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A national charity is calling for more education providers to offer British Sign Language (BSL) courses, following recent reports that a London hospital failed to provide a deaf couple with an interpreter during the traumatic birth of their son.

Signature, a charity for deaf and deafblind people, says the lack of communication new parents Hulusi Bati and Nadia Hassan received at University College Hospital, London, during the birth of their child has brought into sharp focus the issues suffered by deaf people. Hulusi and Nadia were denied access to information that a hearing patient would have received, causing uproar within the wider deaf community.
Recent reports suggest there are 800 registered interpreters for 25,000 BSL users in the UK. According to a 2012 report by Our Health in Your Hands, two out of three NHS patients who have asked for an interpreter at a hospital appointment have not received one.

“There is a common misconception in the public sector and other industries that all deaf people are able to lip-read or use the written word”, says Jim Edwards, the charity’s Chief Executive. “However, deaf people who have BSL as their first language often have no knowledge of the English language. There is a presumption that family members may be able to act as interpreters; this is rarely the case. A registered, suitably qualified BSL/English interpreter should be provided. There have been several incidents where relatives who have no experience in interpreting have made crucial mistakes, causing further problems for deaf patients.”

This can also put family or friends acting as interpreters in traumatic positions. In 2009, Matt Dixon had to interpret for his terminally ill deaf father in a medical setting, causing severe distress to him and his family.

“There are many examples of deaf people being put at risk because they are not given the interpreters they need to communicate with doctors, nurses and other public sector professionals. These cases clearly illustrate the vital need for more independent, professionally trained BSL interpreters and the demand for more organisations to ensure that their staff are qualified in BSL”, says Mr Edwards.

With more than ten million people in the UK living with some degree of hearing loss, the charity is calling on education providers, such as further education colleges and schools, to offer BSL courses to break down communication barriers and to increase the number of people in the UK who have the skills to effectively communicate with deaf people.

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