“I think it is fair to say that this Government has done an extraordinary amount to support those who are disabled,” said Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride MP on Monday. Days later, lawyers representing the Cabinet Office would continue to contest a claim for compensation brought by 276 Deaf people over inaccessible Covid briefings.
They’re not fooling anyone – least of all, Deaf people – but let’s be clear: meaningless statements like these and the UK Government’s performative work on the BSL Advisory Group is not enough to mask the inaction and malice it has around British Sign Language issues.
I mean, we only need to look at the DWP’s decision to release a video in support of BSL, with stock footage of American Sign Language, to understand just how well-informed the government is when it comes to the rights of BSL signers. The delay in consulting on a BSL GCSE, Where Is The Interpreter and more is a damning stain on the UK Government’s reputation on disability issues – not that it had a good one before all of this.
I also discovered recently that there were no internal discussions had between civil servants about whether to interpret key addresses by Liz Truss (back when she was Prime Minister for the shortest time ever) and Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. They’ll claim they are alert to the needs of BSL signers through the BSL Act and subsequent BSL Advisory Group, and yet consistently fail to provide adequate access to the Deaf community during press conferences. They pick and choose when to be accessible to us, yet any functional government would know that accessibility is not a part-time commitment.
Oh, and then there’s the fact a mother of a Deaf child has set up a petition calling for the government to fund free sign language courses for parents of Deaf children, only for the group of MPs overseeing Parliamentary petitions to conclude the government’s initial reply was inadequate and they need to provide a revised response.
The UK Government just does not seem to sufficiently care about Deaf people – ‘care’ being synonymous with the word ‘support’, which the Work and Pensions Secretary has the audacity to claim they are doing for disabled people across the country, including Deaf people.
There’s a sense that the UK Government just hasn’t directly engaged with the BSL community – maybe through charities, but even then, many of them are hearing-led. It’s why, to the BSL Advisory Board’s credit, there’s the opportunity for government civil servants and BSL signers to be in the same room, having detailed and meaningful conversations.
The BSL Act has had a fair bit of scrutiny thrown its way about its strength (given it grants no legal rights), but if the long sought after legal recognition of sign language wasn’t enough, we at least have the advantage of placing our foot in a door which wasn’t even open for us before now – or worse still, it was slammed right in our faces.
Just don’t believe what Mr Stride said at the dispatch box recently, and think for one second that the UK Government ever once held that door open for us.