On December 3, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPwD) was marked around the world. Every year, this UN sanctioned day helps promote awareness and mobilises support for issues pertaining to the inclusion of persons with disabilities in society and development.

This year’s commemorative events promoted the 2014 IDPwD theme of Sustainable Development: The Promise of Technology with one of the sub-themes being Creating Enabling Work Environments.

In furtherance of these themes, an audience of politicians, civil servants, educators, charities and businesses met in the House of Lords on December 3. Here they learned about some of the innovative technology that is making education and employment increasingly accessible for deaf people.

Ai-Media organised this event with Signature, a national charity which campaigns to improve the standards of communication with deaf and deaf-blind people in the UK and is the leading awarding body for nationally recognised qualifications in British Sign Language and other deaf communications.

Hosted by Baroness Uddin and Stephen Lloyd MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Deafness, also in attendance was Dame Anne Begg, MP, chair of the Work and Pensions Committee.

Signature chief executive Jim Edwards said that the event was an opportunity for the Department for Work and Pensions as well as The Open University to learn about the technology that is enabling deaf people to fulfil their potential.

Mr Edwards noted that the increasing availability and affordability of high speed internet, smart phones, tablets and high spec laptops have been game changers for people who need support to access English. “And entrepreneurs have responded… (and) these technologies are just going to get better,” he noted. “Which is why it’s important a deaf person, their employer or educator understands the choices open to them. And why Signature is working with government to increase the supply of sign language interpreters and other professionals.”

The audience also heard from Tony Murphy, Wireless Communications Specialist for hearing aid manufacturer Phonak UK, and Jeff McWhinney, Founder and Chair of SignVideo, the UK leading video relay service.

The latest British statistics available were referenced – revealing how deaf people face significant barriers to fulfilling their potential. In January to March 2013, of those economically active, 58% were employed and 8% unemployed. This compared to 72.5% and 5.3%, respectively – for the population as a whole – highlighting how people with difficulty hearing were 50% more likely to be unemployed. In addition, in 2012-13, 43% of deaf children achieved 5 GCSEs (including English and Maths) at grades A* to C compared to 70% of children with no identified special educational needs.

Such information fuelled a great forum for discussion by our expert panel and audience, particularly around the issues of awareness, knowledge and the need for funders, such as Access to Work and universities in supporting these innovations.

This event was an excellent showcase of the momentum and support for new technology that is radically expanding the ways in which deaf people can access communication support.

Although traditionally that support has been provided in written English or British Sign Language by a communication and language professional on site, the latest technology enables deaf people to access professionals remotely via online platforms, so now they work and study like never before, and far more effectively.

I am most proud of knowing that the aims of Ai-Media and those we are associated with support and promote the very important UN goals as elaborated on the IDPwD by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: "Let us spare no effort to ensure that policies, programmes, guidelines and 21st century technologies are accessible to persons with disabilities, and sensitive to their perspectives and experiences."


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