Potential impact of Brexit on Deaf British people

[Transcript] The United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson received approval from Queen Elizabeth II to suspend the Parliament until October 14.

Vox explained that this looks like an attempt by Boris to prevent members of Parliament (MPs) from blocking a no-deal Brexit. The UK has a deadline to leave — divorce from — the European Union on October 31. There have been several failed attempts to formulate a deal between the UK and the EU, and many fear negative economic effects if there is an exit without a deal.

The Daily Moth reporter Callie Frye had the opportunity to visit England several weeks ago and did some research on the potential impact of Brexit on Deaf and disabled people. Here it is.


During my vacation I thought a lot about Brexit. October 31 is the last day for UK’s membership in the EU. I have been wondering how Brexit will impact on Deaf and disabled folks in the UK. I read articles by two women; Samantha Renke who is an actress and disability activist living in the UK; Marsha de Cordova, who is a member of parliament in the UK of British Labor Party and Shadow Minister for Disabled People. Both women have disabilities. I also read the Disability Rights UK website. I want to share what I have learned from those sources.

Many people with disabilities didn’t have the chance to vote for or against Brexit because of the lack of accessible polling stations across the country. Many of them fear of losing quality of life. They have no idea what their quality of life would look like after Brexit. Their concerns, messages, opinions and voices are never a priority or taken into consideration for the government where Brexit is concerned.

Many disabled people rely on a strong social care workforce. With a majority social care staff coming from the EU, the concern is this: how about their right to residency post-Brexit? They cannot imagine losing social care workers. The concern is very telling. They hope the UK government has a plan or a policy ready for social care workers who are not UK legal residents. There has to be a plan for them to stay to continue providing care for people with disabilities.

What about financial support? The European Union has invested greatly into ensuring a better quality of life for those with disabilities. The European Social Fund is one of those key investments. The European Social Fund is currently investing 4.3 billion pounds across the UK until 2020 – which supports access to employment for people with disabilities. What will happen after 2020? They are seeking answers on how to continue receiving financial support after 2020.

While some EU Member States already have some form of accessibility legislation for people with disabilities, currently there is no EU law on accessibility. They have been working on the accessibility law for some years. It is called European Accessibility Act, similar to the US’s version of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It is still an ongoing discussion and if they pass the law, that means all EU Member States have an obligation to apply. If not, they will face consequences as the Act takes form of a directive which is legally binding. After Brexit, the UK will not have the opportunity to receive European Accessibility Act and is not legally bound to implement this legislation. Therefore, people with disabilities who live in the UK might not be able to benefit from the European Accessibility Act.

And, I was fortunate to be able to seize the opportunity to interview a Deaf person living in the UK. Check it out!

How many Deaf schools are there in the UK?


Yes, there are 22 deaf schools in the UK however 50 years ago there were over 80 deaf schools all over. Unfortunately they got less and less in the numbers because of the trend to have deaf kids mainstreamed therefore less deaf schools for deaf children resulting in many deaf schools closing down.


Are Deaf and disability rights similar in the UK and Europe?


Well, every member-state of the EU have their own deaf/disability rights/laws, it differs between member-states but the ultimate authority is the UN, no, I mean, the EU, the European Union however we have the UN… Let me see, UNCRPD, that is the top… every country has their own versions, yet they have to follow the UNCRPD, for deaf/disability legislations & protection. For example, with Lithuania, they have a (national) state-funded public interpreting service and they can get video interpreting service for free, accessible anytime with no limits. Not for us in Great Britain. We have to rely on agencies for that and their video interpreting services are not funded by the State. You see, there is variety in national laws across Europe, they are not the same. Not all are the same but there are some similarities. Yeah, that's it.


Is it easy to get BSL interpreters and make relay text and video calls?


Right now, we have over 900 registered qualified interpreters however that causes problems for us because when we try to book one when seeing a doctor, it has to be done a week or two in advance. We can't just book the interpreter for tomorrow or the day after, that is impossible. However, there is an emergency interpreting service/provision but we would have to wait forever until one turns up - that's the time consumed looking for someone available, you see. Besides, the video interpreting services here is not state funded - it has to come out of our pockets, or companies/businesses will pay for this, for which we can use free of charge but it has to be relevant to their own services, if we want to use VIS for something not relevant, we have to pay for it. That is why we are campaigning the Government/State to pay for such services as it will benefit the deaf community. In a nutshell, if they do that, we can access all public services!


What would happen to Deaf and disability rights when Brexit takes effect because they no longer have to abide by EU regulations?


As of now, EU laws (directives) have priority over UK laws here, yes above us, for this, we have to follow the EU. If we leave the EU, it means we will ignore the directives and do our own laws, making and amending them our way. There is a... 2 years ago, in Geneva, Switzerland, UNCRPD made an announcement that Britain have broken many deaf/disability laws however they have done nothing about that. There is no real enforcement to make sure UK has to follow the laws. It seems to be a common problem among other countries too, no real strictness there. So as for Brexit, I don't know if the legislation for deaf/disability rights will be changed or left in the same place, that I don't know. However, UNCRPD will continue advising/warning everyone that we have broken the laws, raising the issues everywhere. To be exact, I don't know what will happen after Brexit, actually I don't know. I really hope our rights will be preserved/protected.


What are the issues facing the Deaf community in the UK?


There is no legislation here protecting BSL as a language. That means we have less rights than society in general. Right now we are campaigning/fighting for BSL rights to be enshrined (to make sure) in legalisation: if we are to accomplish that, that means less issues for us for instance, there are not enough interpreters here, well, our language is not recognised, erm, yeah it is actually recognised but not protected - that is not enough for us when dealing with daily things, for example, train announcements not in sign language, that is not enough… Thirdly, we have to book interpreters well in advance, 1 or 2 weeks, not like tomorrow where they can be provided straight away, no. Here is a good example -- in schools, BSL is not considered as a language subject to be taught there, it needs to be seen as equally bilingual. There are many issues which is the reason why we are fighting for the BSL Act for our language to be protected so there will be less barriers for us.


Thank you, Karolis! I am wondering to see what type of Brexit deal UK will decide on. After Brexit, what would disability rights and laws in the future look like for both UK and EU? Will UK’s disability rights and laws turn out to be better or worse than the EU? I don’t know.


Thank you, Callie, for the report. We would also like to thank Shane Gilchrist for providing the BSL translation.



Supported by:

Convo [https://convo.click/2mVhM8h]

Gallaudet University: [gallaudet.edu]

DEAF NEWSAlex Abenchuchan