In: Mental Health Law

A report has recently been published, highlighting how policies introduced by the British government to manage the global pandemic have significantly affected disabled women’s ability to live independently. Furthering this, a case has been taken to the High Court that argues that, in failing to use BSL interpreters during their briefings, the government is breaching its obligations under the Equality Act.


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Disabled Women’s Perspectives on Independent Living During the Pandemic

Published by the disabled women’s collective Sisters of Frida, the report found a number of failings that made disabled women’s quality of living significantly lowered. The cost of living for disabled people during the pandemic rose, whilst their incomes fell, with many being forced to take unpaid leave or cut back on working hours. Many disabled people lost their jobs, and were forced to become more reliant on partners, family members and friends for financial support and care needs. Furthermore, low income led to a loss of internet connection for some, or they found that they could not meet the delivery costs for food shops and so had to rely on deliveries from friends, community volunteer schemes or food banks. MSunnia, the writer of the report, stated that ‘there is an overall systemic breakdown across society on pretty much all aspects relating to supporting disabled women, from social care to pay in the workplace…this is a structural issue, and it is about policy, it is about local authorities, the NHS, education and other providers simply not delivering equitable services for disabled women.’ Furthermore, the pandemic has ‘exacerbated all the ways that intersectional ableism exists.’ Within the report, the government was called upon to produce statistics to show how many disabled people from intersectional communities have died from COVID-19. Some of those who had contributed to the research said that they ‘felt like a burden to their families or partners, while others reported that they were made to feel like a burden by health and social care providers. Those who were told to shield said that the lack of public health guidance ‘influenced the deterioration of their mental health.’

Government Failing to Provide Deaf Accessibility

In addition to the Government’s systemic failure for a wide range of disabled individuals, the Cabinet Office were also challenged in a judicial review. This stated that their lack of British Sign Language interpreters during COVID briefings breached its obligations under the public sector equality duty. Katie Rowley, 36, from Leeds, is profoundly deaf and was particularly anxious to protect the life of her unborn child. British Sign Language is Katie’s first language, she cannot follow conversations or access spoken information without an interpreter. She is also visually impaired and dyslexic. The first two weeks of the global pandemic saw the government give public briefings on all key announcements regarding the suspension of schools, closure of public spaces, lockdown guidelines, safe shielding and the government furlough scheme. After a petition, and a letter from Katie’s solicitor on behalf of 16 different deaf people’s organisations in March 2020, an interpreter could be seen on screen when watching the BBC News Channel. They were shown on screen, but they were not at the briefings in person. Later attempts to provide an ‘in screen’ interpreter were plagued with technical difficulties. In comparison, both Scotland and Wales provided an on-platform interpreter for their broadcasts, avoiding any technical difficulties and making sure that a BSL interpreted version was universally available across channels. Throughout the case, Katie has had a great deal of support from the online community. The #WhereIsTheInterpreter? campaign, led by Lynn Stewart-Taylor, crowdfunded for legal fees and presented a petition to Boris Johnson.

We have previously discussed the ways in which a lack of accessibility can lead to mental health concerns in deaf individuals, you can read more in our ‘Deaf Clients and Mental Health Vulnerabilities‘ article.

Getting legal help

If you feel that you have suffered from ableist legislation during the pandemic, then you may have a case to make a claim. There are a number of deaf clients currently waiting for the outcome of Katie Rowley’s case, to understand whether they will be able to receive compensation. If this case is successful, there could be a number of further cases to be won for disabled individuals. Having a chat with one of our specialist mental law solicitors will allow you to discuss the options that could be available to you.

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