Should the UK offer BSL Interpreters during Political Debates?



Frequently, in the UK’s election process deaf people are unable to access Sign Language information as to whom they should vote for and why. It would be a great step forward for the UK Government if they were to arrange BSL interpreters and Deaf Interpreters during live broadcast political debates, similar to how our US counterparts operate (see picture above of New York Mayor Bill de Basio’s using a Sign Language interpreter at a recent news conference).

This is not the only time a US politician has provided access to an interpreter. In a 2012 article, a Sign Language interpreter, Kathy Williams, is reported as trying to match the emotions of the speaker, chair of the Virginia Democratic Party Brian Moran. Williams stated that the energy in the room was high and when questioned about whether there might be anyone who was hard of hearing during this election night party, she responded “If you think there’s not, there’s always someone out there who is.”

The former Democratic presidential nominee, US Senator John Kerry, also used a Sign Language interpreter during his 2004 ‘Believe in America’ bus tour across America, showing how it was possible for the US audience to access ASL anywhere in the election process.

Outside of the US, a 2014 photograph shows presidential candidate (now president) for Uruguay, Tabare Vazquez, using a Sign Language interpreter to translate his speech during a campaign rally. However, it is unclear whether this speech was broadcast so that deaf people might have access to the translation on television.

In a BBC article, a BSL interpreter for the BBC, Anthony Mitchell, explains his job with Red Bee Media, who provide the ‘in-vision’ signer service. However, throughout the week BBC News provides only one hour fifteen minutes of daily Sign Language interpretation. Deaf people require many more hours of access to Sign Language during both the day and evening if they are able to access all the information provided.

There is currently no available access to deaf interpreters during the BBC News election specials. This is the same for any other news channel in the UK and another important aspect that needs remedying.

On 18/03/17 a landmark in the endeavour towards equality for the Deaf Community was reached. After many years the BBC finally allowed a Deaf person to interpret during a  BBC live news broadcast. Clark Denmark became the first Deaf person to interpret live on a BBC News programme.This bring to the forefront of the general election political debate.  The question of whether the UK televised debates take place prior to the general election will be interpreted live in BSL and whether a Deaf interpreter should be provided to ensure the political messages reach the Deaf Community remains to be answered by the establishment.

The current Government needs to be made aware of this issue so that they can do something about it. For example, Simeon Hart, a deaf candidate for the Green Party, stood in the last election. Ben Fletcher also Deaf, is a Candidate for Green Party for General Election 2017 as well Simeon Hart. Being deaf, he required an interpreter to translate between himself and the voting public, but then where is the press and publicity highlighting this matter?

The Hands On Irish Election Special programme produced a thirty-minute examination of the forthcoming general election, allowing deaf viewers to watch politicians from each political party giving their messages, so that they might be able to decide and vote on a candidate. But then is thirty minutes enough time for all important information to be conveyed by these politicians? What about other television news channels and their much-needed provision for Deaf and BSL interpreters?

Deaf Awareness training has been trying to implement these changes to society but has remained relatively unsuccessful to date. If full access to Sign Language interpreters was available for all television news programmes and electoral debates, perhaps society might be made more aware of the deaf community and the issues we face.

This is why Femaura provides a new style of training, Deaf Way (level 1-3). Deaf Way is a course that hopes to bridge the gap between the Deaf and Hearing world, and to make people realize how much deaf people need to be respected and provided with the same accessibility that hearing people depend on daily.

To request more information on Deaf Way training, you can email us at




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