People who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

3. Questions to the Senedd Commission – in the Senedd at on 22 May 2024.

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Photo of Julie Morgan Julie Morgan Labour

(Translated)

3. How does the Senedd Commission ensure that people who are deaf or hard of hearing can actively participate in the work of the Senedd? OQ61149

Photo of Joyce Watson Joyce Watson Labour 3:14, 22 May 2024

I thank you, Julie, for that question. The Senedd Commission remains committed to optimising the active participation of people who are deaf or hard of hearing in the work of the Senedd. On our estate, services and facilities, including BSL interpreters, palantypists, lip speakers and hearing loop systems, can be used to facilitate participation for people who are deaf or have a hearing loss in Senedd business, tours and visits. All video content provided for the Senedd social media channels is issued with subtitles. This is done in both Welsh and in English. Commission staff are currently exploring how the existing provision of both live and recorded British Sign Language interpretation for Plenary items on Tuesdays and Wednesdays could be enhanced.

Photo of Julie Morgan Julie Morgan Labour 3:15, 22 May 2024

(Translated)

Thank you for the response.

Photo of Julie Morgan Julie Morgan Labour

Thank you very much, Joyce. Two weeks ago, I had a 90-second statement here in the Chamber to talk about the life of Dorothy Miles, who was a deaf sign language poet from north Wales. I was very pleased that the statement was interpreted live here into British Sign Language. There were members of the British Deaf Association up in the gallery and Senedd business up until the statement was not interpreted, and after the statement, it switched back to no interpretation, and I think this was very difficult, because we had deaf people here in the Senedd who weren't able to follow the proceedings.

So, I do think a lot more work needs to be done, and I'm very pleased to hear what you're planning, because we do want to make this place accessible to everybody. At the moment, current arrangements do mean that people can be excluded. I wondered if it might be worth you looking at the Scottish Parliament, where they have a particular page on the website, which helps people to negotiate all the different areas where there is interpretation. I wondered, to start with, because I'm aware that there's a shortage of interpreters, which came up in the previous set of questions, whether the Commission would consider live interpreting every First Minister's questions into BSL as a start.

(Translated)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (David Rees) took the Chair.

Photo of Joyce Watson Joyce Watson Labour 3:16, 22 May 2024

Again, all the points that you make are absolutely valid, and I was really pleased to see, when you were asking your question, that the interpretation was here. But you're right, obviously, to say that that wasn't the case for all of that afternoon's session, and those people who would have hoped to have it didn't get it. However, on Senedd.tv, we do have subtitles for the business that is carried on here, and we also have the Record, which people can read. But I think it's fair to say that we're at the point where we're about to change this Chamber and it was raised in a meeting we had last week about the changes that will happen once it has been reconfigured. One of the issues that was raised was a space for a BSL interpreter, so the thinking is there, is what I'm trying to say.

We have also already engaged with Ireland and Scotland on what they're doing, and that already has happened; Commission staff have done that. And you're right that there is a shortage of BSL interpreters at the moment. But in terms of moving forward and making this an inclusive Parliament—and that's what we're talking about—we do other things beyond BSL for other people who are hard of hearing, or need help and support with limited hearing. So, it's a live issue. We are trying to move it forward, and we hope to do that as soon as possible, given the restrictions that I've just mentioned.

Photo of Mike Hedges Mike Hedges Labour 3:18, 22 May 2024

As I said earlier, for many deaf people, their preferred communication method is BSL and that means that they can fully understand what is being said. To get a full understanding, they definitely need BSL. Lip reading won't provide it, they'll get a fair understanding of it—and I compared it to me with Welsh previously—but you don't get the full understanding and the full nuance. If BSL is unavailable, subtitles are the second-best option, although people who watch subtitles on television realise that they can get things remarkably wrong on those. Does the Commissioner agree with me that it is important that we ensure that people who are deaf or hard of hearing have the same access to information as hearing people?

Photo of Joyce Watson Joyce Watson Labour 3:19, 22 May 2024

I absolutely do agree with you, Mike. Hearing loop provision around the estate has been audited and improved, and improved one-to-one loop systems are installed at reception in all three buildings. We have now purchased newer, more advanced portable loop systems, which can be used in meeting rooms and bigger event spaces, because, clearly, the pre-existing ones weren't adequate.

The Siambr, committee rooms and public galleries are all fitted with an infrared audio system. In addition to the in-room fixed system, we also have a portable version for off-site external committees and events. That system provides translation and verbatim audio amplification via headsets or an induction neck loop, available on request for Members, witnesses and the public attending proceedings.

Attendees at Senedd events, tours, outreach events and meetings are asked if they require any reasonable adjustments as part of the planning process. Similarly, organisations planning events on the Senedd estate have to adhere to an accessibility checklist.

British Sign Language interpretation is made available for First Minister’s questions each Tuesday and each meeting of the Welsh Youth Parliament. Commission staff are exploring how we can enhance that, and I have answered those questions in responding to the previous question.

Interpretation is available, upon request, for anyone wishing to watch a specific debate or committee meeting, for events and for Senedd tours. BSL interpretation has been proactively provided where the subject discussed is such—and we did that as well.

Commission staff have undergone disability awareness training, with extra deaf awareness and BSL classes provided. Our front of house and security colleagues have undertaken disability confidence training. The Commission’s newly designed inclusive customer service training module will provide best practice when liaising with members from the deaf community. The hope is that it will raise our staff members’ awareness and confidence when dealing with a diverse range of customers.

I have already mentioned that the inter-parliamentary learning at work provision included a sessions in the Oireachtas and the Scottish Parliament on BSL.