Leaked second lockdown details may not be the only communication breakdown from Number 10 this weekend…
9:45pm, on Friday 30 October. Times journalist Steven Swinford breaks the news on Twitter that a second lockdown is being considered by Government. The measures may come into force next Wednesday, with a press conference delivered on Monday. The launch of a Downing Street inquiry into leaks to the media followed.
Two weeks prior, on Friday 16 October. Deaf campaigner Lynn Stewart-Taylor completes her Deaf Walk fundraiser in London. Together with a crowd of fellow deaf activists, they post letters to Downing Street calling on the Prime Minister to provide their own British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter for their coronavirus press conferences. Later that same day, another briefing was delivered without BSL access.
The total number of COVID-19 press conferences now stands at over 100, and every single one of them has come without a BSL interpreter in the room, provided by the Cabinet Office themselves. While the BBC News Channel has provided access to Deaf people, this is only on one channel, and is not always available (with the broadcaster only displaying an interpreter for ministerial briefings, not the scientific ones).
Now, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson is reportedly “furious” over Friday’s leak, and the communication issues this has thrown up, Downing Street risks another messaging mishap. This time, once again, over making news of a potential second lockdown accessible to Deaf people.
I say ‘again’, because it certainly wouldn’t be the first time. Back in March, the timings of his first national address meant that crucial information about a nationwide lockdown was unable to reach the UK Deaf community at the same time as their hearing peers. Deaf people were left anxious, distressed and confused.
- Related: Local lockdown information remains inaccessible to deaf and disabled people – it has to stop
It’s backed up by research from the deaf health charity SignHealth, which saw almost 80% of respondents say that social isolation was an issue for them during the pandemic. 61% cited anxiety as an issue, more than one in three said the pandemic has had a major negative impact on their health, and over three quarters of people surveyed said that Government information was partly or completely inaccessible.
So, if another lockdown beckons, these mental health challenges will be exacerbated further, but not least for members of the Deaf community. Add to that the fact that information around the new restrictions could take even longer to reach Deaf people because of a lack of access, then the situation could be much more dire.
Deaf clubs are shut down or online-only, and the community infrastructure which sees information passed around risks sharing guidance and news which could become more and more disjointed from person to person. Deaf people need access to timely, accurate and accessible information, but that simply isn’t being provided.
As scrutiny of the UK Government’s messaging continues in light of this pandemic, urgent consideration must be given by politicians to the fact that for one particular community, said messaging has been inaccessible to them from the very start. Another communication breakdown from Downing Street, much like a second lockdown, seems almost inevitable.
Photo: Pippa Fowles/No 10 Downing Street/Flickr.