Today sees the launch of the new e-accessibility guidelines by the coalition government at an event in London I’m hoping that they will begin to address the issues I’m raising below. Calling us ‘the disabled’ is not a good starting point!

Putting vocabury aside Ed Vaizey said:

“A successful digital economy can only be achieved if everyone can enjoy the same advantages that technology offers, like access to public services, online shopping and banking, interactive games and social media.

“The market already provides options to suit different disabilities but making use of these technologies can still be difficult, and expensive. Our eAccessibility Plan will help ensure that the UK offers better online opportunities and access to equipment and software for people with disabilities.”

At last and most importantly it also gives OFCOM powers around digital content online … until recently that was in the hands of the Association for TV on Demand.

However the Conservative Party in power refuses to make its digital content accessible for Deaf or Hard of Hearing people that includes live streaming of the Conservative Party Conference that was not made accessible with subtitles and BSL. With crucial announcements of cuts and changes to benefits surely it’s important for all of us with web access to follow that online?  I was informed by email yesterday that:

‘Livestreaming is just one extra way of being able to follow what’s going on, supplementary to the BBC Parliament coverage.’

Samuel Coates, Head of Digital for the Conservatives

So Hearing people can watch the whole of Conservative Party conference live without subtitles/BSL Deaf people can’t. That makes it alright then? So we really are together in the nation’s interest aren’t we?

Initiatives like BSL:Uptake shames this government and shows the Scottish Government takes Scottish Deaf views seriously consulting with them on all matters political, health and social both in person and online.

They are leading the way with the British Sign Language (BSL) (Scotland) Bill: Public Consultation to ensure that:

  • BSL becomes one of Scotland’s official languages, commanding equal respect with English and Gaelic; to have better awareness of information needs and services for BSL users;
  • protects the linguistic integrity of the language; and to promote the cultural aspects of BSL and the Deaf community as part of Scottish heritage

If successful will mean in Scotland at least the doors will finally be unlocked and blasted open for us Deaf people to be a part of society could this be Big Society in practice?  What this could me digitally!

It is one thing to talk about digital access, it is another to actually deliver it. Digital inclusion is meaningless without real action and putting money behind it.

Raceonline 2012 and UK Online Centres are pushing to get people online and that is fantastic – but again we Deaf and hard of hearing people we are left at the starting block. The Manifesto is not available in BSL or easy print or large print formats. You can only read it online.

Videos encouraging people to participate are great – but again where are the subtitles/BSL?

Brewing is a repeat experience from Hello Digital 2009 in the delivery of Beyond 2010. Last year  they failed to book BSL interpreters – I missed everything and had to use Twitter to follow proceedings throughout the day.

This year they are still sorting disability access out – contacting me a month before the event for advice! I last emailed on 5 October with a checklist of quick things to do (as people became too busy to meet with me (!) and without doing that nothing would happen. The will and intent may there but it should have been done sooner. I’d already decided I was going to walk away from fighting this one. It’s too personal.

Today I’ve gone from a range of emotions taking it very very personally this failure by Beyond 2010 feeling really put down upon. I’ve alerted other funders/partners such as Arts Council WM, Screen WM and Business Link means the issue is being tackled. Maybe we will have events that are digitally inclusive for Disabled and Deaf people.

Complain quietly you take on the stress and grief.  Go public – it’s power is lost.

The big problem remains that Disability and Deaf access can be expensive (e.g. BSL interpreters can cost from £25-£50 an hour) but will this government provides it by widening Access to Work support or another scheme in this major state of cuts? We need to pay for communication support to attend public events. If this is addressed and takes away the expectations from public authorities and services to pay for it,  the opportunity to really engage and include Deaf people will happen. As the reduction in the number of  subtitled adverts on TV shows – people are cutting back in this economic climate.

It needs real action to address these issues strategically nationally to really commit to digital inclusion of Deaf people with:

  • clear strategy and actions in place – in addition to current policies – in direct consultation with us Deaf people – will the e-accessbility guidelines action plan do this?;
  • funding including pooling resources regionally to engage and for Deaf specialists to be brought on board;
  • monitoring;
  • government funding to pay for access costs pooling and agreeing service level agreements with interpreting agencies;

As a final thought as I’m I was watching via twitter the announcements for the e-accessibility guidelines. Reading Slandr’s tweet where a Government Minster was asked about Deaf access and what was missing.

From a Deaf perspective I say it isn’t just about Typealk with video relay you might as well give everyone an iphone 4 and make calls using Significant . Everyone hates automated call centres just with Typetalk you can’t get through!

They need to invest and ensure that Deaf access is addressed properly with us at the heart of it not just on behalf of us.