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Irish Sign Language Act 'not operating as intended' and is 'poor across most sections'

These were among the findings of the first report on the implementation of the Irish Sign Language Act (2017).

THE IRISH SIGN Language Act is “not operating as intended”, implementation is “poor across most sections”, and these shortcomings need to be remedied at the “earliest opportunity”.

These were among the findings of the first report on the implementation of the Irish Sign Language Act (2017).

The Irish Sign Language Act “recognises the right of the Deaf community to use ISL as their native language and to use, develop and preserve it”.

Irish Sign Language is the sign language used by the majority of the deaf community in Ireland. 

The Act also “places a duty on all public bodies to provide ISL speakers with free interpretation when availing of or seeking to access statutory entitlements and service”.

There are further obligations within the areas of legal proceedings, educational provision and broadcasting.

Under the Act, an implementation report covering the three years following enactment is required, and subsequent implementation reports are required every five years thereafter.

However, there was a delay in this report being published “due to a legal matter”.

‘Duty of Public Bodies’

The most widely applicable section of the Act relates to the duty of public bodies to provide access to public services through ISL when requested.

However, the report found that many public bodies appeared unprepared for the activities needed to achieve compliance” with the Act and that “considerable effort” is now required.

Just over three quarters (77%) of public bodies responded to the report’s public body survey.

Of those that responded, 31% were not aware of the ISL Act prior to the survey, while 20% were aware of the Act but not of their responsibilities under it.

36% of public bodies that responded to the survey considered themselves to be in full compliance with the Act.

The report notes that these findings are reflected in the poor feedback from the public – just 5% rated access to public services through ISL as “good”.

Given the “widespread underperformance” of public bodies, the report recommended that “standard procedures for access to services through ISL be developed and published in and that ISL accessible complaints mechanisms be established”.

The report also recommended that public bodies should be required to “publish ISL action plans with clear timeframes for when they will be compliant”.

Access to accredited ISL interpreters  was also flagged as an issue, with the report noting that supplied of accredited interpreters has “remained very low since 2017”.

‘Urgent action’

“Significant gaps” were also noted in the area of education and the report called for “urgent action” to be taken to ensure children whose primary language is ISL can achieve their full potential “in school and beyond”.

The report found that there has been “ no action to ensure a sufficient number of higher education placements for ISL training of teachers of children who are deaf or hard of hearing, nor any action to set minimum qualifications for these teachers”.

The report also highlighted “room for a number of changes” within broadcasting.

It noted how programmes with ISL are “predominantly broadcasted during sleeping hours” and called for a review of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) Access Rules to “support equality, dignity and respect in ISL broadcasting”.

Elsewhere, the criminal courts were acknowledged as being able to provide ISL interpretation as needed, but the report noted a “lack of preparation for the commencement of the Act” by the civil courts.

Overall, the report concluded that the “implementation by public bodies and access to services through ISL is currently well below the expectations of the legislation”.

It also made “high priority” recommendations in addressing ISL interpreter supply, awareness of the Act among public bodies, and ensuring the provision of ISL supports for children in school.

Other high priority recommendations included providing ISL programming between the hours of 7am and 1am and ensuring that the complaints mechanisms is accessible to ISL users.

‘Work to do’

Equality Minister Roderic O’Gorman welcomed the report and acknowledged that it “clearly indicates that we have work to do”.

He added that he is “committed to ensuring that we will fully consider the recommendations made in the report, which are derived from the lived experiences of ISL users”.

He said this will “can ensure that the Act is implemented comprehensively and as soon as possible”.

O’Gorman also said that the “Covid-19 pandemic interrupted plans for the full implementation of the Act”, but added that there are now “clear and meaningful recommendations to ensure that we progress implementation of the Act”.

Minister of State with responsibility for Disability Anne Rabbitte also welcomed the report, saying: “It tells us what users of ISL have known for a long time, which is that we need to do much more to ensure that ISL users are supported in accessing their statutory entitlements.”

She added: “There is a significant amount of work to be done in the immediate period ahead and I am committed to making sure that this work is accomplished as soon as possible.

“Through the evidence provided in the report, we now know exactly what we need to do next as a matter of priority.”

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