The BDA is asking local authorities and public services across the UK to sign up to the Charter for British Sign Language (BSL) and make five pledges to improve access and rights for Deaf BSL users
What is the BSL Charter?
The Charter is designed as a vehicle to remove direct and indirect discrimination, empower local deaf communities and resolve conflicts between service providers and Deaf people. Its aim is to increase awareness of Deaf issues and BSL issues and provide better educational opportunities for Deaf children.
Who is the BSL Charter for?
When it was drafted in 2003, the BSL Charter was initially designed for Council services. But over recent years, it has expanded to incorporate health, police services, housing, clinical commissioning groups, as well as a Deaf service provider. The BDA also created a Toolkit, outlining different expectations to meet each different public service needs.
How is the BSL Charter promoted to public services?
Each public service is given the BSL Charter and an accompanying document in its initial relationship-building phase. Demographic information is provided on each locality, outlining the numbers of Deaf residents who use BSL and how to resolve communication and access issues using the BSL Charter as the way to meet their duties under the Equality Act 2010. Sometimes this happens over several meetings, and others may agree to sign the Charter instantly as they see the value of the support offered.
How do public services respond?
Each public service has their own strategic plan. All five pledges may not be a priority for them – so they may choose to either adopt them all or just sign up to only one pledge, as public services face budget cuts, restrictions or reductions in staffing levels.
A signing ceremony often marks the occasion, that is attended by officials and community members.
What happens after the Charter is signed?
This is when the hard work really begins. Firstly we set up a Charter Group or Partnership Working Group. The public services first job is to complete a Self Assessment which is done in conjunction with a local Deaf Forum or Action Group with the support of the BDA. Having local Deaf representatives at these meetings is critical. They play a vital part in contributing the views of the local Deaf community which can become part of the work the public service is doing. The BDA brings a national perspective and can bring in examples of good practice from other areas of the country – this creates an effective partnership.
The public service consults the BDA’s Toolkit and uses this as a checklist to see what they are already doing, what they have achieved and where the gaps might be. We hold regular meetings with the public service, representatives of the Deaf Forum or Action Group and the BDA.
There is an initial audit of each department. They identify what services they have, what they currently provide and identify areas that need development. All this information is collated and we create a three-year Action Plan. Some adaptations can be done quickly, at very little cost and other issues may be more complex and need more time to develop.
Consulting the Deaf community
Pledge 5 is the consultation with the Deaf community – this is of vital importance. The public service consults with the Deaf community and identifies the needs and the priorities of the community. The Action Plan is amended to reflect the views and needs of the Community – this is then presented to the Deaf community to endorse. The overall aim is to create a working partnership between the public service and the Deaf community.
THE 5 PLEDGES
Each pledge requires a commitment, to overcome the disadvantages that Deaf people using BSL face, in order to achieve the stated objective. The benefits that will ensue from achieving the stated objective are also listed.
1. Consult formally and informally with the local Deaf community on a regular basis
Deaf people should have the right to be consulted on services or changes to services that affect them. (See 1.1. – 3.1 of the Local Government Association Equality Framework; “Knowing your Communities”).
Deaf people who use BSL are able to have input into consultations either separately or alongside other forums and user groups, thus enabling the Deaf community to be a resource that can be used to improve the design of services for Deaf people and the wider community. Organisations that have a contractual obligation to provide public services should ensure that this is included as part of their business activity.
- Access to services have better focus and it reduces the likelihood of poor access for Deaf people which often leads to wastage of resources.
- Deaf people are more involved in any decision-making processes with knock-on benefits such as improvements in access to services for Deaf people.
- In turn, Deaf people are empowered by improved access to services, freeing them to contribute more to the local community.
2. Ensure access for Deaf people to information and services
Deaf people face many barriers when trying to access information or services, either through lack of awareness or language barriers. Many Deaf people are often unable to access written information. Information linked to their health in England under NHS England is covered by the Accessible Information Standard – known officially as SCCI1605. Compliance with information standards of this type is a mandatory requirement for NHS Trusts and GP practices. This is set out in section 250 of the Health and Social Care Act. Information from other public services is covered by the Public Sector Equality Duty (Chapter 14, Part 11, Chapter 1, Section 149: Equality Act 2010). This also applies to the Justice system with regard to the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime (2015) and the Witness Charter (2013). Deaf people are classified as vulnerable and eligible for ‘special measures’.
The organisation recognises and values all its customers, including those who use BSL. It aims for its Deaf customers to have the same quality of provision, information, standards and right to be informed on a par with others in the wider community. Services should ensure that all contracts involving provision of information or services have clauses stipulating equality of access including access through BSL.
- Services are accessible to a wider section of the local community, including those lacking good English.
- Customer care is improved with stress on staff and customers reduced.
- Deaf people can access services independently.
- Effective communication between the service and Deaf BSL users is maximised.
- Services become compliant with the Equality Act 2010 and SCC11605.
3. Support Deaf children and families
Deaf children and their families require good communication from when the diagnosis of deafness is made and throughout their formative years. The BDA believes that the majority of Deaf children will realise their potential through a bilingual / bicultural approach to learning using both BSL and English. 40% of Deaf children and young people have additional needs requiring intensive communication support. (See Part 3 of the Children and Families Act 2014). Organisations that provide information or services need to be mindful that they should not exclude children who are difficult to reach. In particular, services that have a responsibility for safeguarding issues must meet legal requirements.
Services that work with children and young people recognise the importance of Deaf children and young people being able to access information and support on a par with their hearing peers. Some services will be able to provide a bilingual / bicultural approach enabling full access for all children and young people meeting the aims of the Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) reforms.
- Deaf children and young people have choices in how they can communicate and contribute to their local communities.
- The family life of deaf children is enhanced by the improved communication between the child and their parents/carers and siblings.
- More Deaf children and young people will achieve academically on a par with their hearing peers leading to more Deaf young people progressing to further and higher education and accessing job opportunities.
- Services such as police, health and social services will be able to deal with safeguarding issues by offering access for deaf children who need support or want to report issues.
 The BDA has an on-going working relationship with the NSPCC
4. Ensure staff working with Deaf people can communicate effectively using British Sign Language
All staff working in public services or local authorities that interact with the public should be able to communicate with all sections of the local community including Deaf people.
Staff providing frontline services can feel confident in being able to communicate with Deaf people and respond appropriately. Members of staff at all customer service points will have basic BSL skills and know how to call upon other staff with higher level skills or BSL/English interpreters using remote access such as Skype, FaceTime or VRS where available. Specialist workers with Deaf people should aim to for their own skills to be extensive enough to enable them to deliver a high level service to a wide range of Deaf people without needing BSL/English interpreters in non-complex situations.
- There is good customer care.
- There is a reduced need for BSL/English interpreters in specialist services for Deaf people.
- Quality staff development for Deaf and hearing staff members contributes to good customer care.
5. Promote learning and high quality teaching of British Sign Language
There is a need for more BSL courses in order that more people have the opportunity to learn BSL.
The organisation recognises that it is essential to support the local infrastructure of teaching and assessment of BSL. It tackles this in conjunction with local economic development agencies and funding bodies. This is to ensure that anyone who wants to learn BSL, whether they are parents/guardians of deaf children, young people, local authority or public service employees, can do so. Everyone learning BSL should receive excellent quality teaching in BSL.
- There are more BSL courses on offer leading to a range of opportunities for people wishing to learn BSL.
- More people using BSL leads to greater opportunities for Deaf people to be integrated within the wider community and have improved access to public services.
- Family members/guardians/carers of Deaf children and young people have an opportunity to learn BSL which will improve bonding and communication with their own deaf children and young people.