Lack of communication leaving deaf community ‘vulnerable’

STV News speaks to members of the deaf community who are finding the current pandemic challenging.

Over one million Scots have hearing problems – 12,500 of those use British Sign Language.

And at a time when sourcing the most up-to-date information is crucial, it’s something the deaf community have said they are finding challenging.

STV News spoke to Stephen Joyce, a father-of-two from Larbert who is deaf and is also registered blind.

He said there isn’t enough information available to the deaf community about coronavirus.

“The lack of information in comparison to the hearing community is rubbish,” Stephen said. “If you can hear in English, great you’ve got all this information, but as a deaf British Sign Language user you’ve got practically nothing. It’s so unbalanced.

“We need a balance. I’m not saying we should have more information than anyone else but it’s just about equality.”

Following the British Sign Language (Scotland) Act 2015, there is a public duty to promote and support British Sign Language throughout the country.

At the Scottish Government’s daily briefings, an interpreter can be seen standing two metres behind the First Minister.

However, deaf charities say it’s not enough, and with facilities like the Forth Valley Sensory Centre in Camelon closed for the foreseeable future, there are concerns the deaf community are starting to feel isolated.

“We have several groups a week where people get together and to chat to one and another using British Sign Language,” Jacquie Winning, manager of the Forth Valley Sensory Centre said.

“It gets people out of the house and away from being socially isolated but of course in this current situation people are very socially isolated; more so the deaf community.

“A lack of adequate communication can leave people feeling vulnerable and confused.”

She said many of the deaf people she communicates with are pleased the First Minister has an interpreter, but they’ve questioned why there isn’t one for the Westminster briefings and the news.

Janis McDonald, chief officer of Deaf Scotland, said it’s important to remember that deafness is a hidden disability.

She said: “Even with the use of face masks it makes it much harder for many of us to lip read, it just muffles the noise that people make when they are speaking. It affects communication quite badly.

“Two metres is much further away than a hearing aid can work to.”

She added: “We welcome the fact sign language is being profiled and its helping people access information in real time, we’d also like to see subtitles compulsory on the screen.

“It’s important we highlight that Scotland is quite ahead in terms of what we’d call inclusive communication.”

Due to social distancing guidelines, deaf people are turning to video interpreters to help with daily tasks.

Contact Scotland BSL provides a 24 hour service and can also assist with phonecalls to the NHS.

Andrew Dewey, CEO of Sign Language Interactions, who provide interpreters for Contact Scotland, said: “Deaf people download the app on their phone, they press a button and it goes through to the interpreter.

“They’ll give the interpreter the number they want to call, we then call them, we then take the message and sign it in real time.

“We’ve had loads of people due to the difficulties with Covid using it. Our call volumes jumped by about a thousand calls in a month.”

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