Jen Dodds: Should Access to Work’s treatment of Deaf people be seen as ‘epistemic injustice’? (BSL)

Posted on November 7, 2014

I’ve really had enough of Access to Work. My friends seem to be having constant problems with it, and I know that other deaf and disabled people are too.

It’s so disturbing how people keep getting badly treated and put down, over and over again.

To watch this article in BSL, click play below.

Common barriers

I’m sure all kinds of disabled people are facing barriers to AtW, but I’ve decided to focus on deaf people, because that’s what I know about.

For example, the AtW application process is in English. There’s loads to read, and many deaf people find this inaccessible.

I know that deaf people have been told that they had to phone to apply for AtW too. Apparently, they had to phone, leave a message and wait for AtW to phone them back.

How is that a good plan for deaf people?! Of course, we could phone through a BSL/English interpreter, but how are we supposed to pay them if we haven’t been awarded any AtW funding yet?

Bit of a chicken and egg situation, that one.

The AtW website does have an email address on it now, though, which seems to be a recent improvement.

Then, when you actually get hold of someone at AtW, you’re faced with more barriers; they’ll they keep asking you loads of questions. For example:

“What exactly do you do all day? Tell us everything!”

“Why exactly do you need support? Tell us everything! Are you sure about that?”

…And then, when you’ve told them everything that you possibly can, you might get this reply…

“We’re still not sure about you. We’ll need to assess you again next month.”

And then, they’ll ask…

“Are you still deaf?”

Come on! As if you’ll magically become hearing all of a sudden!

I know this process is about money and about the Government trying to be “austere” and cut everything. I know we’re in a recession.

I do still feel there is a deaf edge to this, though – it does look like deaf people are being picked on.

Recently, I thought about this in more depth, convinced that there must be a word to describe this kind of thing, but I couldn’t think of one.

Words like discrimination and audism seemed too broad, so I asked my friend Dr Steven Emery, who’s an expert on deaf issues.

We discussed it, but nothing seemed quite right, until he suggested epistemic injustice (this means not listening to people from a minority group because you don’t think their knowledge is important).

How does this relate to AtW?

Dr Emery said it’s possible that AtW see deaf people’s knowledge as being less important, so we have to keep explaining ourselves over and over again. They see our information as poor, possibly wrong, so they have to keep checking on us.

And then, they ignore us!

So, we deaf people tell AtW the same silly things over and over again, including how we’re still deaf (and will be deaf again tomorrow)… and then what happens? They ignore us!

Information that we take ages to write doesn’t get a response. Advisers leave their jobs without telling us. Phone messages don’t get replied to.

Again and again.

There seems to be a lack of simple, basic respectful behaviour. I’m sorry, but where are their manners?!

…But don’t give up!

I know this post has been a negative one, but I do feel it’s useful to analyse things a bit. Sometimes, it just helps to have a word to describe what’s happening (if you think I’m wrong, do tell me – I’m happy to discuss this!).

If you’re having problems with AtW and you need support or advice, have a look at the fantastic website, a great source of information. If you want to feel inspired and uplifted, see the Stop Changes to AtW campaign site.

Take care of yourselves.

Jen Dodds is a Contributing Editor for The Limping Chicken. When she’s not looking after chickens or children, Jen can be found translating, proofreading and editing stuff over at Team HaDo Ltd ( On Twitter, Jen is @deafpower.

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