Equality victory: Carole Curlett

The daughter of a deaf woman has been paid more than £4,000 by a Belfast GP surgery over a failure to offer a sign language interpreter in appointments.

Ida Curlett, who died in 2019, depended on her daughter Carole to interpret for her during appointments at the Parkside Surgery.

Ms Curlett and her mother were unaware they were entitled to an interpreter until told by a taxi driver in 2018.

The surgery made the £4,250 payment without admission of liability.

The disability discrimination case was brought by Carole Curlett on behalf of her mother with support from the Equality Commission.

Ida Curlett, who was a British Sign Language user, was never offered a sign language interpreter at any of her many GP appointments despite being a patient for more than 30 years, the commission said.

Carole Curlett said: “My mother was a patient at that practice for more than 30 years.  At no time was she offered any sign language interpretation.  In fact we didn’t even know that as a disabled person she had a right to that service until we heard of another family who had had a very similar experience and had gone to the Equality Commission for help.

“My mother relied on me for all her medical appointments and I had to attend all of them with her. She really needed a professional interpreter to give her a proper service and a full understanding of what the doctor was saying. She felt that her enquiries about her health were never fully explained and she found the lack of privacy difficult.  It was a strain on both of us.

“I’m glad it is settled now, but I can’t help feeling aggrieved that we went through all those years not even knowing she was entitled to an interpreter. It’s good that part of the settlement is that the practice will now advise all of its deaf and hard of hearing patients about the availability of a signer.”

Deaf rights activist and Belfast architect Richard Dougherty, who is deaf, said: “Unfortunately this story is a constant reminder of the severe communication barriers that deaf people go through when accessing everyday services. The failure to provide adequate access to health services that many others take for granted should not be happening in this day and age. 

“Studies have shown that deaf people are more reluctant to go to the doctor about their health issues, which in turn results in poor overall health and potentially severe illnesses going undiagnosed. The fact that deaf people are more likely to suffer ill health than other people simply because it is harder for them to use the health services is shocking and an infringement of basic human right.” added Richard, who featured in the recent VIEW issue on the deaf community.

Anne McKernan, director of legal services for the Equality Commission, said: “The Disability Discrimination Act is 26 years old this year and it’s disappointing that we’re still dealing with failure to provide access to everyday services such as a GP surgery. Not having a professional interpreter in place in a medical setting could give rise to problems not just for the patient, but also the practice – problems such as misdiagnosis, misunderstanding of how to follow a treatment plan or inadequate informed consent. And it puts an unfair burden on the unofficial interpreter, in this case Mrs Curlett’s daughter Carole.

“We support these sort of cases to raise awareness of rights and to effect change.”

The Parkside Surgery has agreed to use the services of sign language interpreters in future when dealing with deaf patients and to advertise this facility clearly within the surgery.

• LATEST ISSUE OF VIEW LOOKS AT THE WORLD OF DEAF PEOPLE IN NORTHERN IRELAND – https://issuu.com/brianpelanone/docs/view_issue_59_2021

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