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Accessibility & Quality

by Sherrie


Over the last 10 years, I have worked with numerous Auslan interpreters and the most important lesson I have learnt from them is:

It is extremely vital to have access to accredited and quality interpreters.

I also learnt that it was my right to request for interpreters I felt the most comfortable working with, and I have been lucky to work with a number of amazing Auslan interpreters over the last 10 years.

A recent issue has rocked the Deaf community in Australia:

Deaf Australia reports that the Children’s Hospital at Westmead has removed a three-month-old baby from her parents last week without warning or appropriate communication. The parents, April Joseph and Anaru Hayward-Semenoff, who are both profoundly deaf and use Auslan to communicate, were completely unaware that the hospital had concerns for the child’s safety until the meeting when they were told their baby and five-year-old child were being removed to foster care.

Deaf Australia Inc. Media Release – Tuesday 9th September 2014

This breaks my heart. We also learnt that this issue was decades old, as it also happened to a number of Deaf parents nationwide.

“It is our understanding that the interpreter for the final meeting was qualified but inadequate and unsuitable for the meeting; the mother requested a different interpreter but the request was ignored by the social worker there.”

Kyle Miers – CEO, Deaf Australia Inc.

An inadequate and unsuitable interpreter will have a HUGE impact on the Deaf person, especially in this case. This needs to stop. We need to teach the society that it is not acceptable to deny Deaf people access to quality interpreters, especially in the public sectors such as hospitals, social welfare, education, etc.

Australia has the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 in place. Australia ratified the United Nations Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008. Why isn’t the government (local, state and federal) using both legislations at their fullest potential?

Let’s have a look at Article 21 of UN CRPD:

Freedom of expression and opinion, and access to information.

States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that persons with disabilities can exercise the right to freedom of expression and opinion, including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas on an equal basis with others and through all forms of communication of their choice, as defined in article 2 of the present Convention, including by:

a) Providing information intended for the general public to persons with disabilities in accessible formats and technologies appropriate to different kinds of disabilities in a timely manner and without additional cost;

b) Accepting and facilitating the use of sign languages, Braille, augmentative and alternative communication, and all other accessible means, modes and formats of communication of their choice by persons with disabilities in official interactions;

c) Urging private entities that provide services to the general public, including through the Internet, to provide information and services in accessible and usable formats for persons with disabilities;

d) Encouraging the mass media, including providers of information through the Internet, to make their services accessible to persons with disabilities;

e) Recognizing and promoting the use of sign languages.

Source: UN Enable

It is a human right to ask for quality and preferred interpreters. We cannot be denied that, especially in the public sector such as hospitals, education, welfare, etc. 

Paal Richard Peterson, a Deaf activist from Norway gave a presentation at the recent International Conference for the World Federation of the Deaf in Sydney. His presentation had a profound impact on me, especially how I define equality.

Paal raised a very important point in regards to the UN CRPD and our human rights:

Human rights are very important for us and to freedom of speech. It’s a part of the linguistic human rights and that is something the UN declared; that we all have the right to speech and to speak our ideas.

He also stressed on the importance of Article 21 in the UN CRPD:

There are physical barriers, but there are not so many for Deaf people. We are more talking about not having access to information. We often experience problems in communication. No interpreters on television. So for us the major barrier is information and communication. Here we must work to create laws in principle related to information, media. We need to campaign. We need to raise awareness and we can do this in many different ways.

Paal reminded us that it was important to work together as a community to fight for our right for access to quality and accredited interpreters, especially in public situations.

We cannot forget about Article 9 of the UN CRPD, as this is ESSENTIAL for accessibility.

1. To enable persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life, States Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure to persons with disabilities access, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment, to transportation, to information and communications, including information and communications technologies and systems, and to other facilities and services open or provided to the public, both in urban and in rural areas. These measures, which shall include the identification and elimination of obstacles and barriers to accessibility, shall apply to, inter alia:

a) Buildings, roads, transportation and other indoor and outdoor facilities, including schools, housing, medical facilities and workplaces;

b) Information, communications and other services, including electronic services and emergency services.

2. States Parties shall also take appropriate measures:

a) To develop, promulgate and monitor the implementation of minimum standards and guidelines for the accessibility of facilities and services open or provided to the public;

b) To ensure that private entities that offer facilities and services which are open or provided to the public take into account all aspects of accessibility for persons with disabilities;

c) To provide training for stakeholders on accessibility issues facing persons with disabilities;

d) To provide in buildings and other facilities open to the public signage in Braille and in easy to read and understand forms;

e) To provide forms of live assistance and intermediaries, including guides, readers and professional sign language interpreters, to facilitate accessibility to buildings and other facilities open to the public;

f) To promote other appropriate forms of assistance and support to persons with disabilities to ensure their access to information;

g) To promote access for persons with disabilities to new information and communications technologies and systems, including the Internet;

h) To promote the design, development, production and distribution of accessible information and communications technologies and systems at an early stage, so that these technologies and systems become accessible at minimum cost.

Source: UN Enable

Essentially, Article 9 is the KEY to gaining accessibility.

Both Articles 9 and 21 of the UN CRPD are essential for Deaf people in regards to their right to request for sign language interpreters, access to information and most importantly, to be able to communicate with others in the public sector.

Any issues we face as a community, we have to step back and let deaf organisations such as Deaf Australia lead the fight, then we will be behind them all the way. We support each other and unite as a whole. No need to go on a witch hunt like the Salem Witch Trials 😉

This feeling of being left outside we could transform into some kind of frustration or anger. If we together collectively collect this anger, we could do something with all that energy that comes from that feeling. That is a way to change the world. We could be felt as left outside in small situations, as I explained with the children, but also in major situations.

– Paal Richard Peterson

It is very important to keep standing up for yourself and the rights of Deaf people, especially when it comes to sign language and access to quality sign language interpreters.

Remember this:

Within the language you have a culture, you have a richness. If we lose sign language we will lose the culture, the history and the beauty of the language. That’s why also it’s necessary to have it recognised in law.

We can make hearing people understand the importance of sign language, and that’s the first step and a very important tool to reach equality. We need to be on an equal basis as hearing people.

– Paal Richard Peterson

Yours in Deaf Rights,

S xo

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