RNID, the national charity making life fully inclusive for deaf people and those with hearing loss or tinnitus, welcomes the publication of a report today on the impact of the coronavirus on disabled people’s access to services.
The House of Commons’ Women and Equalities Committee is calling for an independent enquiry into the causes of adverse outcomes for deaf and disabled people, which include inaccessible government communications, particularly the failure to provide BSL interpretation at briefings. The committee rightly says these should have been “baked in” from the start.
The committee recommends that the ‘shopping list’ put forward by RNID, RNIB and other charities should be fully implemented. The ‘shopping list’ sets out the accessibility needs of deaf and disabled people in relation to broadcast and social media, websites and mailings. The report states:
“We recommend the Cabinet Office implement in full the list of accessible communications asks from RNID and other charities. We expect real progress to have been made towards this by the time the government responds to this Report and urge full implementation no later than the end of the first quarter of 2021.”
Dr Roger Wicks, Director of Policy and Campaigns at RNID responded:
“Firstly, we are delighted with the seriousness with which this cross-party committee of MPs considered the barriers presented by COVID to people who are deaf and have hearing loss. But we are even more pleased that the committee recommends that government fully implements our proposals to ensure equality of access to all future government communications. Deaf people must be able to access the latest and most critical public health information in real time”.
There are examples of pockets of improvements following discussions between RNID, other charities and the Cabinet Office. However, where press conferences are led by non-ministerial officials, such as the Chief Medical Officer, there remains no BSL interpreter available on any channel. Also in November, a shocking lack of accessible versions of the latest letters to people advised to shield meant that a population of 4.5 million people missed out on vital public health information.
Wicks continued: “The changes required are really simple to make so it is doubly frustrating that lessons are not being learned when the human costs – from raised anxiety to real risks around the inaccessibility of vital public health information – are so great. While this report provides some Christmas cheer to the 12 million people with hearing loss and who are deaf, we are yet to have confidence that government will get this right in future”.
The charity is also pleased that the committee backs their call on the availability of face masks in health and social care settings. Like RNID, the Committee welcomes the procurement of 250,000 clear facemasks, but agrees there are questions over whether this is an adequate number. The parliamentary committee states: “The Government must provide an update on distribution of these, its assessment of the level of need across health and social care, and plans for further procurement and distribution”.
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RNID (the Royal National Institute for Deaf People) is the national charity making life fully inclusive for deaf people and those with hearing loss or tinnitus. Together, we campaign for an inclusive society. We connect people to practical advice and pioneer new treatments for hearing loss and tinnitus.