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Twenty things you helped us achieve in 2020

Our Director of Policy and Campaigns, Roger Wicks, shares some of the key achievements you helped the Policy and Campaigns team to make happen in 2020.

Roger Wicks is interviewed on Sky News
Roger Wicks interviewed on Sky News

Happy New Year!

2020 was tough for a lot of people. The COVID-19 pandemic created more barriers and challenges for deaf people and those with hearing loss and tinnitus. But, despite this, we achieved some incredible things last year.

In the Policy and Campaigns team, we worked with a variety of organisations, including other charities, government and health organisations, to make these things happen. But most importantly, we couldn’t have done it without you. By supporting our campaigns, feeding into our research and generally telling us about the challenges you’ve experienced this year, you helped us to make a difference.

Here are just 20 of the amazing things we achieved together in 2020, that we’ll take forward into a positive and purposeful 2021.

1. We secured an exemption in the law on face coverings

The exemption allows people to lower their face covering to communicate with someone who relies on lip reading or facial expression to communicate. Read our guidance on face coverings.

2. We worked with Westminster to create and raise awareness of exemption cards with deaf awareness messaging

One version says: ‘Please remove your face covering so I can understand you better’. Download the exemption card from the GOV.UK website.

3. We secured changes to Access to Work

You can now get your support changed if your working routine has changed due to coronavirus and you can claim for equipment or support workers services when working from home. The changes also allow people to make claims more flexibly. Watch the Department of Work and Pensions’ BSL video.

4. We successfully pushed for the introduction of clear masks in health and social care services

These masks help to overcome the communication barriers created by Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Guidance was also published by the government which highlights the communication barriers caused by face masks and how to overcome them. Read more about the initial supply of clear face masks in the NHS.

5. We secured amendments to the government’s COVID-secure guidelines for workplaces

When the government first published its COVID-secure guidelines, there was no mention of the potential impact on disabled staff. The guidelines now highlight the need to keep workplaces accessible and to continue to make reasonable adjustments for disabled staff. See the government’s COVID-secure guidelines.

6. We joined forces with disability charities to call on the government to create accessible communications

It’s more important than ever that everyone can access government announcements as and when they happen. Thanks to our lobbying, the government appointed a senior official to focus on accessibility. We continue to work closely with the official to hold the government to account. Read more about our work with government or watch news coverage from Channel 4.

7. Nearly 1,800 of you signed our open letter to retailers calling on them to make their stores accessible

Our letter called on retailers to make their stores accessible to people who are deaf or have hearing loss, and we sent it to the UK’s major supermarkets. Stay up to date with our Access for All in Retail campaign.

8. You helped us show Ofcom why the 999 emergency services must be BSL accessible

In December 2019, Ofcom ran a public consultation setting out the case for the 999 emergency service phone line to be contactable in British Sign Language (BSL). Together with SignHealth, we set up a Facebook group. Over 4,000 BSL users joined to share their experience of using the 999 phone line and show Ofcom why the service must be made accessible.

9. Ofcom confirmed that it intends to introduce a 999 video relay service

Thanks to our campaigning with SignHealth and the fantastic response from our communities, Ofcom has confirmed its intention to introduce a video relay service which will enable people to contact 999 in BSL. Ofcom is now consulting on how the communication providers will fund the service, because it’s vital that it’s free for the public. Watch a BSL video explaining our latest progress.

10. You helped us to continue to campaign against NHS hearing aid cuts

We mobilised our local supporters to respond to a survey from the Staffordshire Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), asking for feedback on restricted access to hearing aids in the area. Thank you to everyone who took part – the responses showed overwhelming support for free NHS hearing aids. This means the CCGs cannot deny that both the evidence and public opinion are in favour of providing free hearing aids to all who need them. Read the latest in the campaign.

11. We worked with BT Relay UK to launch a new app

The new Relay UK app has significant improvements from the previous Next Generation Text app. It enables people with hearing loss to make any phone calls – including healthcare and emergency calls – using a text relay assistant. It has also helped with keeping up with increased demand during the pandemic. Go to Relay UK to find out more.

12. We helped increase access to BSL interpreters on NHS 111

There are now more BSL interpreters on NHS 111 and they’re operating 24/7 to meet the increasing demand.

13. We secured changes to the new GP curriculum

The new curriculum now makes it clear that early intervention and effective communication with people who are deaf or have hearing loss are vital parts of a GP’s role.

14. We worked with the Royal College of GPs on a Clinical Spotlight project on deafness and hearing loss

Together, we developed a toolkit of resources for GPs, to ensure that their services are accessible during face-to-face and remote appointments, and they refer people for a hearing assessment when they need one. Find out more about the GP toolkit.

15. You told us how remote GP appointments are affecting you

Since the pandemic there has been a shift towards remote appointments, over the phone or via video call. We ran a survey to find out what impact this is having on our communities. 70%‘did not feel confident that their communication needs would be met during a remote appointment’ and nearly 60% had ‘put off’ seeking advice from their GP because of remote care. We’re using this evidence to continue working with GPs to ensure everyone has access to healthcare. Read our survey report.

16. You told us how you’ve been affected by the widespread use of face coverings and how well you understand the exemptions

The results suggest that most people don’t understand how the exemption rules apply to our communities. 50% were not aware that someone who is deaf or has hearing loss can ask others to temporarily remove their face covering from a safe distance to communicate. Since then we’ve continued to raise awareness of the exemptions amongst our communities and the general public. See the results of the survey.

17. We’re kicking our Subtitle it! campaign up a gear

In September we responded to Ofcom’s consultation outlining how the regulations on subtitles for on-demand services would be applied. We’re expecting Ofcom to give their final recommendations any day now and when they do, the government will have everything they need to enact the regulations. We will be urging them not to delay any further and we’ll need your help to show what this means to us. Keep up to date with Subtitle it!

18. In response to your feedback, we’re providing more support and advice on ear wax removal

We have written to the Minister for Health seeking clarity on the provision of ear wax removal services. We have also been working with supportive MPs to table parliamentary questions to raise awareness of the issues you’ve been facing and get answers.  This is something we will continue to work on in 2021 so expect more information and resources soon.

19. We secured great press coverage to raise awareness of our important work

With interviews on Sky News, BBC Radio 4 and JOE.co.uk, plus coverage in newspapers and local press, we’ve been spreading the word far and wide on the issues that matter to you.

20. We’re making sure you play a greater role in our policy and campaigning work

We were only able to achieve all of this because of your support and you can help us to achieve even more in 2021. We’re going to be reaching out to find out what issues matter most to you, so we can continue to make an impact together. Look out for our upcoming survey which will let you have your say.


Thank you to all of you who got involved to help make all of these incredible things happen.

After a difficult year, we hope you’re feeling as optimistic as us about 2021. We’re keen to get to work, with you, so that we can see even more positive change this year for deaf people and those with hearing loss and tinnitus.


Please donate today and help us make a real difference to the lives of the 12 million people in the UK who are deaf or live with hearing loss or tinnitus.


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