M&S goes quiet – for a time?

Marks and Spencer has finished its ‘trialling’ of piped music in 35 stores around the UK. What happens next – whether it reinstates piped music or sticks to its quiet policy – is chiefly up to us. We need to keep protesting to its head office and in local branches. Its CEO is Steve Rowe rowe@marks-and-spencer.com

The Invisible Disability: a clear of case of discrimination against the disabled?

A person unable to walk is clearly and visibly disabled. Someone who is blind is equally clearly  disabled. But people afflicted by whole range of invisible  disabilities – from tinnitus to GAD (general anxiety disorder), from misophonia to autism, from presbycusis  to hyperacusis to ME – often do not appear disabled. Yet in  important ways they are. For such people piped music is no mere irritant but a crippling torment. This applies also to those with general hearing problems (one in six of the population, according to Action on Hearing Loss). All these people in effect suffer from an Invisible Disability. And almost nothing is being done for them.  Recent moves to provide the odd Quiet Hour by ASDA and Morrisons are still little more than tokenism. Many organisations,  from banks to hospitals to restaurants, are arguably breaking existing law.

According to the Department for Work and Pensions, the Equality Act of 2010 “requires service providers to make a reasonable adjustment for disabled people to make sure that they are not places at a substantial disadvantage compared to non-disabled people. This may include such actions are accommodating requests for communications to be conducted in a particular format. A failure by a service provider to make reasonable adjustment for a disabled person could amount to direct disability discrimination under the Act. (My italics.) What is ‘reasonable’ will vary from one situation to another because of factors such as the practicality of making the adjustment, the cost of the adjustment and the resources available to different providers.”

As the cost of adjusting – i.e. turning off – piped music is almost nil, and it is very easy, there seems no valid reason why all organisations should not be expected to turn off their piped music when requested to do so. Those who fail to do so are guilty of discrimination.

The DWP adds: “If a person feels they have been discriminated against, the Equality Advisory and Support Service (EASS) provides free bespoke advice and in depth support to individuals with discrimination concerns.” The EASS can be contacted: easeass@mailgb.custhelp.com or Freephone 0808 800 0082  or FREEPOST EASS HELPLINE FPN 6521

The DWP concludes: “The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has a monitoring and enforcement role in relation to the Equality Act 2010. It has a power to enforce a breach of any of the Act’s provisions, including the disability discrimination provisions, and to challenge organisations where required.”

Any individuals who fall into one of the ‘invisibly disabled’ categories ought to challenge  places with piped music, utilising this and other  information. Do tell Pipedown of your experiences – setbacks as well as victories – so that we can collate information and approach the Department of Health and the Noise Team at DEFRA  with our findings.

 

(Many thanks to Anne Brown who winkled out this information and suggested the phrase.)

 

Pipedown Canada starting up

Piped music is a global problem but one best dealt with nationally, even locally. Each country has specific problems.

Katie, who lives in Toronto, plans to start a Canadian branch of Pipedown. If you live in Canada – or even just across the border in the USA – do contact her at caitlinkingston@gmail.com

It is very early days yet but there should be a Pipedown Canada website up soon.

Morrisons introduce Quiet Hour for shoppers with autism

Morrisons, the supermarket chain, is introducing a Quiet Hour every Saturday morning. Its 439 UK stores will turn off their piped music, dim lights, avoid using the tannoy and turn down check-out beeps  from 09:00 to 10:00. Morrisons is the first major supermarket chain to roll out the scheme to all stores nationwide.

The National Autistic Society called it a ‘step in the right direction’. It is indeed only a step because, although Morrison’s initiative is welcome, one hour per week of quiet shopping is not nearly enough! Nor are the estimated nearly 700,000 people (1% of the nation) with autism the only ones who find piped music deeply upsetting. The 15% of the population with hearing problems – which can include everything from tinnitus, presbycusis and misphonia to moderate deafness – also detest piped music. So of course do many people with perfect hearing.

Other chains are considering following suit. Asda said a number of its supermarkets across the country already worked with local groups to run quiet hours on a regular basis. It added it was working with specialist charity groups to ensure its stores were inclusive for all.

Tesco said it was not planning on rolling out the initiative nationwide, but store managers were welcome to introduce it if they felt it appropriate – as one store in Alloa, Clackmannanshire, did last year. And Sainsbury’s said more than 600 of its stores took part in the National Autistic Society’s Autism Hour in October last year and will be doing so again this year. In three of its Liverpool-based stores, where staff have received training, parents can request a number of store modifications when they begin their shopping trip, it added.

All such moves should be applauded and the chains concerned urged to extend their Quiet Hours greatly. Write to David Potts, CEO of Morrisons, congratulating him and urging him to extend the scheme to other days/times of the week.  david.potts-ceo@morrisonsplc.co.uk

 

Red buttons to mute television music?

A recurrent complaint about otherwise excellent television documentaries is their intrusive, often inappropriate music. (For some reason this is particularly bad on wildlife programmes but it mars many other documentaries too). For years the relevant authorities, especially at the BBC, have shrugged off complaints with bland or irrelevant comments (such as suggesting you use subtitles), leaving frustrated viewers having either to mute the programme or to turn it off .

NB All music, along with other sounds including ‘natural’ noises, is dubbed in later. 

Now, news arrives that the Red Button on the remote control can be used to mute the commentary. If it can be used to mute commentaries, it can surely be used to mute music too, something Pipedown has long urged. While this may require further adjustments, it cannot be technically impossible.

Yet the BBC does not want to know! Its management prefers to ignore the fact that many of its viewers are likely to be over 50, and thus annoyed by piped music of any sort. 

Complain via the BBC website bbc_complaints_website@bbc.co.uk”  It is not possible to email any person directy .

Quiet Corners revamped!

