Health & Well-being24th March 2015

Prevention is Better than Cure - Who's going to tell the Deaf Community

Information about preventing Cancer is critical, but it is often denied to the Deaf community

by Simon Deacy OBE

On a day when Cancer is in the public eye through the media covering two different stories, is it time to question the lack of information made available to many people within the Deaf community, in their first language – British Sign Language.

For A-listed actress Angelina Jolie, who has just written an article in the New York Times about her decision to have her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to prevent cancer, health information, understanding her risk factors, and knowing what the options were, were all essential in helping her make the right decision.

On the same day that the UK media are running the Jolie story, Macmillan have published their findings about the treatment of cancer in the UK compared to other countries, with the results suggesting that the UK is about 10 years behind.

Whilst much of the research relates to the actual clinical treatment of cancer and subsequent survival rates, the key issues of self-screening and early identification are also of central significance.

There is a very old saying that prevention is better than cure. In the case of cancer, that saying has to be spot on. But, where and when is that preventative information made available to Deaf BSL users. The reality is that the information the Deaf community need is simply not out there.

The problem is that many policy makers think that a leaflet or a TV advert are sufficient to get the information to all sections of society. There is complete ignorance in some quarters about the level of understanding of written English by some Deaf people, and scant regard given to the best way to get that information across to them. The number of BSL videos available can probably be counted on one hand.

I see adverts and information all the time, telling me about the things to look for. Whether it is information in my own doctors, a library, or in a hospital setting, there are hundreds of leaflets available. The wealth of information provided is commendable, but much of that will be lost to Deaf people, many of whom wont even pick up a leaflet because they know the complex language is not suitable for them.

On a day when Angelina Jolie is saying that ‘knowledge is power’, when it comes to making healthy decision, and Macmillan research recognises the importance of preventative information, it is vital that recognition is given to the ignorance shown to ensuring the Deaf community have equal access to all of this information. With the cost of treatment for cancer, providing this information in the Deaf community’s own language will serve as an opportunity to ‘Invest to Save’, saving many lives in the process.

It is pleasing to see more information being made available in BSL through organisations like Healthwatch, about how to complain when things go wrong. However, it is now time for the Department of Health and other providers of health information to step up the information giving in BSL, so that Deaf people also understand the risks, the screening options, and the self-test/identification practices they can employ, so that they have the same fighting chance afforded the rest of us.

Article by Simon Deacy OBE

posted in Deaf Lifestyle / Health & Well-being

24th March 2015