UK Government needs to grant deaf people “the right to educated high-quality sign language interpretation”: leading UN committee paves the way for a British Sign Language Act
In a landmark moment for deaf people in the UK, the UK government has been told by a leading UN committee that it must “ensure that legislation provides for the right to educated high-quality sign language interpretation…in all spheres of life”, highlighting a key loophole in current UK law.
The announcement came as part of the Concluding Observations of the UN Committee of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) whose chairperson, Theresia Degener, was unfaltering in her clear criticism of the UK Government’s ‘grave and systematic violations’ of deaf and disabled people’s human rights.
The lack of legislated language rights for deaf people in the UK has led to severe failings that include poor educational outcomes, deaf people being put at extreme risk in emergency situations, and there being no access to British Sign Language in many areas of public life.
Steps have recently been taken through a BSL (Scotland) Act 2015 and an ongoing consultation in Northern Ireland, but UK Government has repeatedly ignored and failed to build on these promising starts by devolved administrations, and deaf people across the UK are still suffering.
The British Deaf Association (BDA) have heard innumerable harrowing experiences, including a deaf person who was attacked in the street, arrested, held overnight and not provided with an interpreter so was unable to explain that he was the victim, and 999 text services meaning that too much time spent lengthily inputting text detracted from administering potentially life-saving CPR.
Representatives from the BDA travelled to Geneva as part of a delegation of UK Deaf and Disabled People’s Organisations (DDPOs) to present this evidence to the UN CRPD committee.
The Committee then condemned the UK Government’s attempts to misrepresent impact through unanswered questions, misused statistics and a smokescreen of statements on policies and legislation which fail to implement the rights of deaf and disabled people.
The committee recommended that UK government needed to take steps to ensure “full and equal participation” is possible for deaf people on juries, allocate funding for sign language courses to ensure full inclusion in family life/education/work, and develop obligatory standards for securing access to information from public services and authorities.
Addressing the UK Government, committee member Coomaraval Pyaneandee said “[I] want to see you come back as a world leader which at the moment, I’m afraid you are not, but [DDPOs] I congratulate. [They] are in fact, the world leaders in your country.”
Chairman of the BDA, Dr Terry Riley OBE stated that,
“We were impressed with the openness of the committee to listen to our evidence and apply their significant legal experience. Therefore we are glad to see that the committee has expressly recommended that the UK government finally legislate to protect language rights of deaf people, and that so many of the committee’s remarks related to this.
Deaf people have been passed over too long; there can now be no doubt that the government has been taken to task. Without language rights, we have no human rights.”
Deaf and Disabled People’s Organisations across the UK have worked in coproduction to collect evidence and compile the reports and presentations through the Review process. The DDPOs submission was co-produced by the British Deaf Association, Disability Rights UK, Inclusion Scotland, Disability Wales, Disability Action Northern Ireland, and the Reclaiming our Futures Alliance. Additional submissions were also made by the BDA, DRUK, Disability Wales, ROFA, Inclusion Scotland, and Disability Action NI.
The UN Committee on the Rights of Disabled People Examination assessed what steps the UK and devolved Governments have taken to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People following ratification of it in 2009. The Committee is a body of experts, nominated and elected by governments, the majority of whom are disabled people.
The committee postponed its assessment of the UK (originally due in 2015) to investigate a complaint of the violation of disabled people’s rights as a result of welfare reform. This was brought under the optional protocol of the Convention. The findings expressed concern of grave and systemic violations of disabled people’s human rights. That investigation looked only at a part of the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People – with a particular focus on the impact of austerity measures and welfare reform. The current review has investigated all of the Articles within the Convention.
A lay person’s guide to the Review process and Examination can be found here: www.disabilitywales.org/crpd17
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