Recently I advised a Deaf client.
The enquiry came in by email, was firmed up using the text relay service, and the advice was given with the assistance of a British Sign Language interpreter. I haven’t advised many Deaf/deaf clients (I have had one, but they didn’t need an interpreter to talk to me and their lip reading was really good) so I did a bit of digging on the internet to suss out the do’s and don’ts of the process.
We may be lawyers, but there are no two ways about it, we start from a position of being a bit vague about our duty to make reasonable adjustments. The firm knows about it in a general way, but it is no better or worse than the average business ( i.e. , a bit rubbish from the perspective of a D/deaf person but still legal)
I worked out that as a provider of services to the public, I have an obligation to make reasonable adjustments in order to make sure we can service the D/deaf community (helpful leaflet about it here from the Law Society)
I worried about the cost of providing the interpreter at first, but in fact our client put me in touch with his preferred BSL interpreter who was local and reasonably priced. The meeting was arranged and took place. The client went away with useful legal advice and I learned a lot about how to provide our services to more than just Average Hearing Joe.
I discovered that sorting out legal advice for the Deaf was not rocket science. In my chat with the client and interpreter I also learned that there are two services that the Deaf find really tough to crack: Dentists and lawyers. The common theme is that both professions are mainly in the private sector (with a bit of government assistance by way of NHS treatment/ Legal Aid). This means that the resources are managed by individual businesses, many of whom don’t really have the training or perhaps the will to be properly proactive about meeting their obligations.
My client told me he had contact several local solicitors by email (five or six) and NOT ONE had responded. He had told them he was Deaf in his initial enquiry.
As a hearing person, I have been supremely oblivious to the difficulties faced by the Deaf community in accessing a service that I can provide with ease to the hearing world. Now I feel a lot more confident in dealing with my next enquiry and servicing it well.
If I was Deaf and wanted to get legal advice I think these practical tips might help:-
- Establish initial contact by email. Don’t tell them you are D/deaf until you have a response! ( insert probably correct but theoretical high falutin’ arguments about how this panders to discriminatory practise *here*)
- Once you have a named person to correspond with tell your needs and tell them your preferred way of communication.
- Have contact details of a provider like a BSL interpreter to hand, so the firm can’t file you away in the “too difficult to sort out” pile.
- The text relay service is a great way to initiate hearing lawyers into your needs, if you are able to use minicom. Even I got the hang of it pretty quickly.
- If you sense hesitation (err….discrimination through laziness) then send them the law society note link above.
In a perfect world , you should not have to do any of the above and all discriminatory practise would magically evaporate… on the off chance that that has not been arranged by the time you need urgent family legal advice, those tips above may smooth your way!