‘The deaf community has a long, painful history of persecution.’

Breaking the sound barrier: Kate Kernoff on equality for the deaf community

Part of the sign for ‘Coronavirus’ in British Sign Language. | Photo: NCDHHS.

Has anyone noticed? When we watch the Covid-19 updates on the news there is a sign language interpreter in the room when the first ministers of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are speaking. (This is also the case in New Zealand, Australia, and a number of US states; at the memorial of George Floyd there was an interpreter who provided access to all the tributes and prayers – she also brilliantly signed all the hymns and songs.) So why oh why does Boris Johnson not consider it appropriate for his updates? Such exposure would provide easy, clear access to information for the 151,000 people of Britain who use sign language – the majority of whom use it as their first (and sometimes only) language. It would also create a greater awareness of the needs and existence of a large and generally misunderstood minority community.

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