A deaf couple have spoken of their frustration over a lack of sign language interpreters as they search for a suitable school for their son.
Rachael and Russell Fowler, of Colworth Road, Bognor Regis, have until January to tell West Sussex County Council which school they would like their son Jack – who has normal hearing – to attend.
Rachael communicates using British Sign Language (BSL) and the search has not be helped by some of the schools being unable – or even unwilling – to provide an interpreter.
Rachael said: “We have been asking schools if they would be able to provide a BSL interpreter for their open days and parent evenings, so we can select which schools in our area is best for our child.
“To our horror a couple of schools so far have said a straightforward ‘no’ and that they would ask the child of deaf parent to interpret for them. How do you expect a child as young as five to relay a conversation between the staff and their parents?”
While others schools proved positive and helpful, Rachael said she wanted to know why – given they were all part of the same local authority – they weren’t “singing from the same hymn sheet” when it came to catering for deaf parents.
She said: “Everyone seems to think BSL interpreters are able to offer their services for free and that we have one living in our pockets. Would teachers, staff, the head of school expect to give up their day’s pay without question?”
A county council spokesman offered Rachael and Russell his sympathies but said decisions about the provision for disabled people’s access and support lay with each school.
Rachael, though, said she wanted more to be done. She added: “We need to emphasis the fact that deaf people need to have access to information from public services.
“Once the people at the ‘top’ clarifies how we can have access to information the rest will follow through.
“Councils and NHS need to review this and ensure they influence schools, hospitals and GPs by giving them proper guidelines to support deaf parents/people with hearing children.”
The Fowlers were recently contacted by the British Deaf Association, which has been lobbying Parliament on the matter of sign language provision.
Dr Terry Riley OBE, chairman of the association, said: “The British Deaf Association is passionate about addressing this issue; we are continuing to lobby Parliament to achieve legal status for BSL, which would allow deaf families of hearing children the right to challenge state-funded schools that should embrace diversity and equality.
“This should include providing BSL interpreters for deaf parents to meet teachers. We hope the Fowler family is able to find a suitable school that can accommodate Jack.”
Rachael said: “If we cannot access to information to select three schools to apply for a place for our child, how do we know which schools are able to support us as a family?”
She added: “We should be focusing on finding a suitable school for our son, not having to worry about which school is accessible.”
For more information about The British Deaf Association, log on to the website.
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