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Lorna Barron, a paralegal in our serious injury team, shares her recent experience of working with her first deaf client and the importance of Deaf Awareness Week.

Having worked in personal injury in some form since 2004, it was only this year that I have worked with my first deaf client, after he had suffered serious injuries in a motorcycle accident.  I noticed immediately the everyday difficulties my client was facing not only navigating a personal injury claim whilst deaf, but also because English is not his first language.

I wanted to provide the best client service for this client and go that extra mile to make sure he was comfortable, and importantly that all his interpreting needs were met; so to assist with his recovery I went to extra lengths to arrange physiotherapy for our client with a British Sign Language [BSL] Interpreter present.  Unfortunately, our client arrived for the session but the interpreter did not. I was so disappointed, but could only imagine how disappointed the client must have been, and it made me wonder how many times something similar had happened to him before. When I spoke to the physiotherapy provider about the situation, they just didn’t seem to take it as seriously as I did.

Following this encounter, I got in touch with our client’s own BSL interpreter who he has used for many years.  Gemma (the interpreter) was very informative, and she helped me understand more about BSL and the language used. Interestingly, not every BSL interpreter can interperate for every deaf person.

When I explained to Gemma that I had never encountered a deaf client in my 11 years working in personal injury, she very quickly responded that she wasn’t surprised, because from her experience, the legal sector is slow to interact with the deaf community and explain what support can be provided for them, which is disappointing.

As a result of this client, I’ve wanted to find out more about supporting the deaf community and understanding some of the difficulties they face. I came across Deaf Awareness Week, which runs from May 2 – 8th 2022, and aims to promote the positive aspects of living with deafness, raise awareness of the isolation that deaf people experience, and promote the importance of social inclusion for the deaf community.  This includes calling for an increased use of BSL across all aspects of lives.

British Sign Language itself, has seen its profile raised since Rose Ayling-Ellis became the first deaf contestant, and subsequently the winner, on BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing and not only suggested the audience and her fellow contestants learnt BSL to support her, but she called for the language to be legally recognised.  In March of this year, 19 years after the language had been officially recognised, the Government confirmed they were backing the Private Member’s Bill to make British Sign Language a legal language and it has gone back to the House of Commons for final scrutiny. I was honestly shocked to find that BSL wasn’t a recognised language in the country.

I for one will be doing all I can to support the community.