The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been criticised for apparently censoring a charity that tried to draw attention to a Scottish government scheme that makes Scotland’s public services more accessible to users of British Sign Language (BSL).
DWP was launching a new pilot scheme that will allow some benefit claimants to make calls to the department via a BSL interpreter.
DWP’s video relay service (VRS) scheme – which will be delivered on a six-month contract by the Deaf-led social enterprise SignVideo – only applies to calls relating to disability living allowance, attendance allowance and Access to Work.
But the Scottish scheme is much broader, and allows BSL-users to contact their doctor, local council and all other public bodies, including the Scottish government.
It had originally been launched as an NHS online interpreting service, but was extended to other public bodies last March.
Jim Edwards, chair of the UK Council on Deafness and chief executive of Signature, the deaf communication charity, told DWP his organisation was “delighted” that it had “taken this step to open up access for Deaf people who use BSL”.
He added: “We trust the pilot will be successful and look forward to more government services becoming accessible, as they are in Scotland.”
But when the quote appeared in DWP’s press release, his reference to the Scottish scheme, contactSCOTLAND, had disappeared.
DWP missed out the final five words from the sentence, quoting Edwards instead as saying: “We trust the pilot will be successful and look forward to more government services becoming accessible.”
Dan Sumners, senior policy adviser at Signature, said: “It’s not surprising DWP removed that reference (assuming they did it on purpose), as it highlights the fact Scotland is leading the way on this.
“As Jim’s full quote suggests, we hope the UK government uses the DWP pilot as a springboard to launch a cross-government service in the near future.
“Of course, this service should already be in place so deaf people have the same access as hearing people. But we’re simply glad things are now moving forward.”
A DWP spokesman said: “You’ll have noticed that there are a number of quotes in the press release, and the amends you’ve asked about were for brevity – nothing more. UKCoD is content with the way their quote was used.”
But an SNP spokeswoman said: “It is no surprise that the DWP has removed any mention of the positive work being carried out by the Scottish government as, historically, Scotland has always been talked down by the established Westminster parties.”
Damian Barry, the British Deaf Association’s director of community development, said in a statement that the pilot project was “an encouraging step towards our wish to see full VRS access for Deaf people across all government departments”, but the charity declined to comment on DWP’s decision to remove the reference to Scotland.
Justin Tomlinson (pictured), the minister for disabled people, said in the DWP press release: “The introduction of the video relay service is an important step in making government services accessible to Deaf people or those with hearing loss, and will ensure they can communicate with our staff quickly and easily.
“It will make a huge difference to their experience of using our services and I’m delighted we’re leading the way across government.”
Tomlinson said he had made improving accessibility across the UK a “priority” for 2016.