Dr Terry Riley and David Buxton tell select committee that Equality Act is not effective for Deaf people and recommend establishment of a BSL commissioner. Kevin Watson reports.
When BDA Chair, Dr Terry Riley, and Director of Campaigns and Communications, David Buxton arrived at a House of Lords select committee session on 28 October, they were told it was the first time in the Lords’ 400-year history that evidence had been given in BSL.
Aptly enough, their message for the Select Committee on the Equality Act and Disability was: The Equality Act is not effective for Deaf people.
Riley and Buxton were questioned for almost an hour about legal recognition for BSL, reasonable adjustments for BSL users and what other barriers deaf people have experienced in accessing employment and services.
Matthew Banks and Roger Beeson provided the English/BSL interpretation at this historic session which people were able to watch on Parliament TV.
The BDA argued that the Equality Act did not address access and inclusion for deaf people, which is through their language, BSL. They claimed an Act of Parliament is needed to legally recognise BSL. Buxton told the committee that as things stand hearing dogs for the deaf have more protection than deaf people!
Riley said a BSL Act would hopefully also lead to the appointment of a BSL commissioner who would be responsible for working with public services and private companies to help them understand BSL is a language. Buxton called on the government to support people taking legal action under the Equality Act. He said at the moment it is too difficult and expensive.
The issue of “reasonable adjustments” under the Equality Act was discussed. Riley said that the government should provide better guidance. He said: “The scope of what constitutes ‘reasonable adjustments’ is far too wide.”
In an answer to a question about access to support in education, they quoted the story of the Fowler family who the BBC reported in October were denied sign language support to meet with schoolteachers in West Sussex. Riley said: “Both sides (parents and schools) expect the other to do something about providing interpreters.”
In this case the BDA felt the concept of “reasonable adjustments” was an inadequate response to a genuine requirement for equal access to teaching and learning.
The BDA said that the BSL (Scotland) Act calls BSL a “language” but does not recognise it on a par with Scottish Gaelic. “We think that BSL should have the same legal status as other indigenous languages in the UK.” It is thought, however, that the new legislation will raise the profile of BSL throughout Scottish society.
The committee also asked the BDA about barriers other than language recognition that deaf people face in accessing employment, services and other areas covered by the Equality Act. “Using the phone is still an everyday barrier for deaf people,” Riley said.
The BDA concluded their evidence by insisting that investment in deaf people has a positive benefit for the economy.
The committee chair closed the session by acknowledging the cost argument and thanking everyone for “a successful first BSL session in the House of Lords”.
• The session can be viewed on Parliament TV here.
• The BDA’s submission paper to the select committee can be seen in English and BSL here.