Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Deaf woman wins claim after government failed to provide sign language interpreter during Covid briefings

Image credit: UK Parliament 

A deaf woman has won a claim against the government after it was found to have breached the Equality Act 2010 by failing to provide a British Sign Language interpreter during two Covid-19 briefings.

The case was brought by 36-year-old Katie Rowley from Leeds. Katie, who is profoundly deaf, argued that the government breached its obligations under the public sector equality duty, by not providing live British Sign Language (BSL) interpretation during its scientific briefings.

She launched the court action against Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove in relation to the data briefings on 21st September and 12th October 2020.

The absence of an interpreter constituted “discrimination”

British Sign Language is Katie’s first language, she cannot follow conversations or access spoken information without an interpreter.

Katie argued that being unable to access the official information had caused her stress and affected her wellbeing, particularly as she was pregnant at the time the claim was issued and wanted to protect the health of her unborn son. 

Mr Justice Fordham said the absence of an interpreter on these dates constituted “discrimination” against Mrs Rowley. He continued: “The lack of provision – the provision of subtitles only – was a failure of inclusion, suggestive of not being thought about, which served to disempower, to frustrate and to marginalise.”

A vital step forward in ensuring information is accessible for everyone

The national disability charity, Sense, called the High Court ruling a “vital step forward in ensuring information is accessible for everyone.”

The Chief Executive of the charity, Richard Kramer, said: “The government briefings were essential to know what was going on and how to keep safe, but were not accessible to thousands of people who use British Sign language as their first language.

“Katie, and everyone behind this campaign, have done an incredible job, not just at securing this result, but raising awareness of the need for accessible information, which can rarely be as important as during a global pandemic.

“We hope that this will now lead to the government reviewing its provisions for disabled people to ensure that they have the same access to information as everyone else.”

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