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Two-thirds of Deaf community face difficulty finding out about their rights

A new report has been published detailing the experiences of Deaf people in accessing public and social services.

TWO-THIRDS OF the Deaf community face difficulty accessing public information on their rights, a new report has found.

The Citizens Information Board (CIB) research report, published today, details the experiences of the Deaf community in accessing public and social services and related information on rights and entitlements in Ireland.

Members of the Deaf community who were interviewed for the report said that only a small fraction of government information provision uses Irish Sign Language (ISL).

They said that the standard means of communication that government organisations use, such as websites, printed documents (leaflets), or telephone are either difficult for the Deaf community to use due to the fact that the data is provided in English which is not their first language or, in the case of telephone-based information provision, virtually impossible.

The Deaf community is defined as people who are Deaf and whose first language is ISL. The Deaf community in Ireland has over 5,000 Irish sign language users and a wider community of over 40,000 users.

Lack of consultation

The members of the Deaf community and their representative bodies interviews as part of the study said they appreciated the efforts of public organisations to use ISL as part of their information provision, for example, through the use of signed videos on their website.

However, they would prefer if these organisations would consult with Deaf representative bodies on the format and content of such ISL-based information provision.

Where the input of the Deaf community is absent, the report noted that there is a perception among Deaf people that the public websites that incorporate ISL are merely a token gesture rather than a genuine understanding of their needs.

“The majority of public sector organisations profiled in this report do have policy and service provision commitments that specify that they will provide ISL interpreters for meetings involving Deaf people,” Angela Black, chief executive of CIB said.

“The Deaf community, however, say there is a gulf between public policy provisions and what they experience at frontline service level. Two-thirds of those surveyed gave a poor rating of their experience of accessing public and social services.”

Public places

The report also highlighted that accessing information in public places can be problematic for members of the Deaf community.

One example, according to the study, is visiting public offices where there is no signed information that can point them in the right direction.

The community noted that the lack of signed information in bus and train stations and airports can result in Deaf people not receiving vital information about their transport connections or being uninformed about safety notices.

Public services

One of the main issues raised by Deaf people and their support organisations was the lack of trained ISL interpreters to enable Deaf people to communicate with public officials.

The experience of the interviewees from the Deaf community was that, in the vast majority of cases, when they visited a public organisation to either obtain information or to access a service, there was no ISL interpreter available to sign the conversation or meeting.

In this scenario, the options open to the Deaf community are to have a hearing companion with them, or write notes, or resort to lip reading.

“Despite equality and disability legislation, public services have not always lived up to commitments to provide sign language interpreting,” Ann Coogan, chair of Sign Language Interpreting Service said.

Read: Legislation to officially recognise Irish Sign Language set to pass through Dáil today

More: Column: ‘I am determined to make music available to the deaf’

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