Deaf people angry over new Access to Work restrictions


newslatestThousands of deaf people are protesting over new government guidance that makes it harder for them to obtain the support they need to communicate in the workplace.

The Access to Work (AtW) guidance means that any deaf person who needs more than 30 hours a week of government-funded communication support has to employ their own full-time communication support worker on a salary.

But charities have warned that there are only about 1,000 trained BSL interpreters and only 25 speech-to-text reporters, compared with 3.7 million deaf workers.

Many deaf people say they need different types of support at different times, for example BSL-interpreters and note-takers, while some employers are reportedly refusing to recruit deaf staff because they would need to employ two people rather than just one.

And some deaf people are already struggling to cope with their jobs because they now only have enough AtW funds to cover part of their working week.

A campaign and petition to reverse the changes has so far topped 4,000 signatures.

The campaign organisers say that deaf people “need the flexibility to meet the demands of their work. They are the experts in their own access needs.”

The campaign is being led by “Deaf professionals” and “experienced interpreters”, but they have so far not released their identities – causing disquiet among some members of the Deaf community – because they say they want the focus of the campaign to be on the issues.

They say there has been no consultation with either deaf people or interpreters over the changes, and are writing to Conservative work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith to express their concerns.

Their campaign demands have been echoed by a number of deaf organisations, including the British Deaf Association (BDA) and Action on Hearing Loss, which have written to Mike Penning, the new minister for disabled people.

They said that deaf people were already four times more likely to be unemployed than hearing people, and the rule change would restrict access to support, increase costs for employers and damage the flexibility deaf people need at work.

The charities believe the new measures could cost employers £10,000 per deaf member of staff.

David Buxton, BDA’s chief executive, said: “We are very concerned that deaf and hard of hearing Access to Work users were not properly consulted about the new 30 hours a week rule.

“We know some users who are following this new policy have said it creates more barriers on top of those that they already face.

“That’s why we have come together to request an urgent meeting to resolve this matter and ensure that no one who is deaf or hard of hearing… struggles in their own jobs and are as equal as their own hearing peers.”

A DWP spokesman said: “It is important that Access to Work delivers fairness and value for money, to ensure it can support a greater number of disabled people in the workplace with diverse needs and in the widest possible range of employment situations.

“Access to Work keeps all policies under review and we continue to work with disabled people and their organisations in order to ensure the scheme works effectively, making refinements where necessary.”

Meanwhile, BDA has announced that it has secured a £719,000 Heritage Lottery Fund grant to preserve its film and video archive and put it at the centre of a new outreach and education programme.

The three-year project will carry out conservation work on the 136 film reels and 498 videotapes – dating from 1931 to 2003 – and place them all on a single website, allowing online public access for the first time.

The films capture members of the Deaf community on holiday, campaigning, at conferences and at sports events, including the 1935 World Games for the Deaf.

Dr Terry Riley, BDA’s chair, said the project would “strengthen the Deaf community’s ownership of their own heritage, and increase awareness of the rich history of the Deaf community in the hearing world”, and was “in keeping with the BDA’s overall mission to empower Deaf people and to serve as a guardian of British Sign Language”.

28 November 2013