Office for Disability Issues try to define “disability”

I got an email the other day, as you do, about some consultation on draft guidance from the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) on the Equality Act 2010. The guidance sets out an “illustrative and non-exhuastive” list of the factors that might be considered when deciding if someone is disabled or not in the courts. They say “non-exhaustive” though they clearly had a good try. An attempt to try and describe what an elephant looks like if there ever was one.

Anyhow, the email expressed fear that the guidance is saying that British Sign Language users would not be regarded as disabled. This is because in the list of what should not be regarded as a factor in deciding if someone is disabled, it says:

“Inability to converse in a language which is not the speaker’s native language”

It’s not particularly clear, but my guess is that the intention is to highlight that one is not disabled just because one speaks a different language. So people who speak Welsh are not disabled, for example. Nor is my sign language interpreter.

Does this mean that under the guidance that deaf British Sign Language users would not be regarded as being disabled? I’m not a legal expert but I don’t think so. Looking at the list of factors that should be considered in deciding if someone has a disability, it says:

“Difficulty hearing someone talking at a sound level which is normal for everyday conversations, and in a moderately noisy environment.”

“Difficulty hearing and understanding another person speaking clearly over the voice telephone.”

“Taking longer than someone who does not have an impairment to say things.”

So, on the face of it, deaf children and young people would clearly be regarded as disabled under this guidance, whether or not they used sign language. That said, the line on native languages is not particularly clear and is a bit unhelpful. I understand NDCS plans to respond to the consultation to suggest to the ODI that this should be clearer.

As an aside, it’s quite an interesting list. I haven’t yet read the whole document but considering the ODI are meant to follow the social model of disability, the list sometimes reads a rather negative list focusing on the inadequacies of disabled people, rather than the inadequacies of the world around them in failing to ensure disabled people have full access. I now also seem to be doubly disabled – “Persistant difficulty in remembering the names of familiar people” also makes it on the list. Oh dear.

Be interested, as always, to hear your thoughts.


3 thoughts on “Office for Disability Issues try to define “disability”

  1. Perhaps the real disability is a refusal to accept the obvious. No matter how much access and technology is given, deaf may still not be able to follow everything. There are things deaf CANNOT do, hear is one of them…. I think the clue is in the reality. Does it help if deaf insist they are not disabled ? and does this not reflect and undermine the deaf that DO consider themselves thus ? and the sector of disabled people with other physical and sensory issues who consider themselves so ? Some of the heaviest uses of disability support services are those deaf who consider themselves NOT disabled, a conundrum surely ? Without the validity of being defined disabled, support and access (Surely a visible sign, no pun intended), OF the disablement , no support is forthcoming. There is no ‘shame’ in not being able to hear, but there is little point insisting it poses no issues, and suggesting mainstream is the source of all our ills.. Culture and politics are not a luxury we can afford….

  2. They keep making technologies that cater hearing people, so as long as they are doing that, they are disabling us.

    Same with ramp. They cater to walking people by providing stairs to accomodate them (otherwise they won’t have access- i played sim city and the first thing you had to do is provide stairs to your buildings so people can have access, HA!) but not ramp unless we make laws.

    other than that, let people decide for themselves if it is a disability or not. Some late-deafened consider it a disability because it is hard for them to adjust.

  3. But ignorance prevails, if a strong lobby suggests deaf are not disabled (Late deafened certainly are, they are disabled by loss), then this can undermine their support and campaigns. No matter how it is sold to joe public, they still do not know one deaf person is different to another, that’s a major failing of deaf awareness, or is it ? does it not suit those with cultural aspirations to not make effort to show we are not all the same ? Maybe the issue is the non-cultural deaf do not make for their own awareness as strongly as they do… When I dial up ‘late deafened’ or acquired deaf online, all I get is ASL or BSL classes, yet few of us use it, and/or a list of medical definitions of us. There is no outright political lobby by non-cultural deaf to set the record straight. we are all ‘cultural’ deaf for lobbying purposes and not cultural if we ask for support….I suppose the setting up of deaf schools, and interpreters and all that is not support at all and they can manage full well with none of it…. Not if this blog is anything to go by. I do not accept blaming others is any longer a good enough excuse. Deaf adults would have all our kids locked away in some building ,miles from anywhere again.

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