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Progress made on accessible information on coronavirus for Deaf and hearing loss community

Last updated: 22 May 2020

Action on Hearing Loss is delighted at the announcement today from Penny Mordaunt, Cabinet Office Minister, that the Government has expanded the provision of BSL (British Sign Language) interpretation on the daily coronavirus press Conferences, which will now be made available to all broadcasters. This follows the announcement that a senior lead for accessible information has been appointed by the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work following the charity’s letter to the Prime Minister last month, highlighting inaccessible government updates.

The charity welcomes the former Disability Minister’s tweet stating: “BBC has agreed to make available the interpreter feed to all broadcasters. Feed will also soon be on all govt social media live videos from each press conference. BSL could therefore be on all coverage live and recorded.” Action on Hearing Loss is calling on all broadcasters to utilise the BSL interpretation and provide accessibility for their deaf viewers, which has so far only be available on BBC News 24.

This, alongside the appointment of the lead for accessible information, will have a huge impact on the deaf and hearing loss community as they will now be able to access the vital information at the right time.

Throughout the coronavirus crisis, the charity has been asking the Government to make sure public health information is accessible to people who are deaf, have hearing loss and tinnitus. We have been disappointed that since the daily briefings began in the middle of March the Government have not done more to ensure the provision of BSL interpretation is universal across all broadcasters and outlets. This work coincided with the #WhereIsTheInterpreter campaign headed up by Lynn Stewart-Taylor who has also been championing for a BSL interpreter at the daily briefings. The campaign has clearly demonstrated the scale of the issue within the Deaf community.

For many BSL users, it is essential that they receive information in their first language. This is especially important when dealing with information that is complex and jargon-filled. For example the term ‘self-isolate’ might not have much meaning to a BSL user when in written English. But when translated by an appropriately skilled professional the meaning and instruction behind the jargon can be conveyed in a way appropriate to the language.  

Action on Hearing Loss appreciates that in such a highly-pressured, fast-moving situation, crucial information must be communicated to the public extremely quickly. It is vital, however, that despite these pressures, accessible standards are upheld, to ensure information reaches those who need it the most. 

Mark Atkinson, Chief Executive at Action on Hearing loss said;

“We’re pleased that the Government has taken steps to make their communications more accessible, including a BSL interpretation of the daily No.10 press conference and appointing a senior lead responsible in Government for accessible communications. Deaf people have been telling us that they have felt anxious and concerned about the lack of interpreters for public health information and that the government needed to do more to be inclusive of deaf people – so we welcome this news.

“We’re working hard to now get broadcasters to understand their duties in supporting viewers who are deaf and have hearing loss, making sure that they fulfil their obligations and make use of this new resource and share the BSL interpretations in their broadcasts.”

“We are also thrilled that the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, Justin Tomlinson MP has confirmed the appointment of a senior lead for accessible information following our letter to the Prime Minister, last month. We look forward to working with the new national lead to ensure accessibility is entirely embedded in how government puts communications together.”

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 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.