The Scottish Government is currently funding an online BSL Video Relay Interpreting Service pilot called NHS 24, which aims to improve access to health services for people in Scotland who are Deaf, deafened or hard of hearing. On Monday 2 March 2015 the second phase of this project is due to be launched, after Ministers agreed that the NHS 24 pilot should be extended to the rest of the public sector in Scotland and rebranded ‘contactSCOTLAND’. This is the first nationally funded public sector Video Relay Interpreting Service pilot in the UK and is an example of the action being taken towards implementing Scotland’s Digital Public Services Strategy. From Monday 2 March 2015 service users will be able to contact any public service they need, such as their Doctor, Police Scotland, Council Services, Housing, Social Work and NHS 24, through the BSL Video Relay Interpreting Service. Please note however this service is not for Emergency 999 calls. For more information about the BSL Video Relay Interpreting Service please visit www.contactscotland-bsl.org.
After watching the evidence session on 24th March available on the following link http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/28862.aspx?r=9799
The following email, hopefully to be included in the next evidence session on 17th March, was sent:
“There is one thing I felt was not shared or explored at the evidence session on 24th March and that is, if the Bill is to be inclusive, the Bill should include Tactile British Sign Language. Even using five words in the Bill “ including tactile British Sign Language” would make a major difference. If we do that then we look after the interests of two hundred or so profoundly deaf people in Scotland for whom BSL is their first language, but due to blindness they can no longer access it except by touch. As Frankie Thomson said several times at the meeting he attended “please don’t exclude those who through lack of vision can no longer access this beautiful visual language. We are Deaf BSL users. Include us in, of right, from the beginning” The way of doing that is to add the five words “including tactile British Sign Language” at an appropriate point. I am not suggesting for one minute that should be in the title, perhaps added to 1.1(a) of the Bill, re the National Plan? I am aware we need to focus on language and not disability. This is about access to language only.”
BSL (Scotland) Bill -Written Evidence from Deafblind Scotland
Deafblind Scotland represents Scotland Deaf citizens who have lost their sight to the extent that they meet the criteria of the Department of Health (1995) definition of deafblindness which states: “A person is regarded as deafblind if their combined sight and hearing loss causes difficulties with communication, access to information and mobility”. And as the Nordic definition further states “It limits activities of a person and restricts full participation in society to such a degree that society is required to facilitate specific services, environmental alterations and/or technology”
Deafblind Scotland supports the BSL Bill with all the opportunities it will hopefully provide for improving the lived experiences of Deaf people. We are in agreement with much of the evidence given within the SCOD submission but would add the following comments which are specific to deafblind people: Deafblind people have concerns that authorities will assume if they have met the requirements for Deaf people the needs of deafblind people are also automatically met, and this is not the case.
Deafblind people only rarely fully benefit from measures implemented for Deaf people. This is due solely to the fact that they are registered blind and no longer able to access their own beautiful, visual language, which is based on the use of sight. If the Scottish Government wants Deafblind people to be able to benefit from the BSL Bill then they must make special arrangements to ensure this small group is able to benefit. (reference the Nordic definition)
Language not disability
In addition to the distress that Deaf people experience when they seek information and language support to make informed choices, give informed consent and to be active citizens, deafblind people suffer the ignominy of being considered to be in need, not of language support, but of care. And due to their language support being funded from the Social Care budget they are the only group of people in Scotland who are liable to have to pay for language support.
The vast majority of Deafblind people do not receive Care, merely support with language, yet must undergo a lengthy detailed financial assessment and thereafter contribute to the costs of that language support if they are considered to be financially able to do so. Many local authorities provide free interpretation in all spoken languages and in British Sign Language. This is a discrimination which must be addressed.
A Unique Condition
Deafblindness is a unique condition which means that the individual cannot access their environment without being guided, and without receiving language support. Both are essential. In reality this means they need to receive the services of a skilled individual be it a family member, friend or guide/communicator in order to participate in society. This need is not formally recognised meaning this is a support individuals have to fight for, and – currently – to pay for. It is not on the “critical” list of support ( as identified by some Local Authorities) needs as deafblind people can and do survive, and live through the isolation, loneliness and deprivation of information which this condition imposes on them. The BSL Bill should be an opportunity to address this, both in the Bill and particularly in the National Plan. While deafblind representation on the BSL Group is to be welcomed, it is not enough, the need to make special arrangements to meet individual language and access needs has to be embedded in the Bill somehow, somewhere. The above measures should be addressed in some detail in the National Plan. We have a unique opportunity in the plan to begin to address the issues for this small group of few hundred Scottish citizens who suffer unintended discrimination every single day.