Pardon? We asked for access in English not BSL – where are our captions?

5 07 2013


The National Disabilities Conference on 4 July in London was organised by Government Knowledge. This is an important event at this moment in time as benefits are being cut, wages are frozen, jobs are cut, and people with disabilities are increasingly marginalised.

In the UK, less than 70,000 deaf people use sign language however there are approximately 10 million deaf and hard of hearing people who do NOT use sign language – they might lipread and/or use their residual hearing, and therefore rely on captions and lipspeakers. We would expect, therefore, that a national conference of this nature about access, inclusion and disability would be accessible to its OWN customers. We would also expect such an event to be accessible without having to fight for such access – which is our right, not a privilege, under the 2010 Equality Act.

NADP (National Association of Deafened People) asked Lidia Best to attend on their behalf. They requested communication support (speech to text) as Lidia is deaf, she does not use sign language. Speech to text support provision at the event was confirmed by the organisers. Delegates were asked to pay almost £300 each to attend and NADP paid a reduced fee.

After NADP’s request for speech to text support, 121 Captions were contacted by Government Knowledge for information on providing captioning for this conference. They did not book any speech to text services.

Lidia turned up to the National Disabilities conference to find only British Sign Language interpreters were available, and there was no speech to text. There was an induction loop but it did not work. A loop can work for some deaf people, but not all deaf people have enough residual hearing to be able to use one. A lipspeaker can work for those deaf people who can lipread, but not all deaf people can read lips. Therefore speech to text is a necessary service.

Mrs Lidia Best, NADP trustee

Mrs Lidia Best, NADP trustee

What is shocking is that such access had been requested by NADP and confirmed by the organisers Government Knowledge. This conference is expensive to attend, but for a disabled person to attend and to find it inaccessible, when it had been confirmed that it would be, is unacceptable. The conference organisers should be making this kind of event affordable and accessible for disabled people on benefits who would be best placed to explain the relevant issues. Government Knowledge say they have provided access for all delegates and have followed all requests – which we know not to be true. Government Knowledge checked their system and they had no special requests for communication support. They asked Lidia if she had organised the speech to text reporters herself. They even blamed Lidia for not telling them.

We have asked the deaf community if any British Sign Language users attended this conference. There has been a deafening silence.

This is a common occurrence for deaf and hard of hearing people who do not sign, to request speech to text at events and find it is not provided, or to turn up and find there are only sign language interpreters. We have had enough. This has got to STOP.

Deafness can happen to anyone. It could happen tomorrow to your friend, your parent, or even YOU.

There are 1 in 6 people in the UK with a hearing loss who don’t sign. Could you be next?

– With thanks to Mrs Lidia Best, NADP Trustee

Support ALL deaf people on Facebook: Pardon? I’m deaf. When will you listen? We need access for All!

Further comments about this event are on Facebook : Disability Rights UK

…. and to add a little more irony, check THIS out – another shining example of our government’s inclusive attitude towards the disadvantaged, where Government Knowledge hosted a conference about financial inclusion… a shame the tickets are £320!

You can join the Deaf People Against Welfare Cuts campaign on Facebook – look out for connected talks and events happening across London.



2 responses

6 07 2013

I’m sorry to have to say it but this was inevitable.
It isn’t the first instance of this happening either. I first heard of this kind of mistake at least a decade ago. The fact is, the general public think that all deaf people use sign language. Common beliefs, especially when universally held turn into facts that influence people’s thinking.

All the information given out to the public, all the assumptions made by care workers and now it seems that all the support facilities are by and for the signing deaf. I’ve campaigned for at least a decade … and got myself into a lot of trouble over it … for a lot more honesty and accuracy about the support needs of deaf people.

99.9% of deaf people can understand English. They simply have to. You can’t go into the chippie and order cod and chips three times in BSL. At least not in any chippy I know of. Like it or not we have to use English, like everyone else in this country!

We have to read newspapers, timetables, official documents. Our main means of TV support is subtitling. Sign language programmes are very much a minority and surveys show that hardly anyone watches them. While signing is common amongst Deaf people it isn’t common anywhere else. Deaf people therefore confine themselves to areas of society where signing is commonplace. Unfortunately we can’t all do that otherwise we’d live in a ghetto. It is very restrictive.

So in order to get on deaf people need to use English. Why therefore is our support so frequently only for sign?

And especially in this case where the organisation was one which claims to educate people in disability issues. They could at least get their facts right to begin with. How can we have any faith that organisers like this know their stuff?

6 07 2013

It is banging your head against a brick wall, charity has to stop pandering to the BSL user, it is depriving many many deaf people of access, and of course HI charities who support non-signers are footing access bills for signers who may never turn up. Why we aren’t all opposing BSL output without captions beats me, another issue that means public health info is not captioned either.

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