1st Edition April 9th, 2020 Jacqui Bond

The Deaf community in the UK and Covid-19

It’s noticeable that the UK Government is not reaching the Deaf community in its Press briefing. The World Federation of Deaf People (WFD) and Association of Sign Language Interpreters (ASLI) have released statements with regard to the lack of interpreters at live announcements by the UK Government or Public Health spokespeople. Sign Health and Deaf individuals are producing signed videos of the advice available on social media and YouTube. 

This is in stark contrast to other countries that have ensured sign language interpretation at press conferences for natural disasters and the current Coronavirus COVID-19. What it shows to me, is that having regard for the accessibility needs of Deaf people is an afterthought. 10 years of the Equality Act and it is not in the forefront of leading officials to ensure that communication is accessible. Lots of people, Deaf and hearing, do not use social media. The News is a broader platform which has the potential to reach more people. @Limping chicken commented that Deaf people in China have been travelling to socialise unaware of the restrictions because of the lack of information.

Government guidance is providing links to WhatsApp, and simple English with pictures. Yet we shouldn’t rely on volunteers in the Deaf community to provide access to the information. I understand that Dawn Butler has raised the issue with the Government over the lack of interpretation. I don’t have high hopes of this improving imminently. I do hope that people at all levels of Government, central, national and local realise that they cannot continue to ignore accessibility needs in times of emergency or otherwise.  I wrote this on the 14th March and press briefings still do not include an interpreter present, unlike the leaders of Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament.

So who enforces the Equality Act if the Government cannot or will not book interpreters? Deaf organisations have stepped up, as have Deaf individuals to convey the information in BSL across social media. In addition, they have a #WhereIsTheInterpreter? Campaign with accompanying letter to the Prime Minister’s office and MPs. 

Jacqui Bond, Dip SW, MA in Social Work with Deaf People