Conference access failure shines light on ‘ignorance’ of deaf needs


theweeksubDeaf people who use speech-to-text translation say the failure of a national disability conference to cater for their needs only highlights how often such discrimination takes place.

They spoke out after a national conference – sponsored by the Department for Work and Pensions – failed to provide speech-to-text, even though the organisers had confirmed it would be in place.

Lidia Best, a trustee of the National Association of Deafened People (NADP), attended the National Disabilities Conference – subtitled: Promoting Rights and Respect for Disabled People – but was unable to follow much of the event because of the lack of speech-to-text. She also found the hearing loop was not working.

NADP had booked a place at the conference – with speech-to-text support – more than a month earlier, at a cost of nearly £200.

The conference organisers, Gov Know, at first denied that they had agreed to book speech-to-text.

But after Disability News Service forwarded an email to them in which one of their employees confirmed that speech-to-text would be available, the company issued a new statement which offered a “full apology”.

Best, who is also a board member of the European Federation of Hard of Hearing People, said she was not happy that it took outside pressure to persuade Gov Know to apologise.

She said: “Far too often, as a deafened person, I come across ignorance of the needs of people who are deaf but do not use sign language.

“The fact that we often speak too well is associated with good hearing in society’s mindset. We often lip-read well in one-to-one situations and this gives a false understanding on the society side that we do not need help.”

She added: “I teach assertiveness for deaf people and obviously I should lead by example. I hope that what happened at the conference and the stand I took in this case will help others to be more assertive.”

Suzie Jones, also a deaf awareness trainer and consultant, said that when an event organiser hears that someone is deaf, they “automatically provide a BSL interpreter”, even though most deaf people use speech, hearing aids, cochlear implants, lipreading and text.

She added: “It happens all the time, to be frank. What is more irritating is usually they will ask what support needs you have, list them, and in the list they will have ‘BSL interpreter’ or (if you’re lucky) ‘loop system’.”

She said Gov Know was guilty of “ignorance, lack of communication, lack of understanding of needs of the delegates, and an all-too-common attempt to blame the person for ‘not letting them know’”.

“I would certainly have expected a lot better given the high price of tickets.”

The deaf-led company 121 Captions was approached by Gov Know about providing communication support at the event but was never asked to make a booking.

It said in a blog on its website that it would “expect such an event to be accessible without having to fight for such access – which is our right, not a privilege, under the 2010 Equality Act”.

It added: “This is a common occurrence for deaf and hard of hearing people who do not sign, to request speech-to-text at events and find it is not provided, or to turn up and find there are only sign language interpreters. We have had enough. This has got to stop.”

A Gov Know spokeswoman said: “It was miscommunication on our behalf and we would like to offer Ms Best a full refund and again our sincere apology. Our planning teams will also conduct better reviews for future events to ensure a similar incident does not reoccur.”

Delegates to the conference had already complained that both the Conservative minister for disabled people, Esther McVey, and her Labour shadow, Anne McGuire, pulled out of speaking at the conference despite earlier confirming their attendance.

10 July 2013