Another sign of progress

Written by: Janis McDonald, Chief Officer, deafscotland

Published: 08/08/2016

Taking inclusive communication with deaf people further.

Janis McDonald, Chief Officer, Scottish Council on Deafness (SCoD) tells us about the introduction of consultation from the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service – Jury Service – persons with sight and/or hearing impairments. 


My last viewpoint was also on the topic of inclusion, based on the passing of the British Sign Language (Scotland) Act 2015. A lot has happened since the momentous day on 17 September 2015 when Mark Griffin MSP presented his Members’ Bill and the whole of the Scottish Parliament recognised the Deaf Community and the need for British Sign Language.

There has been a much greater understanding of deafness, stemming from the progress of the BSL (Scotland) Act and a much greater awareness of the social model of disability. Our definition of the spectrum of deafness includes four key pillars: Deaf, Deafened, Deafblind and Hard of Hearing. I feel that has helped general understanding that there are a range of problems and a range of solutions.

As an organisation, SCoD is 90 years old next year. It has taken a lot of time and effort to see progress….long may it continue. I haven’t been around that long!

On a personal level, it is heartening to see tangible results from all the years of effort. The BSL work has particularly aided the understanding of language issues and barriers some deaf people face. SCoD supports work to develop language planning in Scotland and our members see BSL as a viable option on the schools’ curriculum in the future. It is my dream to see everyone leave school with an acceptable level of a practical, visual language – another tool in the communication box.

Of course, many more deaf people are not sign language users and face different barriers that lead to similar exclusion from activities many take for granted. Not everyone has the choice to engage or reject choices around citizenship activity. It is clear to see that all deaf people are going to benefit from the greater awareness, coupled with the heavier emphasis on social justice and equality. I see staff in public bodies are thinking through their duties and about finding ways to enable equality and inclusion with a human rights approach.

At SCoD we certainly endorse a person centred, rights based approach. We called our three year programme “Connect and Thrive”. It included three strands of work: Connect and Collaborate; Connect and Communicate; and Connect and Capitalise. We plan to run it again in conjunction with a project development entitled Reasonable Rights and Fairer Action. A play on the concept of “reasonable adjustments” associated with workplace disability issues. In my mind there are the elements of change required to balance a “hearing-ist culture”.

At SCoD, we think this will help us remain “fit for purpose”.

An example of progress

A super example of the ripple effect from the combination of policy initiatives and legislative changes has been from the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS). Staff there have been reviewing a number of policies and procedures with the intention of reducing social barriers and promoting inclusion. SCTS is an independent body corporate established by the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008.

Its function is to provide administrative support to Scottish courts and tribunals and to the judiciary. Its remit includes the High Court of Justiciary, the Court of Session, Sheriff and Justice of the Peace courts. It also has responsibilities to the Office of the Public Guardian and the Accountant of the Court.

Jurors are required in the High Court of Justiciary, the Court of Session and the sheriff courts to hear solemn criminal cases and to participate in civil trials. They provide an essential service in the modern day justice system and are an example of “citizenship” (lay people getting involved).

There are criteria for juror requirements. This current criteria disadvantage people with a disability. Current equality legislation provides that duty bearers should make “reasonable adjustments” that are “steps as it is reasonable to take to avoid the disadvantage”. We are comfortable that this underpins the social model and recognise that language will continue to shift in order to move away from a medicalised view. The SCTS are consulting on the principle of including more disabled people as jurors, including people with hearing loss.

I know that we will need to press for more. I know that the language could be better. I firmly believe if we can also aspire to “be reasonable” we will see success and can further improve.

I would like to end there, repeating my last viewpoint:

  • How do you ensure deaf people are involved in your service/network?
  • Do you recognise access is an issue and have a communications strategy that recognises people may be deaf and that to communicate effectively, you need to be able to access communication support that might mean, speech to text notetakers, hearing loops, BSL/English Interpreters or other measures?
  • Have you done a “Deaf Health Check” on your services and/or information?


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