Ulster Unionist Peer Lord Rogan has called on the Government to demand better access and support for Northern Ireland’s deaf community and ask the Government what action they will take to promote the needs of deaf people in the provision of public services.
Speaking in the House of Lords, Lord Rogan said;
“In our modern society we excel when it comes to discussing rights, but my experience is that we’re usually better at discussing than doing.
Deafness is nothing new – and it is clearly an issue which affects a significant number of people. In Northern Ireland alone there are over 200,000 people who are deaf and hard of hearing. This is a significant proportion of the population, -- some 15% of people living in Northern Ireland -- and no doubt a rising proportion, given the increasing numbers of people who are living well into old age.
I find it perplexing, therefore, given the scale of the issue and society’s familiarity with it, that we seem to fail so miserably at even the basics of providing adequate access to public services, let alone equality of access.
Access to health services is a particular area of concern. In 2009 the British Deaf Association in Northern Ireland and the RNID contacted GP practices in the Province to ask them about hearing, blind or partially sighted issues and some of the results were rather concerning with the lack of available facilities leading to a reliance on friends and family, undermines independence and leads to feelings of isolation and despair.
The charities have suggested that this collectively points to a lack of general awareness, understanding and insight concerning the needs, circumstances and experiences of people with disabilities. It would also appear that there is an inadequate grasp of the legal obligations placed on public service providers by the Disability Discrimination Act.
While access to Health services is of most concern, the complaint applies across the board from Jobs and Benefits Offices, leisure facilities, interpreters for deaf parents at teacher-parent meetings, school correspondence, emergency telephones on the motorway, arts and cultural events.Indeed the entire spectrum of life in a modern Western Society
As the British Deaf Association in Northern Ireland put it, deaf people are currently not afforded access to public services on or near a par with hearing people. Deaf people want to be included in every day society and given the opportunity to make decisions and choices for themselves.
It is incumbent upon Government to play its part to facilitate that process and to ensure that deaf awareness is given greater focus.”