During my time at Sense I have had the opportunity to attend lots of events and meetings to represent my community and speak on behalf of other Deafblind people. None quite so nerve wracking as a live streamed, virtual, parliamentary committee meeting though!
On Wednesday 10 June, I gave evidence to the Women and Equalities Committee on behalf of Sense. The Public Policy team had submitted written evidence to the Committee of MPs about the challenges people with complex disabilities and their families are experiencing during COVID-19 – you can read more about it in this blog. The Committee asked Sense to send a representative who uses British Sign Language (BSL) to give an account in person about the barriers created by inaccessible government information about the virus.
One of the ongoing challenges for disabled people during the pandemic has been the lack of information in different accessible formats about Coronavirus but also about the new rules and government guidance. As a BSL user, this is something I have personal experience of, but also I have had lots of feedback from the people I support through the Usher service. So after chatting through all the key issues with the Public Policy team, I was ready to give my evidence.
Even with a run through the day before to test everything was working, I was still nervous as Zoom came to life and the word ‘recording’ flashed on my screen. Being a visual frame BSL user I would have no notes to fall back on (impossible to look at them and the interpreter), I had to rely on memory and a pinch of luck on the day!
Meeting with Members of Parliament
Although it was a video conferencing call, the meeting still felt very formal, and very important. After all, we were being asked to submit evidence, to tell the government if it had been doing its job properly. I had a duty to represent my community and tell the government the impact of COVID-19 on disabled people in terms of equality and the quality of information reaching those groups.
The Committee is made up of Members of Parliament from different parties, I was giving evidence alongside Professor Lucy Yardley, a behavioural scientist, and Ali Harris from Equally Ours which is a human rights policy research centre. We were there to discuss some very important questions, covering topics such as the accessibility of government advice about COVID-19 and the social distancing rules, the experience of people with learning disabilities and autism, and the impact of terms like clinically vulnerable on attitudes towards disabled people.
Some questions were aimed directly at me, four in a row in fact! My questions included how easy it had been to follow government advice and whether inaccessibility had led to higher risks for disabled people and how this would affect them coming out of lockdown.
There were a lot of challenging and detailed questions, but I knew I had to get my point across that the Government has ‘fallen foul’ of its responsibilities when it comes to making information accessible for all. As I explained to the Committee:
“During the pandemic, it has been worse not only for me but for many people with disabilities, because we have been at a disadvantage by way of communication from the Government. It would probably be better for the Government to include disabled people, to listen to the charities and experts surrounding us, and to take that inclusion right from the beginning.”
I hope that the Government listens to my evidence, and as lockdown eases and the messages get more complicated that the Government thinks about accessibility across all of its communications.
Championing your rights
Emma’s evidence was vital in getting our message across. At Sense, during this difficult time, the Policy and Campaigns team will keep calling on the Government to:
- Make sure that all information about Coronavirus and changes to the guidance is available in accessible formats.
- Involve disabled people, their families and the organisations that support them in policy decisions.
- Create a plan for transitioning out of COVID-19 that reflects the care and support needs of disabled people.