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BDA Warns Deaf Patients are being Exposed to Poor Standards of Communication in Healthcare

6 May 2012

As part of Deaf Awareness Week (7-13 May) the BDA is joining forces with a number of organisations who represent deaf people to call on health care providers to improve access to their services for deaf patients, and to commission interpreting services that use only appropriately qualified sign language interpreters for deaf patients.

The call comes as new research results highlight the poor experiences of British Sign Language (BSL) users when accessing healthcare. 84% of respondents have felt frustrated after a health appointment because no sign language interpreter was provided.


The survey was conducted by a consortium of deaf organisations[1]in April 2012.  The results are based on responses from 305 people who identified that they use BSL as their first or preferred language.

Nearly two thirds (65%) of respondents said they were either very or fairly worried that sensitive information about their health condition may have been left out in order to protect their feelings, when a family member or friend has interpreted for them. The same percentage have also felt embarrassed because a family member or friend is doing the interpreting, which is unacceptable.


Regular Deaf BSL patient, Dr Terry Riley, Chair of the BDA, said: “We are not happy to hear the news of specialist BSL interpreting agencies losing their contracts to the generic spoken language agencies on the basis of cheaper price, not the high quality of BSL interpreting skills!  We are very concerned and alarmed to hear that they book unqualified BSL “interpreters”.


“One might even go as far as to use the derogatory term of “cowboys”, they do pose a real life threat to our Deaf members who may receive incorrect medical advice and information and this is a clear breach of Deaf people’s basic human rights, as laid down by the UN Convention on Human Rights. We demand our healthcare providers press on the agencies that BSL interpreters should and must be registered with the National Registers of Communications Professionals.”


The BDA would like to encourage people to sign the petition to give deaf patients access to appropriately qualified sign language interpreters in healthcare services in the UK: http://www.petitionbuzz.com/petitions/deafaccess

[1] The organisations involved in this work are: ASLI (Association of Sign Language Interpreters), NRCPD (National Registers of Communication Professionals working with Deaf and Deafblind People), BDA (British Deaf Association), SignHealth, Signature, Action on Hearing Loss and the British Society for Mental Health and Deafness (BSMHD).