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12 March 2020
The Association of Sign Language Interpreters (UK) and the National Registers of Communication Professionals working with Deaf and Deafblind people (NRCPD) echo the statement made by the World Federation of the Deaf and the World Association of Sign Language Interpreters, which can be found here: https://wasli.org/cat_news/wfd-wasli-joint-statement-on-covid-19
We ask our UK national government to ensure all appropriate measures are taken to provide accessible information about the coronavirus to approximately 87,000 sign language users within the UK Deaf Community. For many Deaf people, English is not an easily accessible language, therefore written information is not always an appropriate way to communicate advice and measures to be taken by individuals. Any information televised, such as quarantine plans and public health advice, should be interpreted live and made available on social media for the Deaf Community to share, as well as subtitled.
As advised by WFD and WASLI, remote interpreting via video link is an option that should be used only temporarily and where absolutely necessary, to protect both the patient and the communication professional. We also would like guidance from the Department of Health regarding the use of Sign Language Interpreters and Translators in health settings during an outbreak of Covid19 and how we best protect the health of Deaf sign language users and language professionals.
There is currently no clear information or guidance provided to sign language users by the government in BSL and it is vital that members of the Deaf Community are aware of the symptoms and what to do if they appear to have symptoms, or have come into contact with someone with the virus.
Interpreters and Translators attend a range of appointments and meet many members of the public each day, thus Deaf people could be put at further risk if appropriate precautions are not in place. At the same time, protective equipment such as face masks may hinder the interpreting process due to the modality of British sign language, and risks and benefits need to be considered by all stakeholders involved in the process. Currently, interpreters are not receiving evidence-based advice from agencies and contract holders on how to proceed when dealing with infected patients.
This lack of information in accessible formats puts both Deaf sign language users and communication professionals at risk.
Sanctions that may have to be imposed by the government, in the near future, to restrict individuals' movements, may mean additional barriers for Deaf people in accessing communication support and therefore in receiving vital information that is made available to the public. Under the Equality Act (2010) and in line with the NHS Accessible information Standards, the government is under the legal obligation to ensure Deaf people are not discriminated against because of their disability and associated language use. It is therefore of the utmost importance to ensure that this issue is considered with urgency by the relevant government departments and the NHS.
In addition, most of the United Kingdom's sign language Interpreters and Translators are self-employed and will be adversely affected by imposed restrictions on movement and any necessary quarantine. We request assurances that protections will be offered to cover self-employed professionals, such as tax relief and statutory sick pay, or financial and practical support.
Language professionals must be responsible for their own hygiene in order to protect others, but also must be provided with guidance from agencies, and the settings in which they work. Individuals have the right to refuse to work if they believe they are at risk or would potentially put others at risk and should not be penalised for taking the approach advised.
With regard to Access to Work we would like to seek guarantees from the Department for Work and Pensions that there will be more flexibility allowed in the ways Deaf people can access and utilise Interpreters and Translators, and that there will be no negative repercussions of under-utilisation of agreed budgets should quarantines be imposed, leading to lack of employment or availability of language professionals.
Both organisations are monitoring the information and guidance being provided by the UK government and the WHO, and will update members of any relevant guidance provided that will impact Deaf people's access to services.
For more information about the coronavirus COVID19, please use the following links: