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Government’s new NHS Test and Trace programme needs to be accessible to all

Action on Hearing loss is calling on the Government to ensure that accessibility is built into the Test and Trace programme following the Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock announcing the programme has now gone live. Action on Hearing Loss (formerly RNID), which is one of the largest charities in the UK supporting people living with deafness, hearing loss and tinnitus, will be engaging with the government to seek urgent clarification that the system is accessible for all.

The programme works by getting a team of Contact Tracers to work with anyone who tests positive for Covid-19 to identify who they may have been in close contact with – these people will then be contacted by the Contact Tracer and asked to self-isolate for 14 days.

Given that the Health Secretary has said the programme will be a ‘new way of life’ across the country, the charity is keen to make sure the government builds in accessibility for all. Action on Hearing Loss is worried about the potential reliance on the telephone which will have a big impact on the 12 million people across the UK who are deaf or have hearing loss. It is important for Test and Trace to utilise a host of contact methods and for the Contact Tracers to have received deaf and disability awareness training. The programme needs to provide access in British Sign Language (BSL) and for information and guidance on how the public should use and respond to Test and Trace to be translated into BSL. Information about Test and Trace also needs to be accessible to everyone so that they know what this is have the right information fast and effectively.

Roger Wicks, Director of Policy and Campaigns at Action on Hearing Loss said;

“The world has changed dramatically over the last few months and this new way of life is going to have a huge impact on those who are deaf or have hearing loss. There are several issues around making the Test and Trace programme more accessible such as the reliance on phones but also how the information will be relayed to those that rely on BSL. We will be working with the government to make sure these issues are considered and that the needs of the communities that we support are met.
As well as accessibility there are, as the Government themselves acknowledge, legitimate concerns about the scheme being used by scammers – so it is vitally important that the steps people need to take to protect themselves is communicated in an accessible way so people with hearing loss cannot be more vulnerable because of a lack of information.”

Roger added;

“We’d like people with deafness and hearing loss who have been contacted by Test and Trace to contact us to share their experiences of the accessibility of the system – good and bad – so that we can use this information to illustrate the needs of people with hearing loss with officials who are working on this.”

It’s important that as lockdown eases, people who are deaf or have hearing loss have equal access to the tools that will help the nation more forward. The needs of this community need to be kept in the forefront of plans such as this and with returning to work measures. Action on Hearing Loss will continue to work with the UK government and professional bodies to promote awareness of the prevalence of hearing loss and promote simple options for meeting communication needs among health professionals, the general public and the media.

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Notes to editors

Action on Hearing Loss (formerly RNID) is the national charity helping people living with deafness, tinnitus and hearing loss to live the life they choose. Action on Hearing Loss enables them to take control of their lives and remove the barriers in their way, giving people support and care, developing technology and treatments, and campaigning for equality.