Deaf campaigner walks from Gloucester to London to call for interpreters for Government briefings

Lynn Stewart-Taylor stands at the front of protesters outside Downing Street. Credit: WTI group

A deaf campaigner from Bristol has walked from Gloucester to London to call on the Government to employ a British Sign Language interpreter for all Government briefings.

Lynn Stewart-Taylor and fellow campaigner Mark Hodgson set off from Gloucester Deaf Association on Saturday 3 October and travelled to London via Bristol and Bath. They arrived at Downing Street on Friday 16 October with more than one thousand letters for the Prime Minister, demanding that a BSL interpreter be “live and on platform” at such broadcasts.

Unfortunately they were not allowed to deliver the letters in person due to Covid restrictions but went to a nearby Post Office to send them by mail.

Where's the interpreter? Prof Chris Whitty, Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak hold a coronavirus briefing on Monday 12 October. Credit: PA

Lynn Stewart-Taylor says the daily coronavirus briefings held by Boris Johnson during the lockdown had no sign language interpreter provision. She says “I knew something bad was going on but I couldn’t understand what and how bad it was, I felt sick with panic and worry."

She says that a live interpreter would have given her the information she needed to keep herself and her friends and family safe. It inspired her to take action and she founded the "Where is the Interpreter?" campaign.

Lynn Stewart-Taylor and Mark Hodgson on the final leg of their walk to Downing Street. Credit: WTI Group

There are more than 87,000 BSL users in the UK. For many of them, BSL is their first language and campaigners say having to follow the quick fire information that is delivered at these briefings can be a bit like 'Chinese whispers'.

Lynn says "Deaf people have been telling me that the Government’s refusal sends a message to them to say 'We don’t care if you deaf people live or die.' This is really impacting their mental health and wellbeing."

The Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland governments have been providing British Sign Language interpreters to make their information accessible to their Deaf communities. Many countries around the world are doing the same.

A Government spokesperson says, “We are committed to supporting disabled people through every stage of this pandemic and have established BSL interpretation at the No.10 press conference via the BBC News channel and iPlayer, available on all TV packages as part of Freeview.

 “The BBC has also made their video feed for the BSL interpreter available to all other broadcasters and for use on No 10 social channels.

 “We continue to work across Government to ensure that information and guidance is fully accessible.”

Lynn Stewart-Taylor posts the protest letters after being unable to deliver them to Downing Street in person. Credit: WTI group

The campaigners say they will not give up.

We are not giving up. Sign language saves lives. We need to protect our community.

Lynn Stewart-Taylor, Campaigner

Following her epic walk, Lynn says "I feel emotionally drained but I feel for our community that the information is taken away from us. We are scared and we are dying to know what's happening with Covid. It would be a simple solution to have an interpreter in the room.

"This has impacted our mental health! Signhealth states that 1 in 3 deaf people have had mental health issues. It's unacceptable."

Here are some images from Lynn and Mark's 200 mile walk from Gloucester to London.

Mark Hodgson and Lynn Stewart-Taylor take a breather by the Severn Bridge. Credit: WTI group
Meeting the Mayor, Marvin Rees, at Bristol's City Hall. Credit: WTI Group
Lynn saw a lot of canal boats on her journey - these ones were near Bath Credit: WTI group
Taking a moment near Marlborough. Credit: WTI group
And yet more walking. Credit: WTI group
Clearly a welcome sign. Credit: WTI group
Lynn and Mark take some time out with a canine friend. Credit: WTI group

Find out more about the campaign from the group's Facebook page.