UK government document says BSL was provided for COP26 press conferences – despite live broadcasts suggesting otherwise
A UK government report obtained by The lame chicken claimed that British Sign Language (BSL) interpretation had been provided for the Prime Minister’s COP26 press conferences, although no interpreter was visible in live streams uploaded to YouTube.
The Equality Impact Assessment Screening Report, provided to this website under the Freedom of Information Act, details the potential impact of the conference on climate change – which was held in Glasgow at the end of last year – on different ‘equality groups’.
In the undated document, the UK government writes: “During COP26, we provided British Sign Language (BSL) during WLS [World Leaders’ Summit] opening ceremony.
“British Sign Language was also provided during the COP26 Presidency, UK Prime Minister press conferences and key speeches by the COP President in the Plenary Hall. This included the closing plenary sessions.
However, in videos available on the 10 Downing Street YouTube channel, the Prime Minister’s November 1 speech and November 2 press conference came without interpretation from the BSL.
An interpreter was, however, provided for Boris Johnson’s press conference on November 10 – just days after the UK government received a new legal threat on behalf of deaf activists.
In a statement released at the time, Where Is The Interpreter founder Lynn Stewart-Taylor said she couldn’t believe the deaf community had been “totally ignored again”.
“Sign language people messaged me right away, including a deaf teaching assistant who was concerned about the lack of access for children in sign language which prevented them from following the COP26 announcements The government let us down.
“I believe that having come this far, we need to hold the government to account and let them know that our rights cannot be ignored. If we don’t fight to change the system, things will continue to be the way they are!
“I have therefore taken the decision to take legal action against the Cabinet Office again.”
The ongoing legal challenge follows last year’s judicial review against the government for its failure to interpret its coronavirus press conferences – a case which saw a judge rule that the Cabinet Office had breached the law on the coronavirus. equality by not providing an interpreter for two COVID data briefings.
In a letter rejecting the private law complaint about COP26 – seen by The lame chicken – the government’s legal department writes: “The reason why an interpreter was not initially used for the broadcasts relating to COP26 is that the requirements for the COP were set by the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) under the Host Country Agreement.
“This agreement included a set of technical requirements which outlined all the facilities the government was required to provide. These requirements did not include the provision of an interpreter and that is not something that [UNFCCC] Secretariat provided at previous COPs.
“The Blue Zone (where all the press conferences and key speeches by the Prime Minister and President of COP26 took place) at the time of the COP was under UN control – the government just built the infrastructure according to his needs.”
However, talking to The lame chickenbarrister Chris Fry – who led last year’s judicial review of inaccessible COVID briefings – criticized the government’s response to the question.
He said: “[The] The first thing is that the government said the event was planned by the UN and that they were not responsible for it, so this document undermines that.
“Secondly, it shows us that nothing was done before the event, which means that I am confident that the court will find the government in breach of the Equality Act – again,” he said. he declares.
As well as including information on BSL interpreting, the Equality Impact Assessment also mentions “consideration of use of International Sign Language, pending budgets”.
The document does not specify whether ISL interpretation was provided for any part of the conference.
The availability of BSL interpreters was not the only accessibility issue faced by the COP26 summit, as the Prime Minister had to apologize to Israeli Minister Karine Elharrar – a person in a wheelchair – after she could not access the event.
In a statement to The lame chicken, a UK government spokesperson said: “COP26 was a United Nations conference and was organized strictly in accordance with UN guidelines which do not include agreement on the use of sign language, including the BSL. During the conference, the UK proactively sought opportunities to provide BSL and we hope that sign language can be included in future COPs.
This website also understands that the Equality Impact Assessment screening report has since been updated to reflect that BSL was provided at the opening ceremony and for all Presidency press conferences during the second week of the event.
Photo: Simon Dawson/No 10 Downing Street.
By Liam O’Dell. Liam is an award-winning deaf freelance journalist and campaigner from Bedfordshire. He can be found talking about disability, drama, politics and more on Twitter and on its website.
Update – 03/10/22 – 12:45: A freedom of information request submitted by The Limping Chicken has since revealed that while a disability-inclusive working group has been set up to “help guide [the Government’s] preparation of an inclusive disability summit”, no internal document has been produced by the group.
A response from the Cabinet Office read: ‘We are writing to inform you that following a search of our paper and electronic records we have established that the information you have requested is not held by the Cabinet Office.
“To help guide our preparation for a Disability Inclusive Summit, the Civil Society Engagement Team in the COP26 Unit has established a Disability Inclusive Working Group made up of organizations non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and disabled people’s organizations.
“However, there are no documents or minutes that were produced by the disability inclusion task force. The Disability Inclusion Working Group was available to help and guide our preparations for the summit on an informal basis. »
When asked why no documents were generated by the working group, a COP26 spokesperson told The Limping Chicken: “In preparation for holding an inclusive summit for people with disabilities, COP26 established the Disability Inclusive Working Group made up of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and disabled people’s organizations to provide guidance and advice.
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