UK media regulator Ofcom is looking for the views of Deaf BSL speakers as they campaign to implement better access to the emergency services.
Ofcom is asking for the installation of video relay, that would make Deaf BSL speakers better able to quickly and safely contact the police, fire service, ambulance service, and coastguard.
Deaf BSL speakers who have contacted their bank or NHS111 will already be familiar with the service, which sees them videocall a BSL interpreter, who will then relay the message in English to the operator. This works better than text relay services, as it doesn’t require the caller to speak English. Video relay services allow Deaf callers who speak BSL to communicate in their first language.
Charity SignHealth, who work to improve the health and wellbeing of Deaf people, offered Ofcom a number of harrowing responses from Deaf BSL speakers who had experienced the lack of access offered in order to contact the emergency services.
One person told the charity: “Next door’s house was on fire; I spotted it. Our house alarm then went off so I got my child and husband out of the house. We could not use Minicom because of the ‘get out and stay out’ fire rule, and we could not use a mobile phone as video relay was not available then. We went to several houses to try and get someone to call the fire brigade, but most of our neighbours were not at home. Finally, we found a neighbour and he called the fire brigade. Unfortunately, the fire had spread to our house, and it was six months before we could move back in due to extensive damage. I do wonder if things could have been different if I had been able to call the fire brigade sooner.”
Another said: “I know a Deaf elderly couple. The husband went out to do some errands and came back to find that his wife had collapsed inside the hallway. He could not open the front door and had to wait for his daughter to arrive. He did not seek help because of his deafness and did not know how to use the 999 emergency number. Unfortunately, his wife died.”
Ofcom are interested in hearing BSL users’ experiences with attempting to contact emergency services. To respond to them in English, email: emergencyBSL@ofcom.org.uk, or to respond in BSL, attach or email a link to a hosted video to emergencyBSL@ofcom.org.uk.
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