I want to address a very current topic in the Deaf community.  Accessibility.

Accessibility has different definitions in varying situations.  In this article I am addressing the use of BSL Interpreters and subtitles for a Deaf audience.  Specifically I am thinking about their use on BBC News updates and bulletins; Facebook news; Instagram and LinkedIn posts.

Technology has moved on to the point that at the touch of a button, you can facilitate subtitles.  There remains gaps in technological advancement though. What about updates and posts provided by Deaf people in Sign Language? Where is the technology to translate that into subtitles for people who do not understand BSL? How can that be subtitled?

Provision of Interpreters has escalated hugely – there are many trained professionals available to book either in person or remotely.  There is no longer the shortage there used to be.

Yet accessibility remains a barrier for Deaf people.  Digital media and news updates continue to lack accessibility.  Technology and mankind has improved dramatically, but accessibility and the rights of the Deaf public remain stagnant.  We do not have anywhere near equal access.  We as a community are still stuck in the 20th century.

As a professional, as a person, I am continually frustrated by the lack of provision for people like me, who rely on subtitles and sign language to access any spoken information.

Recently I contacted LinkedIn followers directly and asked directly where the captions are for Deaf and Hard of Hearing people to access spoken information on their platform, their response was disappointing to say the least.  Other providers that I have contacted have been more responsive, they have responded with an admission of not realising or not having thought of providing this option.  A simple Google search and you can soon find a way to facilitate subtitles as a first option.  

Since the beginning of the Pandemic in 2019, there has been an ongoing campaign involving a legal case, entitled “Where Is the Interpreter”.  This has been addressing the lack of access to breaking news for Deaf people.  When I say “lack of access” I mean that there has been NO ACCESS.  This situation has not improved.  In recent days several historical events have occurred which have not been interpreted live into BSL.  The appointment of the new Prime Minister, Liz Truss, for example.  The sad passing of our monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, had very limited access for Deaf people which was only at a specific time on BBC.  

Today, the day I am composing this article, our new King was formally recognised.  King Charles III was inaugurated amidst the finest pomp and ceremony, an Accession Council made up of hundreds of politicians validated his taking the throne.  

A royal historian, Christopher Wilson, said that “This is something that’s never been publicly witnessed before in 1,200 years of monarchy in this country.”  

There were subtitles.  My partner and I really struggled despite this and it was effectively inaccessible.  British Sign Language has its’ own grammatical structure – many written English terms do not directly translate into Sign Language.  An Interpreter would have translated this into Sign Language using linguistic concepts which made sense to us as a Deaf Community.  

Pomp and ceremony written in subtitles probably didn’t make much sense to anyone, let alone people who’s first language is not English and do not have a degree in History or Politics.  

An Interpreter with appropriate experience and skills would have made this very historic occasion both memorable and impactful for everyone, not just the hearing audience or those who follow written language.

On the 23rd September 2022 there is to be a Legal review of the lack of accessibility for the Critical News Briefings that were issued by our Government regarding the outbreak of Coronavirus and safety measures being put in place.  Lives were at risk.  The world was in crisis.  There was no information that was accessible for Deaf people in that moment. Lives were at stake.

A representative of one of the national agencies providing Interpreters has publicly questioned the Government as to why they nor any other agency was approached at this or any other time to support breaking news reports. To say this situation is saddening is inappropriate, really, it is shameful.  It is archaic in a day when personal choice over such things as gender and lifestyle are such high priority over basic human needs and rights to information.  Despite the recognition by the House of Commons via the BSL Act, this year which creates greater understanding, inclusion and equality – in theory – we still find ourselves unable to participate in historic national and political developments. 

The BSL Act seems to be just another piece of paper on file which has no actual impact on, or improvement of, our lives. 

Will there be an Interpreter live on the day of our Queen’s funeral? A day of national mourning?  A day which for many will be a landmark fond farewell to a much loved monarch and mother figure of the nation?  I don’t think I need to comment as to my views on this, let’s just say there is a big question mark on that one.

As a proud member of the Deaf community, as an individual and as a professional I want us to have equal access.  Not only via subtitles but with the beauty and depth of our visual language, with a BSL Interpreter, translating the information into an equally emotive and edifying form for us.

At a time when we are under threat of war following the Russian/Ukraine confrontation; political changes; impact on foreign travel; recovering from a pandemic and feeling vulnerable as a nation due to rising costs and inflation, we cannot keep being last on the agenda.  When there is breaking news everyone has a right to that information, not just those who can hear.  We cannot continue as we are, always the last to know. 

In summary, we have been let down, we have been failed as a community.  This is not acceptable and I hope for better in the future, although it is a weary battle we continue to fight.  

I started this article stating the technological advances and also the increase in the arsenal of Qualified Interpreters we now have.  There are plenty of interpreters available at a moments notice and having adapted to working remotely they can be made available at a moments notice working from their home studios.

I implore the Government to give this serious consideration for the future.  I entreat you, reading this, to support the campaigns in relation to this issue.  Deaf people are suffering.  Mental health rates are escalating as wellbeing deteriorates.  Deaf people feel, and are treated, like second class citizens.  At a time when race, gender, religion and the like are a priority, where are we?

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