SNP MP Martin Docherty-Hughes has called on the UK government to follow Scotland’s lead and have a sign language interpreter at its daily press conferences – saying that doing so could save lives.
The MP for West Dunbartonshire has written to the Prime Minister expressing concern over the lack of a sign language interpreters at the UK government daily briefings and has urged him to rectify this immediately – to prevent those with hearing difficulties, who already face daily challenges, being further isolated because they are unable to understand government advice.
Across the UK an estimated 12 million people suffer from deafness or hearing loss, with tens of thousands of people relying on British Sign Language (BSL) to understand important public health information.
The UK Government has been criticised by leading deaf charities for failing to provide accessible sign language interpreters at its daily briefings, voicing concerns that vulnerable older people who disproportionately suffer from hearing loss may be missing out on vital public health guidance about COVID-19.
Commenting, Martin Docherty-Hughes MP said:
“I am urging the UK government to ensure – without delay – that there is a sign language interpreter at every UK government daily press conference going forward to prevent further isolation for those who are deaf or with hearing difficulties, and maximise the reach of government advice and people following it.
“The outbreak of COVID-19 and the UK wide response to it is having an impact on all lives – therefore all must have the means to access government advice regardless of sight or hearing difficulties.
“The evidence is clear that older people are particularly at risk from COVID-19, and given that 70 per cent of people over the age of 70 suffer from hearing loss it’s worrying that many vulnerable people in the deaf community may be unable to access vital public health guidance at this time.
“This small change in practice at UK Government daily press conferences will go a long way in supporting those citizens who are deaf or have hearing difficulties and treat them as the equals that they are within our communities and society.”
Letter sent to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson
29 April 2020
Dear Prime Minister
Re: Sign Language Interpretations during the COVID-19 Crisis
Firstly, I would like to offer my congratulations to you and your fiancée on the birth of your son. In these uncertain times I was pleased to read that they are both well and I wish your family a bright and safe future.
Secondly, I have been contacted by a number of constituents who have been watching with interest the daily press conferences from both the Scottish and UK Governments regarding the COVID-19 outbreak.
Many of them have found these press conferences informative and allows them to ensure that they are living within the guidance issued. However, those constituents with hearing difficulties have expressed their concern over the lack of a sign language interpreter at the UK Government daily briefings and would like this to be rectified.
I note that the Scottish Government has a sign language interpreter present at the daily briefings which is to be applauded and is very much welcomed by my constituents who feel that their Government is engaging with them on this very important matter.
As you will fully appreciate the social distancing and self-isolating advice issued by Government will have and is having an impact on the lives of every citizen. Cases of social isolation are a real problem and one that must be addressed. Those with hearing difficulties already face daily challenges in their lives and will be further isolated if they are unable to understand the daily press briefings.
This small change in practice at UK Government daily press conferences will go a long way in supporting those citizens who are deaf or have hearing difficulties and treat them as the equals that they are within our communities and society.
I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.
Martin Docherty-Hughes MP