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January 31, 2013

SignHealth says Deaf people are angry at being marginalised

From: Healthcare Today - ‎Jan 31, 2013

The national healthcare charity for Deaf* people says many Deaf people are shocked at the national census results released yesterday (January 30, 2013) showing a smaller than expected Deaf population.

The census figure of 21,971 sign language users is lower than expected. However, SignHealth is concerned that many Deaf people will not have had their main language recorded properly.

Steve Powell, Chief Executive of SignHealth, said: “Before now, most people thought the number of sign language users in the UK was between 50,000 to 70,000. Earlier research conducted by us, which was based on the GP Patient Survey data, suggested the figure may even be higher than that.

“The census figure is important, but we doubt it is the whole picture. We already know of households where hearing parents put ‘English’ for everyone in the house, even though their sons or daughters would have put sign language.

“The number is not all that important but it is important that service providers make reasonable adjustments to overcome communication barriers. It doesn’t matter if there is one Deaf person in the country or one million.

“We hope this sparks a debate about what can be done to protect sign language. The census figures show that, compared to British Sign Language (BSL), there are far fewer people who have Cornish, Gaelic or Welsh as a first language. Yet these languages are protected by the Government and funding is made available to keep the languages alive. Celtic speakers have English as a second language, while for many Deaf people, sign language is a necessity.”

SignHealth, which has its headquarters at Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire, provides a range of services for Deaf people, including supported living, advocacy, outreach, psychological therapy and health promotion, all within a BSL supported environment.

Steve added: “Even though BSL was recognised 10 years ago the word ‘recognised’ is hollow and meaningless.

“The NHS111 trials also demonstrate how BSL is being ignored. Deaf people are being asked to access these services using TextPhones, which is an old technology that is no longer used by many of the Deaf community.

*It is the convention adopted within the Deaf community of using an upper case D when referring to those who identify themselves culturally and linguistically as members of the Deaf community. Typically they are prelingually Deaf and use British Sign Language (BSL) as their first language.

© Mayden Foundation 2013