Deaf awareness week 2022 is an important time to reflect on the barriers that deaf people face every day, and it is an opportunity to highlight the very valuable work that many people across Scotland do to raise awareness of the experiences of deaf people.
We want to make Scotland a really good place for British Sign Language users. I was proud that this Parliament was the first to legislate specifically for BSL, back in 2015; since then, we have published the BSL national plan, which is the first of its kind in the United Kingdom.
In addition, we have provided funding of more than £1 million from the equality and human rights fund to the British Deaf Association Scotland, Deafblind Scotland and the Scottish Ethnic Minority Deaf Club, and a further £5 million to organisations that work to promote disability equality.
It is estimated that one in five people in Scotland is living with some form of hearing loss. Deafness does not discriminate and can impact on anyone at any time in their life.
Does the First Minister agree that the key aims of deaf awareness week will help to increase visibility and promote inclusion for all in the deaf community?
I agree very much. The key aims of deaf awareness week are to recognise and highlight the barriers that deaf people face in their daily lives and to promote discussion about how we improve the lives of deaf people.
I agree whole-heartedly that deaf awareness week will increase visibility and promote inclusion for everyone in the deaf community.
The British Sign Language (Scotland) Act 2015 is in place and we continue to take forward a range of actions to promote equality and inclusion for deaf and hearing-impaired people and BSL signers, including investing in support services, hearing dog projects and the Scottish sensory hub.
We will continue to do everything that we can to provide support. I take the opportunity to congratulate everyone who is involved in deaf awareness week, which I am sure will do a lot of good.
The percentage of school leavers with additional special needs, which includes some deaf pupils, who achieve a positive destination has always been below the average.
An increasing number of pupils have additional support needs, and the number of special needs teachers in publicly funded schools is decreasing. Does the First Minister agree that her Government should do more to resolve the issues and help pupils with ASN to succeed?
Yes, I think that all Governments, including my Government, should do as much as we can—and indeed should do more, all the time—to help ASN pupils.
That is partly about ASN teachers; it is also about ensuring that all teachers and people who work in schools are able to support young people who have additional needs. We will continue to take a range of actions to do that, so that we have a situation in Scotland—and I hope that we can all agree that we want this—in which everyone has the chance to succeed and to fulfil their potential in life, regardless of their circumstances.
Does the First Minister agree with a number of my constituents that waiting lists for national health service audiology appointments remain unacceptably long and that one thing that the Scottish Government could do in the spirit of deaf awareness week would be to commit to addressing those waiting lists?
A review of audiology is under way, which is really important. I concede that, as is the case in many countries, waiting times for access to NHS services in all areas are too long right now, partly down to the Covid impact. It is important that we work not just to invest in services but to redesign them, where that is appropriate.
That is as important for audiology as it is for a range of conditions.