LETTER : Turn a deaf ear to beggars

Sir: Being profoundly deaf myself, I read your report of the plight of the deaf and mute Mexicans who were lured to New York and pressed into begging gangs ("Slaves of New York freed", 21 July). I assumed it couldn't happen here; I attributed it to an exploitative and violent culture of a socially backward country.

However, two days later, I was having afternoon tea in a cafe in central London, close to Oxford Circus, when an individual entered the premises and started handing out plastic jewellery and a note to people at each table. The gist of the note was, "I am unable to speak and hear in a world of voices and music; please generously buy this trinket." I challenged him with my best (and angry) British Sign Language and he muttered "Don't talk" and slunk off.

Please do not be taken in by these people. Please do not give them any money. They are not deaf or representative of the deaf. They exploit people's pity and prejudice (deaf people are, in the main, as educated, articulate and employable as their hearing peers) and damage all that has been achieved by the deaf community in the last 20 years - including stamping out this practice.

JOHN CONNORS

London NW11

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