The COVID-19 pandemic has brought additional disadvantage and discrimination to Deaf people in the UK

Dear all

Here is a link to the BSL video: and below is the transcript. We will be sharing the post on our facebook and twitter channels at 11am today.

Following concerns expressed by two members of the Bristol Deaf community, Jennie Webber and Linda Day, regarding the Bristol Nightingale Hospital, a joint press release has been endorsed by the Royal Association for Deaf people (RAD), a leading Deaf organisation, and iBSL, one of the leading British Sign Language awarding bodies, in support of the statement below:

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought additional disadvantage and discrimination to Deaf people in the UK. Throughout the pandemic, Deaf people have had to rely on local organisations and charities to create accessible information and content. Information on the virus has not been made readily available in British Sign Language (BSL) and this can be evidenced through the ‘Where is the Interpreter’ campaign, which seeks to address the fact that the Government’s daily briefings were not translated into BSL. In this instance, we are concerned about the lack of access to accessible information in hospitals and healthcare settings.

BSL is a rich and complex language with its own grammar and structure.  It is not a signed equivalent of English and is, in fact, the first or preferred language of over 125,000 people in the UK.

It is paramount that Deaf people have accessible information in hospitals and healthcare settings.  Without it, their health and wellbeing is at greater risk. For example, without a BSL Interpreter, a Deaf patient may not understand a written treatment consent form – nor comprehend verbal instructions given for medication dosage; scenarios that could result in serious consequences.

We are deeply concerned about a growing expectation for Deaf people to access critical information including UK government advice about COVID-19 in a second or third language (English) – or to rely on other unsuitable signed forms of communication, such as Makaton.

Makaton is a communication system designed to support disabled people and those with learning disabilities. It is not an equivalent to BSL – and therefore is a potentially dangerous ‘alternative’.

We are concerned that the Bristol Nightingale Hospital that serves a strong Deaf community from across the South West of England has implemented Makaton as its main alternative communication support for Deaf and disabled people.

The UK remains in pandemic and whilst the pressure on resources is immense, it is now more critical than ever that the UK Government supports the health, safety and wellbeing of Deaf people by providing accessible information (at the time it is published) – and that hospitals and healthcare settings comply with the NHS Accessible Information Standard.

The Association of Sign Language Interpreters, in collaboration with the Royal Association for Deaf people, SignHealth and the British Society for Mental Health and Deafness, has produced guidelines for organisations booking and providing communication access for Deaf people the COVID-19 pandemic.  It is critical that hospitals and healthcare providers read this guidance and consult with their own local communities and specialist Deaf organisations.

Lorna Bareham | PR & Marketing Officer