“Deaf people must have access to qualified interpreters,” says Emily Smith, joint sponsor of the Access to Work petition

Posted on November 20, 2013

An online petition against changes to Access to Work (ATW) has received support from over 3,500 people in just one week.

The petition was launched after the DWP (Department for Work and Pensions) began to implement a change in the flexibility that deaf people have when choosing their interpreters – change that is set to have a dramatic impact on both working deaf people and interpreters alike.

The change would force organisations employing deaf people to also employ interpreters or other communication support professionals as members of staff, rather than as freelancers or agency workers. This will limit the ability of a deaf employee to select the best interpreter for a particular assignment. It is also likely to make employing new deaf people more burdensome for managers and negatively impact on the professional development of interpreters.

Despite the popularity of the petition, some deaf people have expressed concerns, claiming its not clear from the petition’s webpage who was behind it. Using the email facility on the site, I contacted Emily Smith, one of the joint sponsors of the petition and she told me more about their motivation for organising the campaign.

“This campaign is being led by a Deaf professional with many years experience in politics; and an experienced interpreter, both of whom feel passionately about this issue. We are not using our names because we want this campaign to be about the issue, and not become about an organisation or individual.” She said.

“The reason we set up this campaign was because we felt Deaf people weren’t being represented. Deaf organisations that were traditionally voice organisations lack the capacity to campaign. It is important that the Deaf community and interpreting profession work together. Deaf people must have access to qualified interpreters, who are impartial and have received proper training.”

“This is a really important cause. If you’re not familiar with the details, Access to Work incurs no cost to the taxpayer. The income received in tax and National Insurance from both the disabled person and their support worker exceeds the amount being spent. Despite this, Deaf people are having their ATW budgets reduced. There is no justification for these changes that are being implemented.”

“Deaf people need the flexibility to meet the demands of their work: They are the experts in their own access needs! We’ve had a great response but we still need more signatures! The more people that support this campaign, the more impact it will have.”

Deaf people on social media also questioned why the campaign focused on BSL users, while others questioned why it was aimed at Sir Malcolm Bruce, an MP not in government, as well as Work and Pensions Minister Iain Duncan-Smith.

“The aim is to support Deaf BSL users whose first language isn’t English. The whole complaints procedure is reliant on written English and is therefore not accessible to this group. We would hope that other users of ATW will support us, as any campaign like this will be of benefit to everyone – it will show that the current ATW system is unfair and needs to be reviewed.” Emily said.

“Sir Malcolm Bruce is Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on deafness. He needs to know that the group he supports aren’t being properly represented and get involved. He has the ability to raise this issue with the appropriate MPs, using his position to influence.”

You can sign the petition here:

 By Andy Palmer, Deputy Editor

Check out what our supporters provide: Phonak: innovative technology and products in hearing acoustics. Deaf Umbrella: sign language interpreting and communications support. Ai-Live: Live captions and transcripts. 121 Captions: captioning and speech-to-text services. Signworld: online BSL learning and teaching materials. STAGETEXT: theatre captioning.  Krazy Kat: visual theatre with BSL. SignHealth: healthcare support for Deaf people. Deafinitely Theatre: theatre from a Deaf perspective.Lipspeaker UK: specialist lipspeaking support. SDHH: Deaf television programmes online. Sign Solutions:, language and learning. Lexicon Signstream: BSL interpreting and communication services. Action Deafness Communications: sign language and Red Dot online video interpreting. Hamilton Lodge School in Brighton: education for Deaf children. RAD Deaf Law Centre: and legal advice for Deaf people.

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Posted in: Andy Palmer