What impact will Brexit have on the Deaf community?

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map of EU

In the final part of his three part feature on Brexit, our legal expert Rob Wilks looks at a number of areas in which the Deaf community may be affected by Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.

There is a plethora of opinion about the impact that Brexit may have on the Deaf community, and this article aims to consolidate these opinions and to encourage debate on the issues.

It is important to note that the majority of changes that will take place as a result of Brexit, will likely have an impact on the whole UK population, and while these are mentioned here, this article will concentrate mainly on the ones that will have an impact on the Deaf community.

Freedom of movement

The Deaf community is known for being a highly socialised community, with people travelling long distances to maintain contacts and to preserve our culture and language. This includes travelling across continental Europe, as citizens of the EU are allowed to move around Europe without any restrictions. For those of us who like to holiday in popular travel destinations such as the Canary or Balearic Islands, mainland Spain, Greece or parks such as Disneyland Paris in France, this unrestricted right to move freely around Europe is now under threat.

As well as Brits travelling abroad, Brexit is likely to have a significant impact on the number of Deaf EU migrants who move to the UK to access better educational opportunities and to find work, which will likely make the UK’s Deaf community less diverse.

When Brexit actually happens, it is possible that in order to travel around Europe in the way that we are accustomed, we may need to apply for visas or obtain travel documents before travelling, adding bureaucratic red tape to the making of holiday plans. It is also possible that the prices of holidays in Europe may rise following Brexit, so like the rest of the UK, individuals of the Deaf community may be out of pocket.

For any Deaf individuals who are currently living and working abroad, it is not clear what will happen to them post-Brexit, that is, will they be allowed to remain, or will they have to return home?

Freedom of movement of goods

At present, goods such as food, technology, manufacturing materials etc. are allowed to be traded across all 28 EU Member States with little or no restrictions. After Brexit, this will no longer apply (although this is still up for negotiation), and the UK may need to enter into a trade agreement with the EU in order to continue to trade with Member States.

It is likely that this will have an impact on the prices of goods that we – including Deaf people – buy in the UK. In August 2016 the value of exports
to the EU was worth £11.1 billion (47 per cent) to the UK economy, and imports £18.8 billion (45 per cent), which gives you an idea of the importance of the EU single market to the UK economy, and the range of goods that we purchase in the shops and online.

For Deaf businesses that rely on European trade partners to thrive, Brexit also means that it will not be as easy to trade with customers/clients in EU Member States in the future, as well as having to deal with a possible rise in the costs of services and materials needed for the business to operate.

Equality Act 2010

Much of the provisions of the Equality Act 2010 is derived from EU law, including the Equal Treatment Directive, Social Security Directives and the Employment Equality Directive.

Until the UK Government decides whether to repeal all or part of the Equality Act 2010, it is uncertain what impact Brexit will have on the rights of Deaf individuals under the Act.

Web Accessibility Directive and European Accessibility Act

The forthcoming Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the approximation of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the Member States as regards the accessibility requirements for products and services – otherwise known as the European Accessibility Act – will make digital services, such as computers and operating systems, cash machines, smartphones, TV equipment related to digital television services, telephony services and related equipment, television, transport services, banking services and e-commerce accessible to Deaf people. Its precursor, the Web Accessibility Directive, only applied to public sector bodies’ websites.

The Act is expected to encourage more widespread use of sign language (and other important features such as subtitles) on such channels in order to make goods and services more accessible to Deaf people, but will not apply to the UK after Brexit, unless the UK Government legislates to allow such provisions to apply in the UK post-Brexit.

Data roaming charges

Data roaming charges – part of Europe’s digital single market – are set to be abolished within the EU by June 2017. This means that Deaf people travelling abroad will benefit from no data charges, particularly important as Deaf people rely on their mobiles to communicate with friends and family while abroad in Europe.

After the UK exits the EU, it is likely that these data roaming charges will be reinstated for UK citizens, including members of the Deaf community who may rely on data when travelling abroad.

Research

Many research projects that are undertaken or have been undertaken by universities in the UK have established an academic foundation for the existence of the UK Deaf community, its culture, language and the interpreting profession. These projects have usually benefited from
EU funding, which is conversely now under threat due to Brexit.

Advocacy 

Brexit means that the UK Deaf community will no longer be able to stand with the European Deaf community in advocating for laws that protect Deaf people across Europe. While the British Deaf Association has made it clear it intends to continue its membership of the European Union of the Deaf, it cannot be denied that the UK Deaf community’s role in the shaping of Deaf-friendly policies and law in the EU will be diminished by Brexit, as well as not being able to benefit from positive change.

Human rights

There has been much talk about the UK Government abolishing the Human Rights Act 1998 and replacing it with a UK Bill of Rights. The reason this is now coming about is because enshrining the European Convention of Human Rights, which was ratified after the Second World War and enacted in the UK through the Human Rights Act 1998, is considered to be a condition of membership of the EU.

If the UK is no longer a member of the EU, then it is free to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998. This Act has been a bone of contention for the UK Government, as it has made it difficult for them to deport criminals and suspected terrorists on human rights grounds.

While it is not yet clear what a UK Bill of Rights would look like, repealing the Human Rights Act 1998 is likely to have an impact on the Deaf community, as it would the rest of the UK population, as their human rights may be watered down or abolished altogether.

Conclusion

It is fair to say that post-Brexit, life for the Deaf community in the UK will change significantly, as it will for the rest of the UK’s population. The European Union of the Deaf has expressed its concern that the social position of UK Deaf and hard of hearing people might worsen in the aftermath of Brexit. This remains to be seen, and will become clear in the coming months and years when the UK Government and Parliament makes inroads in establishing what the UK will look like when it finally leaves the EU.

Read more about Brexit: Part 1, Part 2. 

Rob Wilks has been a qualified solicitor since 2007 and specialises in employment and discrimination law.

He is currently a Lecturer in Legal Practice for the University of South Wales, and “moonlights” as a Consultant Solicitor for Setfords Solicitors of Guildford, trading as Law Wilks, providing an enhanced professional personal legal service to D/deaf and hard of hearing clients.

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