Signing up to commit its public services to the BSL Charter – ensuring it is equally accessible for all – is no easy feat. So how does the BDA persuade public services that it’s a commitment it can’t refuse? BDA’s Access & Inclusion (BSL Charter) Officer, Robin Ash uncovers the power of the BSL Charter.
The Charter is designed as a vehicle to remove direct and indirect discrimination, empower local deaf communities and resolve conflicts between service providers and Deaf people. Its aim is to increase awareness of Deaf issues and BSL issues and provide better educational opportunities for Deaf children.
Who is the BSL Charter for?
When it was drafted in 2003, the BSL Charter was initially designed for Council services. But over recent years, it has expanded to incorporate health, police services,
housing, clinical commissioning groups, as well as a Deaf service provider. The BDA also created a Toolkit, outlining different expectations to meet each different public service needs.
How is the BSL Charter promoted to public services?
Each public service is given the BSL Charter and an accompanying document in its initial relationship-building phase. Demographic information is provided on each locality, outlining the numbers of Deaf residents who use BSL and how to resolve communication and access issues using the BSL Charter as the way to meet their duties under the Equality Act 2010. Sometimes this happens over several meetings, and others may agree to sign the Charter instantly as they see the value of the support offered.
How do public services respond?
Each public service has their own strategic plan. All five pledges may not be a priority for them – so they may choose to either adopt them all or just sign up to only one pledge, as public services face budget cuts, restrictions or reductions in staffing levels.
A signing ceremony often marks the occasion, that is attended by officials and community members.
What happens after the Charter is signed?
This is when the hard work really begins. Firstly we set up a Charter Group or Partnership Working Group. The public services first job is to complete a Self Assessment which is done in conjunction with a local Deaf Forum or Action Group with the support of the BDA. Having local Deaf representatives at these meetings is critical. They play a vital part in contributing the views of the local Deaf community which can become part of the work the public service is doing. The BDA brings a national perspective and can bring in examples of good practice from other areas of the country – this creates an effective partnership.
The public service consults the BDA’s Toolkit and uses this as a checklist to see what they are already doing, what they have achieved and where the gaps might be. We hold regular meetings with the public service, representatives of the Deaf Forum or Action Group and the BDA.
There is an initial audit of each department. They identify what services they have, what they currently provide and identify areas that need development. All this information is collated and we create a three-year Action Plan. Some adaptations can be done quickly, at very little cost and other issues may be more complex and need more time to develop.
Consulting the Deaf community
Pledge 5 is the consultation with the Deaf community – this is of vital importance. The public service consults with the Deaf community and identifies the needs and the priorities of the community. The Action Plan is amended to reflect the views and needs of the Community – this is then presented to the Deaf community to endorse. The overall aim is to create a working partnership between the public service and the Deaf community.
Does it make a difference?
Once the BSL Charter is signed, Deaf people seem to feel more involved, more empowered to input their views and more active as engaged citizens.
The public services have said they feel more knowledgeable and have more awareness about the Deaf Community and feel they can be more accessible to the Deaf community.
A simple change can make a whole difference sometimes to how Deaf people access services or feel towards an organisation.
THE BSL CHARTER IN PRACTICE…
Derby City Council has had consultation events with the Deaf community. But this has only arisen when there is a change, or a cut to services that directly impacts on the Deaf community. This has not been a consistent or regular consultation process.
The Commitment has given structure to this process and now there is regular dialogue between the Deaf community and Derby City Council.
Once the Commitment was signed, we set up a joint forum meeting with Derby Deaf Forum and Derby City Council and now we have regular consultation events every four months, meeting at the Council House and at the Deaf Club.
This is an opportunity for the Council to inform the Deaf community of any changes within the Council.
Many people did not know what the Council provided in the way of services and what other changes were planned locally linked to specific cuts to budgets. We have had discussions on waste management, recycling, budget consultation along with other presentations from various departments within the Council. This is good for the Deaf community who, as they learn about different services, are able to share their own views and experiences and this improves the dialogue between the Deaf community and the council.
This is a positive example of Deaf people being empowered, being able to say how they feel and being recognised as a valuable member of the community at large in Derby city.
Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust
Prior to the BSL Charter being signed, the Trust held a consultation event with a smaller focus group on how Deaf people access their services.
When the BDA examined their Action Plan, we were very impressed by the amount of work they had poured into this. They identified that Deaf people knew very little about mental health, how to prevent escalation of symptoms and how to manage mental health conditions. They commissioned a Mental Health First Aid Course for Deaf People. The BDA organised for British Society for Mental Health to deliver this.
There were 13 representatives from different community groups in Derby.
We looked at how a Deaf person could contact the service. They began to look at SMS and other mobile communication methods.
One element they took on board was to commission the BDA to provide Deaf Equality Training for their staff members from different departments across the Healthcare Trust. The BDA created a bespoke training package which was well received by all attendees, who advised they had a better grasp of Deaf people’s needs.
Nottingham is a very unique place; it is the City/County with the highest number of BSL Charters signed by Public Services over the last couple of years.
The public services who signed the BSL Charter set up a unique group called the BSL Charter Partnership Group which is attended by at least one representative from each public service (plus representation from the Nottinghamshire Deaf Wellbeing Action Group, the Nottingham City Deaf Focus Group, and the BDA).
All the public services work together to look at the Self Assessment. The consultation with the Deaf Community has been a positive from this process. Joint consultation events have been organised, one called ‘Have your Say/Listening event’ and the other a feedback session where each service reported on the changes and improvements that had been made.
One main theme that came out of the ‘Have Your Say/Listening event’ was that Deaf people did not know what each service actually provided so they all arranged and held an information day which was a direct response to the Deaf community and their direct request for more information.
The BSL Charter Partnership Group has looked at how they share information, reduce duplication of work, streamline consultation events, balancing the wellbeing of the community and the needs of the Charter.
The effective sharing of resources is a vital part of this group. We have looked at long-term issues and the best way to provide accessible information. We have looked at the issue of websites with BSL clips to inform people when there is an emergency situation. It is important that ultimately these public service providers work closely with the Nottinghamshire Deaf Wellbeing Action Group, the Nottingham City Deaf Focus Group and the BDA. We are now exploring the development of e-learning and Deaf Equalities Training for staff in order to become more accessible.
After the signing of so many BSL Charters in the City of Nottingham and County of Nottinghamshire the Deaf Community now have regular consultation events.
They have an avenue to have a dialogue with these services, either through the smaller focus or action groups or as a whole community which has been very successful. The Deaf Community have had a lot of input into this process to influence the services to take action in a positive way.
Many organisations are now providing BSL training for their staff through Nottingham Deaf Society which is part of one of the pledges and is a positive step forward for all Deaf people in this area.