Camden is a wonderfully diverse borough and is home to many different communities. English is not the first language for 23% of Camden residents and other native languages spoken include Bengali, Somali, French, Spanish, and Arabic to name a few. Although we celebrate such a diversity, it also means that there are people who don’t speak English and have language barriers to accessing information, healthcare and other public services. Additionally, people with learning disabilities, sight or hearing loss experience similar barriers to accessing information and services. In the time of the Covid-19 outbreak, all people urgently need access to accurate information in a language and format they understand to make well-informed decisions and stay safe.
Steps are being taken so Covid-19 information is accessible to everyone. Gov.UK has provided the PM’s letter to the nation in 11 different languages, Easy Read, and large print. The BBC is delivering the latest news on the pandemic in Hindi, Urdu, Russian and Arabic. Doctors of The World have information about Coronavirus available to download in 43 different languages and continue to release more on their website. They also provide videos in four different languages, with more to be added. CNWL NHS Trust shared posters from their CCG partners about safety measures in 16 languages. International SOS translated the Covid-19 What You Need to Know infographics into 17 languages. Camden Council has released videos from community leaders in Somali and BBC Asian network has started to make videos in various languges including Sylheti.
Concerns have been raised about the accessibility of Covid-19 related information for deaf people. Action on Hearing Loss expressed shock over the absence of an on-screen British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter during the Prime Minister’s address to the nation on March 23rd. The charity tweeted: ‘Shocking not to see a #BSL interpreter translate the most important public health message in a generation.’ A petition exists to urge the government to provide a BSL interpreter for daily government briefings so that deaf and hard of hearing people can easily follow along at home and have access to such crucial information at this time. For those who are deaf or hard of hearing, Sign Health charity provides the daily government press conferences in BSL as well as other resources around coronavirus on their website. NHS 111 British Sign Language service is now open every (24/7), providing people with hearing loss with access to a BSL interpreter who telephones an NHS adviser and relays the conversation. The British Deaf Association also has provided accessible information on Covid-19 in BSL on their website. The Royal Association for Deaf People offers information, guidance, and advice for deaf people in Camden. They provide translation services and can guide deaf Camden residents through the process of accessing supports during Covid-19, including from the council. For more information call 0300 688 2525, message 0300 688 2527, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. BSL Health Access now provides free 24/7 access to a BSL interpretor, which can be used inside hospitals and health care settings.
It is easy to get lost in the swathes of Coronavirus-related information in these challenging circumstances. People with learning disabilities may find it particularly difficult to navigate the ever-changing official guidance and health advice. Some guidance has been made available in easy read format, e.g. Covid-19 shielding guide by Public Health England and the government advice on self-isolation by the Mencap learning disability charity. Easy Read Online has produced a useful Coronavirus guide for places of education. Inclusion North, a charity working across the North East, Yorkshire and Humber, produces regular updates in Easy Read. In Camden, the Learning Disability Service created an accessible information website with Covid-19 resources which is updated regularly.
Mr Iyiola Olafirmihan from Camden Disability Acton believes that
“although the Government and Local Authorities are beginning to get on top of the situation, more still needs to be done in supporting Deaf and disabled people who are not digitally included and still rely on traditional means of communication like newspapers or paper mail-outs.
Although a lot is being done to deliver food parcels and other essentials to people who are being shielded there should be services that ensure their mental health being are also be looked after. We at CDA have had to buy more mobile phones to reach our members to ask about issues they are facing and some have not been covid-19 related, we as a society even in times of crisis need to realise emergency responses still need to be co-produced with communities so that they adequately meet their needs.”
In conclusion, more needs to be done to make vital information accessible to everyone. For example, all too often important messages are communicated in ways that are unreadable to visually impaired people. Essential information is being shared online by the government as images, which are inaccessible to screen reader users. Similarly, older people’s charities such as Positive Ageing in London (PAiL) have raised concerns that ‘many over-70s do not have access to IT or smart phones and therefore are out of the loop, breeding confusion and feelings of isolation’. PAiL sent their request to Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, so that written Covid-19 information is delivered to older people’s door and that local councils follow the same good practice in addition to distributing information through online channels.
If you live in St Pancras and Somers Town ward, Regent’s Park ward, or King’s Cross ward and speak community languages, you can contribute to the effort by signing up to be a volunteer translator with the Somers Town Coronavirus Community Action Response Support Centre. This centre, sponsored by providers based at Somers Town Community Association and The Living Centre, are recruiting bi-lingual and multi-lingual volunteers to help people apply for ESA and Universal Credit. UCL students can volunteer for Translators Without Borders via UCL Student Union website.