also enjoy practising my rusty BSL (British Sign Language) by going to Manchester Art Gallery's BSL tours led by Deaf art historian, Jennifer Little. I am a musician myself, so going deaf was really tough. But I now play in a local amateur orchestra (Ramsbottom Chorus and Orchestra) and now and then go to concerts- usually with copies of the musical scores, from the Henry Watson Library at the fantastic Central Reference Library. That way I managed to enjoy some Brahms and Dvorak at the Bridgewater Hall recently; what I 'got' would have been totally different to a hearing person, of course, but I still enjoyed it. It's a beautiful venue too - and people tell me it has a perfect acoustic; I will take their word for that!'

It sounds as if there is a lot to enjoy locally, but are there any barriers for you as a deaf person who wants to enjoy a cultural life?
'Things have really improved over the past few years, but yes, challenges do remain. If an organisation doesn't plan inclusively for their visitors and audiences, it can be difficult. The Manchester International Festival was a bit disappointing in this respect, sad to say. I contributed to feedback though, so hope things will improve next time. One of my roles is Chair of DaDaFest (Deaf and Disability Arts). We work to create social justice via quality arts and are always exploring how we can push the boundaries of people's horizons and access of course. Our international festival starts in November. Check us out!'