Carl Sargeant, Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children
Effective and appropriate communication is fundamental to ensuring services are delivered in ways that promote dignity and respect. For Deaf people who use British Sign Language (BSL), appropriate communication support contributes to social inclusion and equal access to services. It can act as a gateway to opportunities which hearing people take for granted such as taking part in parents’ evenings and community events, as well as supporting people to find and retain employment.
This Government formally recognised British Sign Language as a language in its own right in January 2004. Since then we have supported training to increase the number of qualified interpreters in Wales, and ensured that legislation, policies and programmes across the Welsh Government recognise the importance of accessible communications to everyone. Equality and inclusion are reflected within our guiding principles and, together with sustainability and well-being, make up the foundations which underpin everything we do.
The introduction of the Equality Act 2010, and the Wales-specific equality duties in 2011, strengthened the requirement on public authorities to eliminate discrimination and advance equality of opportunity for all. There is a legal duty on those providing a service to the public or exercising a public function to ensure that reasonable adjustments are made to deliver equality of access for disabled people. This duty is anticipatory and requires public bodies to be proactive in making adjustments to ensure access and communication needs are met.
To support this requirement in the health service we introduced the All Wales Standards for Accessible Communication and Information for People with Sensory Loss and the Welsh Ambulance Service Trust Pre-Hospital Communication Guide. The aim of the All Wales Standards is to set out the standards of service delivery that people with sensory loss should expect to be met when they access healthcare in Wales. They were developed by the NHS Centre for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR) in collaboration with Welsh Government, RNIB, Action on Hearing Loss (AoHL) Cymru and a stakeholder reference group. Included in the Standards is the requirement that every patient or service user who requires communication support should have this need met.
AoHL Cymru and RNIB Cymru have also worked closely with the NHS Centre for Equality and Human Rights to develop training for NHS staff specifically around the needs of people with sensory loss. Treat Me Fairly (TMF) is an e-Learning package which has been developed and accepted by all LHBs as statutory mandatory training at induction. It is about fair and equal treatment for everyone accessing health care and is very much centred on communication.
The public sector in Wales is continuously developing and adapting to meet the needs of the people and businesses it serves. Digital technologies are forming an increasing part of that delivery. This year, we have invested in a project with Cwm Taf University Health Board to trial an online BSL interpreter service in both primary and secondary care settings. This aims to give Deaf people better access to care and an improved patient experience whilst making better use of interpreters’ time and availability. This project’s alignment with the All Wales Standards, and its partnership with Wales Interpretation and Translations Service means that, if successful, this method can be introduced at pace across other health organisations in Wales.
The Welsh Government is also committed to meeting the educational needs of Deaf learners in order that they may reach their full potential. As part of our Additional Learning Needs (ALN) Transformation Programme, we will shortly be introducing legislation. The Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Bill, which the Minister for Lifelong Learning and Welsh Language expects to bring forward before Christmas, will create an improved system for children with ALN. The Bill has fairness and equity at its core and aims to ensure all learners are supported to reach their full potential.
Two recent Welsh Government Acts will contribute to a transformation in public service delivery and help ensure that all people are empowered to retain control of their situation and the outcomes that matter to them. Under the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, the communication needs of individuals are collected during the assessment process, so that the communication needs of service users can be met effectively. The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, places a responsibility on specified public bodies to set and work towards well-being objectives which contribute towards each of the well-being goals. One such goal is creating a more equal Wales, with a society that enables people to fulfil their potential no matter what their background or circumstances.
Over the last three years, we have been funding AoHL Cymru, working with RNIB Cymru, to train and support people with sensory loss to share their personal experiences with service providers, particularly in the health, social services and housing sectors. As well as providing the opportunity to tell service providers directly of the barriers they face, the project will capture the service users’ stories and compile a report for wider dissemination. An accessible and bilingual virtual sensory toolkit will be created to help organisations be more responsive to the needs of people with sensory loss, including BSL users.
I hope this statement demonstrates the Welsh Government’s commitment to promoting BSL as one of the communication tools that are necessary to ensure people with sensory loss have full and equal access to services in Wales. We will continue to promote co-productive and collaborative working between service providers and service users to ensure that services are responsive to the needs of all citizens in Wales.