I got an email the other day, as you do, about some consultation on draft guidance from the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) on the Equality Act 2010.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.