'Misery' for deaf communities

Unite slams 'opportunistic’ sign language service attacks during pandemic

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‘Opportunistic’ attacks on sign language services during the coronavirus pandemic will cause ‘long term misery’ for the UK’s deaf communities struggling during the crisis, the National Union of British Sign Language Interpreters (NUBSLI), a branch of Unite said today.

The pandemic and lockdown restrictions have exacerbated many issues already experienced by deaf British Sign Language (BSL) users and interpreters.

Due to lockdown restrictions, access to face-to-face sign language interpretation services and BSL provisions have been reduced. According to the charity, SignHealth, deaf people’s mental health and ability to access basic healthcare are being seriously and disproportionately impacted by measures taken to combat the pandemic.

Unite said sign language agencies and commissioners are now using the compromises both deaf people and interpreters have made during the crisis to make plans to reduce BSL service provisions once the pandemic ends.

An increased use of Video Relay Services (VRS), as a result of government enforced social distancing restrictions, has led to fees and terms and conditions for interpreters being attacked. The union said many BSL agencies are now planning for VRS to make up at least 50 per cent of their services once the Covid-19 pandemic has been brought under control.

NUBSLI branch secretary Samantha Riddle said, “The attacks on the sign language services we are now seeing will cause long term misery for deaf communities already suffering because of the pandemic. While VRS does meet the needs of some deaf people in particular circumstances, it is not suitable for all or useful in every situation and should not be made into the primary form BSL service provision.

“The disproportionate sacrifices made by deaf people during the crisis are in danger of becoming permanent, with the first step being the opportunistic use of the pandemic by service providers to attack interpreters’ pay and terms and conditions,” she added.

“As well as drastically eroding our members’ living standards, these cynical attempts to phase out face-to-face interpretation services over the long term will have a devasting impact on deaf people all over the country.”

By Barckley Sumner

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