British Sign Language (BSL) National Plan 2017-2023: analysis of consultation responses

The report sets out the analysis of the public consultation on Scotland's draft British Sign Language (BSL) National Plan.

Access to Public Services

Goal: Across the Scottish public sector, information and services will be accessible to BSL users.

Steps that Scottish Ministers will take by 2023 are to:

1. Develop, test and promote a set of guidelines for all Scottish Public Services to improve access to information and services for BSL users. This will include guidelines on how to ensure that BSL users can participate on a fair and equal basis in the design of Scotland's public services, including providing them with information and support to do so.

2. Promote use of the Scottish Government service called contactSCOTLAND- BSL with public and third sector organisations and explore the potential for greater use.

3. Explore how to develop and deliver BSL awareness and training that can be accessed quickly across all frontline public services, including all the services covered in this plan.

4. Consider the need for a comprehensive review of the current BSL/English interpreting landscape, including skill levels, training and regulation. Such a review would develop recommendations aimed at boosting the profession, and supporting the more efficient delivery of interpretation services across the public sector, including all the services covered in this Plan.

5. Explore ways in which BSL/English interpreters can develop more advanced skills to work in specific settings, including the justice and health care systems.

6. Consider where BSL information from across the public sector should be located so that BSL users can easily find it.

7. Give further consideration to what actions we could take to ensure that our approach to delivering public services is person-centred so that BSL users can expect greater consistency.

Question 1 - Do you think these are the right steps under Public Services?

In total, 112 people or groups answered Question 1. Of these, 77% agreed that these are the right steps under Public Services, 13% disagreed, and 11% said they did not know.

Question 2 - Please tell us why you think this.

Question 3 - If there are there any additional steps, or potential solutions that you think could be added to the Public Services section, please tell us.

Around 115 people or groups made a written / BSL comment about Access to Public Services and it was discussed at around 45 events.

There was a strong view that public services are as essential for Deaf / Deafblind BSL users as they are for the hearing community, and that access can and should be improved. People felt that the BSL Community should be central to this change and help develop new solutions where difficulties exist. Due to the importance of this issue, it was felt that clear actions and targets were required so organisations can be held to account.

There were many experiences of Deaf / Deafblind BSL users having difficulty communicating or accessing public-sector services at present.

Develop guidelines to improve public sector information and services (Step 1)

Comments people or groups made about this step included:

  • Many public-sector services were difficult to find, use and understand for Deaf / Deafblind BSL users.
  • Access to public sector services is a fundamental requirement and difficulties create an immediate inequality.
  • There was concern about public sector budget cuts and their ability to implement the BSL (Scotland) Act 2015.

Suggestions made or ideas people or groups had included:

  • A common standard should be agreed and monitored across the public sector to support equal treatment for Deaf / Deafblind BSL users.
  • There should be increased opportunities for Deaf / Deafblind BSL users to be employed in the public sector to improve both understanding and response.
  • BSL / English interpreters should be available in key public-sector services.
  • Public sector records should 'flag' that someone is a Deaf or Deafblind BSL user so an interpreter can be arranged before contact is made.
  • Video clips, or logos to show translation is available for Deaf / Deafblind BSL users should be used on public sector websites as a matter of course.

Promote the use of contactSCOTLAND- BSL (Step 2)

Comments people or groups made about this step included:

  • Many individuals were not aware of the contactSCOTLAND- BSL service, but there were high levels of support for what it aimed to achieve.
  • Support to access social services, health and housing were considered priorities and where many issues were currently being experienced.
  • Those who had used the service felt it was positive but felt access is reliant on fast broadband and this was an issue in rural or island communities.
  • contactSCOTLAND- BSL relies on technology and there is concern that older people might not have access to the necessary equipment.

Suggestions made or ideas people or groups had included:

  • That the service should be more widely promoted and information provided on how it works, the services it covers and how it can help.
  • It would be helpful to make clear whether local authority commissioned services, such as social care, and other important organisations, like housing associations, are to be included.
  • Access issues, including for older people and remote or island communities, need to be considered.

Develop and improve BSL training in the public sector (Step 3)

Comments people or groups made about this step included:

  • There is full support to improve access to both training and awareness sessions to public sector staff. It is felt that this would improve both access to and the quality of services for Deaf / Deafblind BSL users.
  • There is some concern that high levels of staff turnover may make this difficult to manage
  • The cost implications for the public sector should be considered so the goal is realistic. This should however not stop the training taking place.

Suggestions made or ideas people or groups had included:

  • There are real opportunities for the public sector to work in partnership with Deaf / Deafblind BSL users in either paid or voluntary roles and to develop good quality services for the future.
  • The key to increasing awareness and achieving change is to teach children when they are young. This would provide a longer term positive change instead of addressing issues when and if they occur.

A full review of BSL / English interpretation services (Step 4)

Comments people or groups made about this step included:

  • There was a high level of support for a review of BSL / English interpretation services.
  • A clear and fair route to access BSL / English interpreters needs to be established across Scotland.
  • Awareness and availability differs across Scotland, with some areas having more services than others. Access to interpretation services is difficult in rural or remote areas and waiting times could be long. There were some examples in the islands where there were no BSL / English interpreters at all.
  • The public sector needs to both understand and acknowledge its responsibilities regarding interpretation services.
  • A number of people raised concerns about confidentiality when using BSL / English interpreters and sharing sensitive issue such as bank, insurance or benefits information.

Suggestions made or ideas people or groups had included:

  • BSL / English Interpretation services should consider faith issues, the public sector should consider working alongside faith groups to address this.
  • BSL / English Interpretation services need to be available 24 hours a day this is a specific issue in social care or housing services where emergencies can occur.

Support interpreters to develop advanced skills when needed (Step 5)

Comments people or groups made about this step included:

  • The skill level of BSL / English interpreters working in the public sector was considered very important given the role these services have in a person's life.
  • The key issue for most is that the BSL / English interpretation is accurate, appropriate for the situation and able to fully represent both emotion and expression.

Suggestions made or ideas people or groups had included:

  • Consideration should be given to the use of Deaf Relay Interpreters ( DRI) where advanced skills were needed. The DRI could work alongside BSL / English interpreters with people who are deaf but not fluent in BSL.
  • There could be a specific qualification for public sector BSL / English interpreters, but care needs to be taken not to reduce the number of interpreters available.

Ensure BSL information across the public sector is easy to find (Step 6)

Comments people or groups made about this step included:

  • Being able to communicate with Social Work, Health, Housing Services and the Police is seen as vitally important.
  • People are concerned that Doctors and Dentists would be reluctant to employ BSL / English interpreters as they would have to pay for them.

Some issues had been experienced in accessing emergency or alert services including 999 calls. Suggestions people made about this action included:

  • A common standard for information and communication for Deaf / Deafblind BSL users should be in established. This would support organisations to meet their responsibilities under the Equalities Act 2010.
  • Deaf / Deafblind BSL users should be employed within the public sector to help develop appropriate information and support.
  • Supporting Deaf / Deafblind BSL users to make contact with emergency services should be a priority.

Make public sector services person-centred and consistent (Step 7)

Comments people or groups made about this step included:

  • It was agreed a person-centred approach was necessary.
  • Setting standards for public services and making sure these are achieved were important for consistency.

Suggestions made or ideas people or groups had included:

A flexible approach should be taken to allow for both individual and changing needs. This can best be achieved through the raising of skills regarding BSL awareness and communication within the public sector, working alongside the BSL communities and supporting increased awareness and a positive change in culture.


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