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When accessibility is lip service

When accessibility is lip service

One of the activities at Appa me ltd is teaching. We teach hearing people British Sign Language (BSL) to foster communication and accessibility between hearing and Deaf communities. There already plenty of issues surrounding this, such as lack of the current lack of a GCSE in BSL  (see Independent article) or even the recognition of BSL as a National Language. Something that Scotland has already achieved.

Those issues above are a signal smoke of a much broader malaise in accessibility and equality of opportunity in our society. It’s an issue that has struck us here at appa. Aside from teaching hearing people how to use BSL we also teach Deaf people. We currently have 2 fully qualified, registered sign language interpreters who are fully qualified to teach adults. We have a range of training programs ready to go to teach deaf people to be trainers and educators themselves. And, in the future plan to add more course such as fire safety, health and safety, first aid, computer literacy. All of this delivered to Deaf people in their native language.

“At Gallaudet, deafness isn’t an issue. You don’t even think about it. Students can pay attention to accounting or psychology or journalism. But when a deaf person goes to another college, no matter how supportive it is, that person doesn’t get the same access.”

I. King Jordan

Nothing compares to being taught in your own native language by fully qualified teachers. And so, this is what we have set out to do. But first a bit of background on how you go about teaching and awarding a qualification. There are a few broad steps involved, all of this requiring a huge amount of effort. But it goes a little like this;

  • Be qualified at the topic and level to be taught.
  • Be qualified at teaching at the required level.
  • Set up a teaching centre and administration that can deliver and organise this teaching.
  • Prove to an examination board, that is approved by the regulator Ofqual, that your course matches the standards set by Ofqual. (ironically Wikipedia explains Ofqual better than they explain themselves).

The last step is where things have come apart for us. Exam boards such as OCR, and City and Guilds who provide the assessments we require only want to play with big teaching institutions. Fees run to many thousands of pounds just for membership (memberships provide inspections, set up guidance and administration).

But we teach Deaf people. We don’t have thousands of students, we don’t have hundreds, we have tens. Part of the reason is that we’re small, we haven’t had time to grow. The other reason is that there is not a vast sea of Deaf people to draw potential pupils from. Some of the examination boards have a minimum student number 3 or 4 times larger than our largest intake. Or their minimum cost plus associated exam fees mean it’s impossible to offer a sane price for our courses. It would be impossible to charge the going rate (for hearing students) as we would lose money on every student we teach.

Is it right or fair that being Deaf denies you an education, or triples its cost? Examination boards often operate under charitable status or not for profit status. Often, if not always, you will see in their missions statuses such values as “enable all learners to learn”, “allow all students to fulfil their potential”, “bring opportunity to everyone”. They want to be seen as open, fair, equal opportunities, maybe even “woke”.

These words are just lip service. Appa wants to get out there providing Deaf people opportunities through education in their own language. Enabling them to learn, develop and seize opportunities in life. But we can’t because we are shut out of the qualification system due to onerous requirements. Accessibility for Deaf learners is lip service.

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