Majority of State bodies unaware of Irish Sign Language responsibilities

Majority of State bodies unaware of Irish Sign Language responsibilities

Minister of State for Disabilities Anne Rabbitte is still awaiting responses from a number of state bodies on their responsibilities under the Act. File Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

The majority of State bodies are either not aware of the Irish Sign Language Act, or are not aware of their responsibilities under the Act, an unpublished National Disability Authority (NDA) report has found.

The Irish Sign Language (ISL) Act 2017, which established ISL alongside Irish and English as an official language, places a statutory duty on all public bodies to provide free interpretation of all statutory entitlements and services.

Eighty-three public bodies, including An Garda Síochána and the Office of the President, did not respond to the report’s survey.

According to the report, commissioned by Minister of State for Disabilities Anne Rabbitte, the majority of public bodies (52%) indicated they were either not aware of the ISL Act (32%) or were not aware of their responsibilities under the Act (20%).

The report, which has been seen by the Irish Examiner, has yet to be published, as Ms Rabbitte is awaiting responses from various State bodies, a situation she described in the Dáil last week as “remissible”.

Among its key findings, the report states that since ISL became an official language, users have experienced only minimal changes in their access to a wide range of services; there is a significant lack of awareness of ISL in the public sector; and there are “discrepancies” between the experiences of service users compared to the outlook of public bodies and departments, “especially in education”.

Last week, Fianna Fáil TD Pádraig O’Sullivan told the Dáil that the State has failed deaf children like 12-year-old Calum Geary from Ballyhooly, who have been denied classroom ISL interpreters.

“These children have constitutional rights, and the State has an obligation to provide appropriately trained personnel to impart knowledge and teach these wonderful children,” the Cork North Central TD said.

Of the country’s 16 Education and Training Boards, only four responded to the survey, and all four said they were unaware of their responsibilities under the Act.

Some 29% of public bodies surveyed for the report indicated that they had provided ISL interpretation since 2021, while 52% said the provision of interpretation was “not applicable” to them.

Excluding those public bodies which said they had not received any requests for interpretation, some 22% of respondents said they had faced difficulty in accessing interpreters.

Only 3% of public bodies indicated that information in ISL is provided on their websites, while 48% indicated they do not provide any information on ISL.

Eighty-three government departments and public bodies did not respond to the NDA survey, among them An Garda Síochána, the Department of Further and Higher Education, Bus Éireann, and the Office of the President.

The Ombudsman for Children’s Office, the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, and the Residential Institutions Statutory Funds Board did not respond to the survey.

A spokesperson for the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth said the department is currently engaging with State bodies on “outstanding issues in order to finalise the document”, and said that the final report will be put before the Oireachtas and “the minister has stated her intention to subsequently publish the document”.

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