Communication for all is everyone’s business

Written by: Janis McDonald, Chief Officer, deafscotland

Published: 01/04/2020

Janis shares the importance of taking a human rights based and person-centred approach to communication.

“Communication for all” is the deafscotland campaign to highlight communication barriers and raise awareness of deafness and other communication barriers. It is based on the definition of Inclusive Communication from the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists in 2003 as “….an approach that seeks to ‘create a supportive and effective communication environment, using every available means of communication to understand and be understood.”

Communication is critical to humans and deafscotland promotes a human rights based, person-centred approach. Personally, I see communication as a critical, cross cutting issue because it effects all parts of life. At deafscotland, we think communication needs to be at the forefront of all policy and central to the planning process. I echo that and want communication accessibility to be treated equally to that of mobility accessibility so that we get sustained change that improves the lives of those affected by deafness as well as others who face communication barriers.

All too often a communication barrier is seen as someone’s own problem to solve and not a social issue. However, people only have communication problems or barriers when working with others. The risk of isolation associated with social distancing due to the COVID-19 crisis is an example which demonstrates the daily barriers faced by over a million Scottish people with some form of hearing loss. Loneliness and technology barriers – there are different issues for different people in different situations. I personally hope we use this opportunity to also learn more about communication and the importance it poses to building resilience.

Lives including mine would be improved simply by more thought from others – less echoey environments, less background music and more means of access to services beyond the telephone are fairly easily corrected. We would get into buildings more easily and be safer with audio/visual access at door entry systems, audio/visual fire safety systems and means to communicate beyond telephone helplines. What do we do when we breakdown on the motorway, for example?

Even in a family or couple, many see the solution as external i.e. someone getting a hearing aid which results in no one else having to adapt their communication methods more generally. Hearing aids are assistive but they do not correct hearing loss.

Those born deaf often use British Sign language (BSL) as their main or only means to communicate. At deafscotland, we think if everyone was taught BSL at school then managing sudden deafness or age related hearing loss would be less traumatic. It would mean everyone had a stronger range of tools in their communication toolbox. BSL includes lip patterns as well as use of body and facial expression which assists lip-reading.

Relationships and communication improve by having good lighting and a suitable environment free of noise and distractions, looking at the person and ensuring understanding. At deafscotland, we believe we can go further by using notes, symbols, visual and graphic re-inforcers.

I think we need to go even more further to prevent those affected by deafness and others from withdrawing from situations or feeling they need to ask for “special treatment” by instead providing more thought ourselves on how we can be inclusive in our communication. We don’t expect people to have to ask for accessible toilets these days. Why should people need to ask for microphones and PA systems and ask for them to be used? The numbers affected also mean we should supply electronic note-taking as a matter of course. If we embraced deafness differently we would also see a change in mainstream communication and the beautiful British Sign language incorporated routinely into daily life as well.

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