Advocates for the deaf in the Island say the often hidden disability is very poorly understood but affects as many as one in five people.
While Health does employ an experienced translator, her level of British Sign Language ability falls below the recommended level 6 qualification.
Doreen Mills of the Jersey dDeaf Society said the profoundly deaf, whose first language is BSL, have to rely on friends and family to interact for them.
‘However, this is not acceptable when it comes to medical appointments or legal situations such as going to court or where important information needs to be disseminated to our local dDeaf community,’ she said.
She described one situation where a hearing-impaired person who was in hospital for surgery had to take out their hearing aid and keep it out for three days afterwards, leaving them frightened and unable to communicate.
‘The current situation is that should a qualified BSL interpreter be required, arrangements have to be made for someone to come over from the UK,’ said Ms Mills. ‘This obviously cannot happen quickly and therefore, if there is an emergency situation involving a profoundly deaf BSL user, they have to wait for their communication need to be facilitated by someone from the mainland.’
There are 24 profoundly deaf people living in the Island whose first language is BSL.
Arrangements were made during May’s election for a fully qualified translator to come in. An interpreter was put in place for the final Senatorial hustings but States Greffier Mark Egan said this was only an ‘ad hoc’ solution. ‘We need to be more accessible,’ he said. However, he added that for the coverage of the States Assembly to be truly accessible to the hearing impaired, it would probably require a small team.
Ms Mills said: ‘BSL was recognised as a language in its own right by the UK in March 2003 so as you can see we are lagging severely behind when it comes to accessibility for that group of Islanders.’
She added that at all public meetings there should be speech to text available, where a trained person uses a special programme to type what the speakers and the audience say.
‘This very rarely happens in Jersey,’ Ms Mills said. ‘In fact at many meetings speakers do not even use a microphone, making it impossible for anyone with a hearing impairment to be involved.’
A Health spokesman said that the department’s BSL-trained social worker had a level 3 qualification, decades of experience and added that there was a ‘fairly low level of demand’.
He said that an interpreting team from the department undertook deaf-awareness training at Highlands College.
‘We are always looking at whether there are new methods that would be feasible and beneficial to introduce to Jersey – video links is one area that may be specifically reviewed in the future,’ he said.
But Ms Mills said the deaf community fear that social worker’s role may be eliminated in the civil service shake-up under way.
‘It is looking likely that her role, as it was, is being redefined and the deaf community are very concerned that there will no longer be a specific social worker for them,’ she said. ‘That will make access considerably more difficult for them as deafness has mental health issues and there will be nobody who understands their disability.
‘At a time when the States should be improving access for all it appears they are removing it.’