Opinion: Accessing the Leader’s speech – incomprehensible and exclusive

What do the Fukushima Earthquake, Christchurch Earthquake, Queensland Floods, Libyan Revolution, Egyptian Jasmine Revolution and the ongoing struggle in Syria all have in common? If your answer was death then unfortunately you would be correct, however, a more inspirational and uplifting answer would be Sign Language!

In all of these cases, the elected officials of Public Office have been broadcasted with a Sign Language Interpreter at the side of them as they make statements on life and death events. This breakthrough in accessible information is crucial for Deaf people who need to know what to do in an emergency and how to survive.

With this in mind, I am still perplexed as to how no provision of Sign Language interpretation was presented during Nick Clegg’s Leader’s Speech in Birmingham or Ed Miliband’s in Liverpool. What’s more ironic is the fact that trained professionals, only metres out of view from the party leaders, interpreted both speeches.

These conference events are in complete contrast with those crisis situation press gatherings already mentioned. They are choreographed, organised and detailed to exacting precision, why then is Sign Language interpretation constantly sidelined to the fringes of the stage?

Countries who some would have you believe are still developing politically manage to include their Deaf communities on a daily basis and yet British Deaf people are still largely unable to comprehend even what their country’s mainstream political leaders are saying in their annual centre-stage speeches.

As with many minority communities over the decades past, Deaf people are still in the midst of their own civil and political rights struggle and as a party which values equality, civil liberties and diversity, we should be the torchbearers for a new kind of inclusive politics. Lets follow the lead of Australia, Egypt and Japan by having a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter at the side of Nick for his future Leader’s speeches. The British Deaf community is 70,000 strong and many either don’t vote or vote Labour, under the impression that they are the sole protectors of minority interests.

We can show them there’s a real alternative to Labour.

Similarly, a Labour Party broadcast entitled ‘Our Journey’ has been one of the few videos by any mainstream political party to include BSL to date. Unfortunately, it was a journey too far for Deaf people as the only BSL information was “FUTURE FAIR FOR-ALL”, it is disappointing to see political parties expecting Deaf people’s vote in an election, purely on a single campaign slogan.

Let’s be progressively inclusive and release BSL videos with all future Liberal Democrat Party Political Broadcasts. It asserts Deaf people’s rights to the same political information as their hearing peers and shows us as the forward thinking party we know we are.

Community Politics has been championed by the likes of Tim Farron; let’s make sure we don’t forget the Deaf Community when we’re campaigning. If we include people of all diversities now, then we can be the true pioneers of inclusive politics in Britain today and uphold the values we strive for on behalf of everyone.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Greg, I was at both conferences – I’d love to agree with you, but I don’t quite get your point. I’m sure it’s my fault – but are you saying, essentially, that the interpreters should be closer to the leaders as they interpret? Or is something else lacking?

  • I suggest that the positioning at Birmingham was to do with the area of the hall that had access to the hearing loop. I also believed that the uncluttered background behind the signers is easier to see.
    My hearing loss is not yet enough to make it necessary for me to take advantage of these facilities although I did test the hearing loop just to be certain.

  • OK not suitable for everyone but TVs do have subtitles

  • Live subtitles are often a bit rubbish, but I would imagine are more widely useful than BSL translation?

    (“and” is an option here too, I’m not saying “instead”, just thinking what the most useful single change might be)

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