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The Disability Discrimination Act 1995
THE DISABILITY DISCRIMINATION ACT 1995

Extract from Preface to Sign Language Link; Desk edition 1999

……… "From October 1999, the Disability Discrimination Act requires any use of a public place and all service providers (paid or unpaid) such as banks, shops, hospitals, hotel, or information services to change practices, policies or procedures which make it impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled people to use a service.

This includes deaf people, but an important point to note is that access for deaf people (whose needs are widely diverse) can be easily overlooked when people are focusing on physical disability. Deafness is invisible, but its effects on those who have become deaf or hard of hearing can at least be imagined, even simulated with some effort or training. However, it is very difficult for hearing people to imagine what it is like to be born deaf, particularly to be born deaf and not given access to early language. The underlying language complexities, variable educational attainments, and functional illiteracy of many born deaf people are still met with surprise and ignorance.

Much is rightly made of the importance of sign language interpreting and the dire shortage of interpreters, but the commonly held assumption that interpreting services are the answer to all deaf people's needs is naïve.

Deaf children's difficulty in learning to read and write (secondary skills in using a language that most haven't acquired as a first language because of their deafness) is little understood by many families or professionals, let alone the general public. The effects, which can seriously restrict access to learning and information (and therefore general knowledge) throughout life, require special consideration if deaf people's language and communication needs are to be met.

Even those with special and direct statutory responsibility for deaf services have been found sadly lacking by Social Services Inspectorates in both England and Scotland. Serious shortcomings have been found in worker's ability to communicate with their own service users; most social workers in the areas inspected cannot communicate with sign language users.

Linked with this was a lack of effective user consultation and poor management direction, in addition to patchy access to interpreting services (detailed in the reports 'A Service on the Edge' and 'Sensing Progress' relating to England and Scotland respectively). Compounding all these factors is the irony that such paucity of communication channels makes it virtually impossible for Deaf users to implement complaints procedures.

Schools attended by deaf children, including specialist deaf schools and units, cannot be guaranteed to offer much better in terms of accessibility for deaf people by either text phones or to staff with whom they can communicate. This is without even considering the minefield of educational methodologies used within those schools that may or may not meet the deaf child's needs.

There are no statutory requirements for specialist teachers or social workers with deaf people to have any competence in British Sign Language. An estimated 81% of families of deaf children never learn to communicate effectively with their children. Without Government action, it is difficult to see how this might change.

The Deaf community is still fighting for official Government recognition of BSL (there was a protest march through London on 27th June 1999 to this end). BSL is not included in the European Charter for Minority Languages, despite being Britain's fourth indigenous language after English, Welsh, and Scottish Gaelic. Until BSL is given equal status to other languages, the Deaf community will remain an oppressed minority. At the dawn of a new century, it seems that there is still a long way to go before Deaf people in Britain achieve full civil rights."


Author: Cath Smith
Source: Sign Language Link: Desk Edition 1999
Date Published @ DS: 25/10/2000 



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