Warrington teen struggling to get basic services due to lack of British Sign Language interpreters

A teenager says she is struggling to access basic services like the dentist or opticians due to a shortage of skilled British Sign Language interpreters.

Lucy, 14, from Warrington, was born deaf and uses British Sign Language (BSL). By law she should be given access to an interpreter, but on one recent trip to A&E, she was told one was not available.

In 2022, the British Sign Language Bill was passed that recognised BSL as an official language in England, Scotland and Wales.

The legislation placed responsibility on the Government to provide improved guidance to public services and government departments on the use of BSL.

It also launched of an advisory board of BSL users to offer guidance to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) on how and when to use it and examine how to increase the number of BSL interpreters.

"It has a big knock on effect on my confidence," Lucy said.

"It makes you feel quite alone, quite sad and angry when you go to things and worry about it, going to appointments and things.

"Don't understand what people are saying to me, there's no communication there. So it's hard, it's really hard."

It is thought that BSL is the first language of 87,000 deaf people across the UK.

On average there is only one interpreter for every 53 deaf people, meaning demand far outstrips supply.  

British Sign Language is used by an estimated 90,000 across the UK. Credit: PA Images

Former West Lancashire MP Rosie Cooper, who was raised by deaf parents, said: "This is now a legally recognised language and hospital's have a duty.

"Could you imagine going to a job centre and not being able to explain why you've arrived?

"People can, must and should find a way. If the local trusts can't do it, then the secretary of state needs to help them."

It is thought that British Sign Language is the first language of 87,000 people in the UK. Credit: ITV News

Theresa Thomas-Morton, CEO of Sign Language Regulator NRCPD said: "Having a skilled qualified registered interpreter in the room achieves inclusion.

"They're able to have a voice, be empowered and be an independent citizen in that moment."

Training a new sign language interpreter takes around seven years.

Rebecca Mansell, CEO of the British Deaf Association said: "The government are not doing enough.

"We believe they need statutory regulation, so the interpreter quality will increase.

"Secondly, they need to invest more into interpreters and teachers to teach people to become interpreters."

In a statement to ITV News the Government said it has set up an advisory board to work out how to increase the number of qualified BSL interpreters.

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