SignHealth, the healthcare charity for Deaf people, has said today that many Deaf people are shocked at the national census results released yesterday showing a smaller than expected Deaf population.
The statistics showed around 22,000 sign language users in England and Wales, and the charity is concerned that many Deaf people will not have had their main language recorded properly.
Steve Powell, Chief Executive of SignHealth, said: “Before now, most people thought the number of sign language users in the UK was between 50,000 to 70,000. Earlier research conducted by us, which was based on the GP Patient Survey data, suggested the figure may even be higher than that.
“The census figure is important, but we doubt it is the whole picture. We already know of households where hearing parents put ‘English’ for everyone in the house, even though their sons or daughters would have put sign language.
“The number is not all that important but it is important that service providers make reasonable adjustments to overcome communication barriers. According to the census there are sign language users everywhere across the country, apart from the Isles of Scilly and the City of London.That means that public services everywhere need to address their communication barriers proactively. No longer can they say, ‘We don’t have any Deaf people.’.”
The charity is calling on the Government to include BSL in the European Charter on Regional or Minority Languages, to take steps to ensure BSL is protected, and ensure all public services address the access requirements of BSL signers in their Equality Act duty.
“We hope this sparks a debate about what can be done to protect sign language. The census figures show that, compared to British Sign Language (BSL), there are far fewer people who have Cornish, Gaelic or Welsh as a first language. Yet these languages are protected by the Government and funding is made available to keep the languages alive. Celtic speakers have English as a second language, while for many Deaf people, sign language is a necessity.”
SignHealth, which has its headquarters at Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire, provides a range of services for Deaf people, including supported living, advocacy, outreach, psychological therapy and health promotion, all within a BSL supported environment.
Steve added: “Even though BSL was recognised 10 years ago the word ‘recognised’ is hollow and meaningless.
“The NHS111 trials also demonstrate how BSL is being ignored. Deaf people are being asked to access these services using TextPhones, which is an old technology that is no longer used by many of the Deaf community.
“The Government should be insisting in its contracts that Deaf people who use BSL have full and equal access to the service. Deaf people in Scotland use video relay services, so why not in England and Wales?”
For more information on SignHealth, go to: http://www.signhealth.org.uk/
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