(If you want to skip straight to what you can do, go straight to the suggestions at the bottom.)
Yesterday, the Work and Pensions Select Committee had their third oral evidence session for its inquiry into Employment support for disabled people: Access to Work.
The Committee is not part of the Government. It is a Select Committee of the House of Commons, made up of back-bench MPs (i.e. people who aren’t members of the current Government).
The Departmental Select Committee’s scrutinise the administration, policy and expenditure of government departments, in this case DWP, and publish reports including recommendations for government action.
Following feedback at the beginning of the inquiry, information about the inquiry was provided in BSL and Easy Read English. The first time this has been done.
For the oral evidence session on 3rd September, the Committee provided live broadcast of BSL and subtitles on BBC Parliament and Democracy Live, as well as interpreting at the session. Again, to their credit, this was perhaps the first time this had ever been done.
So, on the basis of the previous access provided, and on their evident interest in the committee’s questions, and evidence given, Deaf people turned up for the hearing, and tuned in to watch the live broadcast.
This is not surprising, given the value AtW has to Deaf people, the problems they have experienced with it, and the mass of evidence Deaf people supplied the committee.
However, there was no access for Deaf people to this session. No BSL/English interpreters, no subtitles, no access.
Two interpreters who were there to watch the committee volunteered to provide access for the Deaf people attending, although unfortunately it was too late to provide access for those people watching the live stream.
The reason given for this initially was that the Select Committee has no budget to provide such access.
It may be true, that the Select Committee don’t themselves have a sufficient budget to provide access.
But that’s like a major bank saying that they can’t afford to provide access to disabled customers because the local branch doesn’t make enough money.
It’s the size and turnover of the bank as a whole that determines whether or not the bank can afford, and should make the reasonable adjustment.
And the Select Committee are part of Parliament. I suspect they are big enough, with sufficient turnover, for it to be equally unacceptable to not provide access because there’s not a budget for it ‘here’.
As an important aspect of our democratic process, it should be the case that cost is not a barrier to Deaf and disabled people’s participation.
And it’s sad that the Select Committee, who previously got it right, and who have mountains of evidence about the impact on Deaf people of AtW excluding them and not providing access, without doubt inadvertently, excluded Deaf people and didn’t providing access to this session.
I understand there are some particular technical and media challenges to ensuring that the session is broadcast in sufficient quality and size to show subtitles and the interpreter in sufficient quality. It’s also the BBCs choice whether to broadcast or not – something not in the Committee’s control.
No doubt the Select Committees aren’t used to providing access to Deaf people. They aren’t used to thinking about Deaf people as citizens interested in what they do. And they aren’t used to Deaf people turning up at Oral evidence sessions.
So here are some suggestions:
You could perhaps also make these suggestions (politely, really) to the Committee Clerk (email@example.com).
1) The Committee is currently planning to provide interpreting at the 4th oral evidence session. Maybe we can show support for this idea?
2) The Committee would like to provide access to the broadcast.
So maybe we can also ask the BBC to commit ASAP to broadcasting the whole 4th oral session so that the Select Committee can do this. You can contact the BBC here:
3) The Committee is also planning to produce an EasyRead and BSL summary of the final report. Maybe we can show support for this idea too?
4) Maybe the Committee could say publicly that Deaf and disabled people who want to attend the Committee, and want to be able to understand the final report, should let them know what their access needs are, if they’re not covered by BSL/English Interpreting, subtitles, and EasyRead.
5) In general, take advice and get feedback from Deaf and disabled people to ensure that the access you are providing is appropriate.
6) In general, for all the Committees etc. to learn from this experience of providing access, so that in future Committees think about providing access in advance, provide the explicit option of requesting access, and have clear funding available to do so.
Perhaps as a start they could look at having something on the Select Committees general and specific pages that tells Deaf and disabled people if they want to access specific sessions, how they can request the access to do so.
Maybe you can suggest this too.
Let’s make sure that next time this Select Committee, and others in future, can model the good practice that they are likely to suggest AtW and the DWP should follow.
By Darren Townsend-Handscomb RSLI FASLI (DeafATW)
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