A high court judge ruled, on 18th June, that the Government had failed to provide accessible information to the Deaf community during the Covid-19 pandemic breaching the 2010 Equality Act.
This is a huge success for Deaf campaigners, who have been appealing to the Government since the beginning of the pandemic, to provide an in-person interpreter for its press conferences and public announcements.
The case was initially brought to trial by a pregnant deaf woman against the Cabinet Office, on 16th June 2021, for neglecting to meet its legal obligations to make televised broadcasts accessible to Deaf people by providing on-platform BSL interpretation. She said that being unable to understand the important information announced resulted in “stress and frustration” and impacted on her pregnancy and her wellbeing. She advocated that the provision of an onscreen interpreter avoids any technical issues and demonstrates an inclusive approach by the government.
The solicitor representing the court case explained how “deaf people have come together in the most remarkable way to challenge the Government to do better, and to fulfil what we say are its obligations under the Equality Act”. The same legal firm will also be acting on behalf of an additional 350 deaf people in private law claims against the government regarding the lack of an interpreter for the first Covid briefings.
Since March 2020, the campaign #WhereIsTheInterpreter has provided great support for the court case. It has helped to raise money through crowdfunding to pay for independent expert evidence and court fees for the case.
The high court judge found that two important briefings aired on the 21st September 2020 and 12th October 2020 regarding the closure of schools and public spaces, lockdown restrictions, shielding and furlough failed to provide onscreen BSL interpreters which “served to disempower, to frustrate and to marginalise” those within the Deaf community whilst similar Covid-related briefings aired in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland included BSL interpreters on screen.
The Government refuted violating the Equality Act to make broadcasts accessible to Deaf people. However, the judge concluded that the lack of consideration and absence of BSL provision (and only the provision of on-screen subtitles) amounted to discrimination which served to exclude tens of thousands of Deaf people who use BSL as their first language.