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July 7, 2006

Documents on shelves not good enough: Eagle

From: Belfast Telegraph - United Kingdom - Jul 7, 2006

he lovely little church room at Belfast's Wilton House was packed to the doors with representatives from all the province's main deaf organisations and social service providers on Monday morning.

The BBC's Donna Traynor introduced the events, and after the recital of the poem, You have to be Deaf to Understand, by Agnes Carberry and James McKernan, in both BSL and ISL, various deaf leaders spoke on the importance of gaining more public awareness of good communication.

The meeting was organised by the Sign Language Partnership Group in association with Linenhall Library and the Department of Culture Arts and Leisure to help publicise the launch of their Best Practice Guidance on providing public service to deaf people who use British Sign Language or Irish Sign Language.

The main speaker was Marie Eagle, former Minister for Disabled People in the Department for Works and Pensions at Westminster, who was responsible for securing recognition of British Sign Language as a language in its own right in 2003.

Now, as Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure in Northern Ireland, she told us through the interpreter that she was pleased to be associated with this Best Practice Guidance, designed to help the province's departments communicate better with people who use either of the two sign languages.

"There is a widespread lack of thought and awareness, and public servants especially need their understanding raised on the best way to communicate with deaf people", Ms Eagle said.

"It's not enough to talk about enhancing the supply of interpreters and tutors; we must try to make certain there is full accessibility to government departments and try to ensure more of our public servants have some training in the art of communication with all kinds of hearing loss.

"My department is determined to work for full inclusiveness and not just well meaning reports that end up as piles of documents on shelves."

The Minister referred to the very low level of qualified interpreters in Northern Ireland and said she was confident extra funding would soon be forthcoming to facilitate the teaching of new interpreters and tutors of sign language.

"We have a responsibility", she affirmed, "not only to ensure our fellow citizens are given equal treatment in accessing their public services, but also to encourage respect for and appreciation of the rich linguistic diversity that exists in Northern Ireland today.

"This is one of a number of long overdue steps to improve communication for sign language users in Northern Ireland."

In a short foreword to the Best Practice Guidance, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Peter Hain reminds us that sign language is the preferred means of communication of the 5,000 profoundly or severely deaf people in the province and that this published guide is one of the first products of the Government working in partnership with representatives of the deaf community to develop ideas for improving public services, as promised by his predecessor, Paul Murphy, in March 2004.

"I would like to take this opportunity," he writes, "to extend my thanks to all representatives of the deaf community who have so successfully participated in this partnership, and for making a key contribution to such a useful guide for government departments in delivering an effective, meaningful and joined-up public service."

© 2006 Independent News and Media (NI)
a division of Independent News & media (UK) Ltd