In July, the RAD Deaf Law Centre was launched, aiming to offer a wide range of services and legal advice for D/deaf people all under one roof. Limping Chicken spoke to Rob Wilks, the Head of the centre, about the work of the RAD and about the impact that the centre will make…
Could you tell me about the origins of the RAD and how its work has developed in the last few years?
The Royal Association for Deaf people (RAD) was established in 1841 as the “Royal Association in Aid of the Deaf and Dumb” by a prosperous London printer and bookbinder George Crouch. He had five deaf children. Crouch recognised that deaf people could make an equal contribution to employment and society and he employed and provided support to several deaf people from the workhouse.
In the past 170 years, RAD has grown and developed, providing a wider range of services to Deaf people. We are the oldest Deaf organisation in the UK, with a long and distinguished history as a pioneer of charitable work. Our Patron is her Majesty the Queen. We are immensely proud of our heritage and our achievements and we have a real sense of excitement about the future. We cherish Deaf language, identity, community, heritage and diversity.
Throughout our history, we have focused our activity on London and the southeast of England. However advances in communication technology now enable RAD to work further afield.
What are the biggest barriers facing D/deaf people when it comes to the law?
For starters, there’s the issues I spoke about in my article for Limping Chicken. D/deaf people have faced almost insurmountable barriers when it comes to the law and it has been a prevalent issue since I started working for RAD nine years ago. We often have a great deal of difficulty in signposting clients to other legal advice providers as we know there will often be issues regarding the provision of interpreters and in particular, paying for them.
The problems are not going to be resolved any time soon with huge reforms planned for welfare benefits (most Deaf people are in receipt of benefits) and the cuts to legal aid planned for next year to the areas of employment and welfare benefits, ironically the two most in demand areas of law we deal with.
Legal aid often funds the costs of interpreters, so with the cuts, who will pick up the interpreting bill if Deaf clients are able to access legal advice in those areas?. This means that without legal aid, Deaf people on a low income or in receipt of benefits will find it difficult to enforce their employment rights or challenge the changes to their benefits as they won’t have access to legal advice, and if they do find a way, who will pay for the interpreters?
A huge impact hopefully! As well as the traditional social welfare areas of law usually dealt with by Law Centres: employment, welfare benefits, housing, debt, we now offer a wider range of legal advice including business support, conveyancing, family law through our sister company, RAD Deaf Legal Enterprise Community Interest Company, as well as bespoke services for BSL/English Interpreters.
RAD DLC has also launched a new initiative to “educate” the legal profession as to the needs of the Deaf community and provides CPD-accredited training and workshops. We have also established the Deaf Law Quality Mark which legal services providers such as law firms can show their commitment to providing a service to Deaf people and doing a good job of it. It is intended that this will be become the definitive benchmark in the UK for law firms and other providers in relation to Deaf people.
We are also about to launch a call-centre style webcam portal to allow Deaf people to contact us in BSL online. We have delivered legal advice via webcam since September 2008, which has been done through the medium of instant messaging software available on the market. Now we will be able to provide a one-stop shop for all our clients at the click of a button via the RAD website.
Finally, we are taking steps to drive an improvement in the standards of BSL/English interpreting in a legal context and providing awareness training to professionals working with Deaf people.