It’s our goal to make sure the government understands, and responds to, the needs of people who are deaf or have hearing loss during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) crisis.
Since the government introduced lockdown to control the spread of coronavirus in the UK, almost every aspect of society has been affected and our daily lives have changed beyond recognition.
We’ve seen dramatic changes to our public services in response to the pandemic. New services are quickly being designed, and huge changes to how settings such as hospitals and workplaces need to operate are being introduced.
Since the outbreak began, it’s been vital for people to get public health information and government guidance in a format that is easy to find and understand.
It would be wrong for the government not to consider the access needs of the 12 million people who are deaf or have hearing loss when they create new guidance, information and services.
What we have been calling for
Our Policy and Campaigns team has been lobbying the government to make sure that accessibility is considered in its response to coronavirus, and that new or altered public services meet the needs of people who are deaf or have hearing loss.
The issues we have prioritised are set out in our Coronavirus Policy Statement, covering:
- the accessibility of public health information
- the accessibility of health and social care services
- the accessibility of other essential services
- face coverings and social distancing measures for the general public
- the continuation of audiology services
- the Coronavirus Act and reduced obligations for the provision of social care
- disability employment: remote working and social distancing
- loneliness and isolation
- health outcomes.
We know this isn’t a complete list of the issues we need the government to address – and we will work on other areas when we can.
We have prioritised key areas on the basis of our existing research, the requests that have come into our Information Line and the feedback we receive from you.
We have worked very closely with coalitions of other disability charities to raise these issues with government, MPs and the press, while always seeking to raise the specific concerns of people who are deaf or have hearing loss.
Progress so far
We have secured some notable concessions from the UK government that we believe will improve the way people who are deaf or have hearing loss get support from public services:
- In response to our letter to the PM, we have had confirmation from the Cabinet Office that a senior official will be responsible for making sure that all government communications on coronavirus are accessible for disabled people.
- Our communication advice for health and social care professionals is being sent to all GP practices in England and the Royal College of GPs has added our communication guidance to their Coronavirus resource hub.
- The NHS Volunteer Responder line is now available via video relay and Relay UK, and Action on Hearing Loss can now refer people to the service directly through our Information Line.
- The Department for Work and Pensions has amended guidance to make it easier for people who claim Access to Work to process their paperwork. They’ve also said that they will allow people to get their support changed if their working routine has been changed due to coronavirus.
- We’ve secured press coverage to raise awareness of the extra barriers that our community faces because of coronavirus, spanning a number of issues such as the problems caused by facemasks, additional barriers at work and the lack of BSL interpretation.
What’s coming next
We know that the changes we’ve secured so far aren’t enough and that the impact of the coronavirus crisis will be with us for some time. So we will continue to work on these issues, collaborating with the government over their response where we can, but also calling out their failures where this is needed.
We also need to influence a broader range of service providers. Social distancing and the advice in England to use facemasks will create many additional problems for people who rely on lipreading and facial expression to communicate. We need to work with shops and services to make sure they are accessible and that customer-facing staff are deaf aware.
We also want to progress our existing campaigns that are not related to coronavirus. We know that government has paused some of the work relating to Subtitle It!, Working for Change, protecting free NHS hearing aids and the creation of a BSL 999 service. While we reluctantly understand the need for this work to be paused, we will not be silent for long.
As soon as the time is right, we will be looking for opportunities to continue working with you and other active supporters to challenge the everyday barriers society creates for people who are deaf or have hearing loss.
Campaign with us
The fast-moving nature of the coronavirus crisis has meant that we have had to respond quickly and use our existing research, and evidence from our services and Information Line, to make our case directly to the government behind the scenes.
As we move on from the first phase of the crisis, we look forward to campaigning with you on these issues.
We will share updates and ways to get involved through our Campaigns Network – if you haven’t already, sign up to the mailing list today.