Two-thirds of Deaf Community face difficulty accessing public information on their rights
Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Regina Doherty T.D. has launched a Citizens Information Board (CIB) research report on the experiences of the Deaf Community in accessing public and social services and related information on rights and entitlements in Ireland. The research is both timely and relevant in the context of the recent passing of the Irish Sign Language Act which gives state recognition to the indigenous language of the Deaf Community.
Speaking about the report, Angela Black, Chief Executive said: “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. 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 experiences of accessing public and social services.”
Other speakers included, Anne Coogan, Chair, Sign Language Interpreting Service (SLIS), and Tom Martin, TMA Research Consultants. According to Anne Coogan, Deaf people tell SLIS every day about difficulties they have accessing information and services. “Despite equality and disability legislation, public services have not always lived up to commitments to provide sign language interpreting”, she said.
The programme of research comprised a review of the literature, consultation with the Deaf Community, their representative/advocacy bodies and public organisations, and a questionnaire-based survey of the Deaf Community. The researchers, Tom Martin & Associates/TMA, were supported by a steering group comprising representatives of the Citizens Information Board, Sign Language Interpreting Service, the Dublin North West Citizens Information Service and representative and advocacy bodies for the Deaf Community (Irish Deaf Society, DeafHear and Deaf Village Ireland).
CIB commissioned this independent study to better understand the actual experiences of the Deaf Community in accessing information and services. The Board has a primary role in the provision of information and improving access to public and social services. CIB also supports the Sign Language interpreting Service and has a specific remit to provide advocacy for people with disabilities.
The Deaf Community is defined as people who are Deaf and whose first language is Irish Sign Language (ISL). This definition is generally understood within the Deaf Community but less so outside it. The Deaf Community in Ireland has over 5,000 Irish sign language users and a wider community of over 40,000 users.
The challenge of defining what constitutes public information and public and social services was highlighted in the report. The provision of public information and public and social services comprises a broad mix of funders, providers and delivery channels. While most public services are provided by government organisations, some are delivered by private sector providers (for example, GPs).
The report shows how members of the Deaf Community have faced severe difficulties in accessing public information in their preferred language and the resulting impact on the realisation of their rights. A common theme in the Deaf Community is the lack of awareness among public organisations in differentiating between the needs of the Deaf Community on the one hand and Hard of Hearing people on the other.
The report considers the experiences of different age groups within the Deaf Community in securing information and services. It identifies the main issues in developing more accessible services and makes a number of recommendations relating to improved service responses including: provision of ISL interpreters and boosting supply; expanding the Irish Remote Interpreting Service (IRIS); enhanced deaf awareness training; deaf friendly information provision and customer service strategies; and piloting international good practice models.
Legal recognition of Irish Sign Language (ISL) is an important step towards the realisation by wider society that ISL is not a means used to overcome a disability but is rather an integral part of the unique linguistic and cultural identity shared by the Deaf Community. The legislation underpins the fact that Irish Sign Language is an indigenous language in its own right used by a sizeable minority in the State and acknowledges the right of people to use ISL as their language of choice – this was a central theme of the research and is strongly reflected in this report.
A selection of photographs taken on the day:
Pictured at the Deaf Community Report launch were from left: Angela Black, Chief Executive, Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Regina Doherty T.D. and Anne Coogan, Chair, Sign Language Interpreting Service (SLIS).
Pictured from left: Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Regina Doherty T.D. Tom Martin, Consultant Researcher and Anne Coogan, Chairperson, Sign Language Interpreting Service (SLIS)
Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Regina Doherty T.D. with members of the Steering Group Research.