Quiet Corners, which lists muzak-free pubs, hotels, restaurants, shops etc has been rejigged by our heroically indefatigable hon webmaster Chris Chinnery. It is now possible to type in your location and see what tranquil places have been suggested (by members) within 10, 25 or 50 miles. At present this revamp is not quite complete but it soon will be. Ultimately it should be possible also to download an app to your mobile. Seehttps://quietcorners.org.uk

The Coop chain is voted our next target – and so is the Nationwide Building Society

The Coop supermarket chain has won the wooden spoon of being voted the worst  offender for piped music. Although the chain is not everyone’s choice of shop, it is often the only place that the most vulnerable in society – those who cannot drive for whatever reason, for example – find they have to do their shopping. It is also a chain that loudly proclaims its ethical ideals.               So whether or not you shop there regularly, write in protest to its CEO Steve Murrells steve.murrells@co-operative.coop

(NB: Not every branch of the Co-op is controlled by the London HQ. The East Anglia and Midlands branches have some autonomy, so it is wise to check the status of a branch before making a protest.)

Email steve.murrells@co-operative.coop

The Nationwide Building Society, which until recently prided itself on not  having piped music, is now introducing it, doubtless misled by the mendacious propaganda of the piped music industry. Email  www.nationwide.co.uk/support/contact-us/make-a-complaint or  by post to The Complaints Team, Nationwide Building Society  NW 2020, Swindon SN38 1NW    As the Nationwide is still  converting once pleasant branches to muzac-filled places of torment, it is well worth writing NOW.

 

Local and global: new Pipedown groups formed

In Australia Warren  Fahey, who is  well-known in the musical world,  has set up a splendid new website pipedown.ne for Pipedown Australia. Anyone living in or ever visiting Australia who detests piped music should contact him through it or directly at wfahey@bigpond.net.au

In the USA  the Ann Arbor, Michigan group, with its fine new website, has been getting noticed in the local and national media. See http://quietannarbor.org

Meanwhile in London Carol Caplan has held the first meeting of Pipedown London.  She is planning to leaflet concert-goers at the Proms Season at the Albert Hall  this summer, realising that lovers of real music freely chosen are among those most likely to hate the unwanted piped sort. Do support her by offering to help leaflet on some evenings – this should only  take at most 30 minutes.  Or make other suggestions. Her email address is pipedown@ossian.me.uk

In Germany Lauchsprecheraus! is now under new guidance and continues to combat piped music in Germany. See   pipedown.de/

 

The address for Pipedown UK’s HQ remains  newpipedown@btinternet.com

 

 

Noise Exposure Linked to Heart Disease, Strokes and Diabetes

A  review in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology,  reports that  high levels of noise are very bad for your heart. A connection between noise pollution and cardiovascular disease has been observed in numerous studies over the years,  the review said. High noise levels from road traffic and aircraft are connected to high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, stroke and heart failure even after allowing for other factors like air pollution and socioeconomic status.

But despite growing  evidence, little is known about how noise pollution contributes to heart problems. To shed light on that question, researchers from Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany compiled and analysed findings from dozens of previous studies on noise and various health outcomes.

Their new review suggests that noise disrupts the body at the cellular level. Researchers say it induces stress responses and activates the sympathetic “fight or flight” nervous system. This causes a spike in stress hormones, which eventually lead to cardiovascular damage. Noise is  is a driving factor in oxidative stress and metabolic abnormalities which contribute to other diseases like diabetes. For people with risk factors for cardiovascular disease, living in a noisy environment could accelerate atherosclerosis.

“The important point is that noise is not just annoying,” lead author Dr. Thomas Munzel, director of the department of internal medicine, said. While his paper focuses largely on cardiovascular and metabolic implications of noise, he points to the growing evidence that chronic noise can  cause mental health problems (including depression and anxiety), and can harm children’s cognitive development.

One way noise pollution affects heart health is by disrupting sleep. In studies, night time noise has been linked to an increase in blood pressure,  even when people didn’t wake up or even realise their sleep had been disrupted. ‘You can can close your eyes but not your ears,” Munzel said. ‘Our body will always react with a stress reaction.’

Even chronic noise during the day will  have major effects on the body, said Dr. James O’Keefe, a cardiologist at the Mid America Heart Institute, Saint Luke’s Hospital, in Kansas City. ‘When we’re exposed to loud noises, the sympathetic nervous system dominates,” said O’Keefe, who was not involved in the new review. “That can really put your system on alert and makes you jumpy, which can wear down your resilience — just like any other type of physical or mental stress.” O’Keefe said that, as a cardiologist who focuses on prevention, he’s read a lot about the connection between noise pollution and heart health. “But I don’t really think it’s something the average physician or cardiologist is particularly tuned into,” he said. Munzel said people in cities around the world should worry about noise pollution, and that the problem is getting worse. “It is important to note that no one can develop tolerance to noise,” he said, despite what many  believe. In fact, people’s cardiovascular systems actually seem to become more sensitive to noise — and so more easily damaged — over time.

While there’s no volume threshold established for heart-disease risk, Munzel said that chronic exposure to anything over 60 decibels (the level of a typical conversation in an office) has the potential to harm the cardiovascular system. A telephone ringing produces about 80 decibels, a jackhammer 100, and an aircraft at takeoff a 120.

Most background music is between 80 and 90 decibels, well over the threshold at which damage to the cardiovascular system has been observed if below that at which damage to hearing becomes apparent. 

“I hope that in future politicians will make laws that protect the people from environmental stressors,” he said. A reduction in overall noise pollution, he said, “will be a factor that can be influenced by politicians only and not by patients and doctors.’

 Pipedown, in association with other groups, intends to keep pressing politicians on this vital issue. In the longer run, it is indeed a matter of life and death.