Language & Communication14th July 2014

Empowering deaf people by providing life enhancing information

Communication is an essential part of life, for deaf people it is often a barrier

by Sarah Lawrence

I don’t want to over play this, but for Deaf and Hard of Hearing people, accessing information in the public domain can be difficult. I know I have found it tough and I’m fed up of being the last to know. The trouble is some of this information is really important and even when some sections of the deaf community get that information, it seems to be really difficult to make sure that information is shared with everyone.

The consequence of this information block is that Deaf and Hard of Hearing people are often unaware of their rights or the service standards they should enjoy. We have less access to information about the latest technology, health warnings and advice, fitness tips, deaf sport, job opportunities, educational courses, well life’s information really that most people enjoy. It feels like we are kept in the dark, forced to keep quiet and not make a fuss simply because we don’t know we can or should be making a fuss.

How many Deaf and Hard of Hearing people really understand the implications of the reasonable adjustment requirement within Equality legislation? What does that mean to us in practice? Do deaf people know they can challenge any failure to make those reasonable adjustments? By and large, we suffer in silence on these issues and I know I just got tired of challenging and making a fuss for a while. Of course, when you do that, nothing changes because many organisations judge their performance on complaints received. No complaints equals “we are doing just great thank you”. Well actually no, you are not!

So, for me, a key question is how do we better inform Deaf and Hard of Hearing people about thethings that affect their lives. I thought that one avenue would be through Deaf and Hard of Hearing Clubs, but that doesn’t seem to work. Even where Clubs have lines of communication in place with their members, they don’t seem to use them for the sort of information I am describing. Contact is made about the Club, it’s activities, but is not used very often as an information system.

Similarly, in today’s technological age, I thought some of the most popular social media platforms might be ideal. The problem is they are social and many of the gatekeepers to social media groups refuse to use those groups to provide important information to the group members. Put up some fun challenge about pouring cold water over your head or neck nominate and it goes viral. Put up information that might save someone’s life or get them a job, better quality of life and it gets no support at all. Forgive me if that sounds critical it is not meant to be, I understand that social media is for exactly that, being social, my question is what can we use to give everyone the opportunity to be in the know on important issues.

It seems to me that we are very much in a chicken and egg position around this, with the popular social media having the most members, and being a fantastic way to reach out to people, and other mass communication options being more appropriate but not having the number of people using them to be effective. The result is that many Deaf and Hard of Hearing people are missing out, and many are living a second rate existence as a consequence, through poor education, health, job prospects and a general lack of money.

We know that communication is a huge life issue and it is a significant hurdle for many deaf people. Intentionally critical this time, we, the deaf community moan about poor communication in many aspects of our lives and yet I would argue that we don't have our own deaf network communication working well either. Should we expect the NHS to communicate a decision about accessing interpreters, lip speakers or on-line communication with each and every one of us, or should they expect deaf to help deaf, by sharing that information as widely as possible.

As long as we are happy with deaf people struggling, none of this information is critical, but if we want to achieve true equality, be treated with respect and awareness in all parts of our lives, we need to the collective deaf brains to come together to solve the problem of communicating with Deaf and Hard of Hearing people.

In the meantime, I hope all Deaf and Hard of Hearing Clubs and other relevant groups begin to use their social media to pass on important, life changing information to their members, in the same way that Clubs like Gloucester Deaf Club do. They operate on an ‘everyone informed’ basis and I think that is a great way to empower people in their daily lives.

If anyone has an answer, I would love to ‘hear’ it.

Article by Sarah Lawrence

posted in Community / Language & Communication

14th July 2014