Whenever I start talking about d/Deaf accessibility and how it is lacking in certain places and services, one service that always gets a bad reputation from me is the health service. It’s a service that should be there for society, providing everyone with EQUAL access to anything they need when it is necessary.
This year, the experiences my sister had with the service shows that there is a long way to go in assuring the d/Deaf community that hospitals, doctors surgeries, dentists, physios etc are fully accessible. I’m not saying that some of them aren’t because I don’t have experience of every single NHS or private healthcare service in the UK, but it seems like our corner of North West England doesn’t seem to care about d/Deaf accessibility.
And the service that, ironically, is the worst out of them all is our audiology department.
I can’t really knock them for dealing with Sarah’s Hearing Aid request rather quickly but in everything else, they faltered.
1. Shouting the names of patients from down a corridor.
Now, this is alright if you are one of the lucky few to get a seat down this narrow corridor, and are able to lip-read your name from the mouths of the audiologists, but if not, you are forced to sit in a waiting area just off this corridor with chairs that are permanently fixed with their backs to the said corridor. There is also no other type of alert system in place so for someone as profoundly Deaf as Sarah is, where is common sense or logic? Thirdly, our audiology department is in the same wing as outpatients, which is a rather busy and noisy department. If it is very difficult for me or anyone else who is Hearing to hear a name being shouted out, it is going to be even more challenging if you are d/Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
I once got this comment from a receptionist when I mentioned that Sarah would need to be alerted in a visual manner – “sorry, you’ll have to keep your ears open for her name.” Suffice to say we were both peeved.
2. None of the audiologists are d/Deaf aware.
I know that not everyone who is d/Deaf or Hard of Hearing signs, but surely it should be mandatory for all audiologists to know some Sign Language and be given d/Deaf awareness training? Doesn’t it defeat the point of wanting to help anyone d/Deaf or HoH if you can’t and won’t use all forms of communication? Not forgetting to mention that everyone who is d/Deaf or HoH has different needs. What works for one person might not work for someone else, so you have to be adaptable whether you like it or not.
3. No interpreters.
If there was one department in a hospital that should have a permanent Sign Language interpreter it is an audiology department. We have to book interpreters three weeks in advance if Sarah needs one, but if she needs an emergency appointment with an audiologist, one won’t be available. I know we’ve not needed one so far as I’ve been able to interpret for her, but there will be times when she can’t lean on me to interpret. She has a legal right to an interpreter at any given moment, so why is that not taken into account?
I get that the NHS is woefully underfunded, forced to make cuts (particularly in the North West) and is under more pressure than we’ve ever seen before, but that should not be at a risk to those who need and use it the most! It just upsets and infuriates me that these basic of human rights are being denied.
I’ll admit, I’d been thinking about writing this post for a while but it was only when I read an article on the Limping Chicken blog that I finally decided to get it typed up. I also think it sums up my point brilliantly.
Independence is something that we take for granted but when the need for accessibility and awareness isn’t met, it becomes harder to take bigger steps towards full independence. I know Sarah wants that, but with the lack of accessibility at particular appointments it gets harder and harder to achieve.
What do you think could be done to improve accessibility and awareness?
Thanks for reading and have a brazzle dazzle day!