Leading deaf consultants around the UK are urging the UK government to end ‘life-threatening’ decision to exclude live British Sign Language(BSL) during the daily coronavirus announcements.
Unlike Scotland, the UK government does not offer a BSL service which is both live and available on mainstream TV channels during government daily briefings.
According to the British Deaf Association, this could exclude around 151,000 deaf people across the UK.
Derek Todd BSL consultant for deaf Scotland believes the lack of BSL-accompanied content has life-damaging consequences for deaf people during the pandemic.
Mr Todd warned: “This is a life-threatening issue. People in the deaf community are dying because of lack of information.
“Many deaf people are frightened to go to the shops in case they accidentally break the rules.”
In 2015, Scotland introduced the British Sign Language Act which enforced legal obligations on the government to provide more sign language content.
Mr Todd urged the UK Government to follow the example set in Scotland, saying: “It’s a human right; our communication is being denied and our language is being denied.”
He added: “BSL users are four or five times more likely to suffer from depression compared to hearing people so if you provide communication then the BSL community will feel a lot more comforted.”
Janis Macdonald chief officer for deaf Scotland said: “The legislation in Scotland is a framework to help people work towards change.
“…it might seem like a petty issue but the reality for us is that language and communication are fundamental human rights and therefore, in key circumstances, it’s crucial that emergency announcements are accessible to all.”
People can gain access to signed Coronavirus updates- through resources such as BBC online or 500 channels- but many are concerned that this is not enough and lack of sign language is another form of ignoring the deaf community.
Sylvia Simmonds, who created a petition to require the government to provide live sign language, believes MPs and broadcasters should do more to include BSL on major channels.
She signed: “Sign language is on i-player and resources like that but it is not on mainstream TV.
“This is a national emergency… I know a lot of older deaf people don’t have the internet- my mother, for example, she’s deaf, she doesn’t know what’s going on with Coronavirus.”
The UK Government responded to Ms. Simmonds’ petition, stating:
“The Government is committed to building a digitally inclusive society and aims to ensure that COVID-19 media announcements are accessible for all UK audiences.
“As broadcasters are independent of the Government, they are responsible for their signing resources.”
However, the response came under fire from campaigners.
Lynn Stewart-Taylor creator of the #wherestheinterpreter twitter appeal commented:
“The government is making us feel like second-class citizens… Whether you’re hearing or deaf — no-one should be left unable to protect themselves from coronavirus.
“Scotland is doing an amazing job of including BSL interpreters but we need that sort of action UK wide.”
Sign health UK offer a daily Coronavirus signed update: https://signhealth.org.uk/resources/coronavirus/
NHS inform have a webpage focusing on BSL users and Coronavirus