Monday, May 31, 2010

UK businessman wants to back deaf candidate for the Scottish Parliament

From The Scotsman in Scotland:

A businessman is offering to pay the deposit for any independent deaf candidate to stand at the next Scottish Parliament elections.

Writing in The Scotsman today, Jeff McWhinney said the barriers for a deaf candidate, such as the need for interpreters for British Sign Language (BSL), prevented proper representation of issues important to 100,000 Britons.

And experts said Scotland and its proportional representative list system would allow such a potential politician to break through for the first time.

Mr McWhinney was chief executive of the British Deaf Association from 1995-2004. He is now managing director of Significan't, a social business which provides a video interpreting service for deaf people.

He said he would happily "put my money where my mouth is" by supporting potential candidates in any UK elections or by-elections.

He said: "Deaf people have been marginalised, ignored and unheard for decades. Perhaps if there were deaf MPs, or at least deaf candidates, the parties would take notice of the issues that dominate their daily lives.

"Last week, in its programme for government, the new coalition government at Westminster said that it 'will introduce extra support for people with disabilities who want to become MPs, councillors or other elected officials'. I hope this includes interpreter support for deaf candidates.."

Mr McWhinney cited the example of Liberal Democrat candidate for Lewisham East in the 2001 General Election, David Buxton, who faced £500-a-day costs for interpreters.

He said: "Since good interpreters do not come cheap, he soon reached his limit. Because he is deaf he was automatically put at a disadvantage.

"Significan't would be prepared to pay the deposit for any deaf BSL user standing as an independent candidate in any British constituency at a by-election or general election."

Professor Graham Turner, director of the Centre for Translating and Interpreting Studies in Scotland at Heriot-Watt University, said a number of developments with BSL have taken place in Scotland. And he said there were precedents for elected politicians who were deaf in other countries, such as Hungary and Canada.

He said: "The list system in Scotland would create a potential opening that does not exist south of the Border. We know it's not beyond the bounds of possibility, though the first-past-the-post voting system works against a deaf candidate.

"A proportional representation system would be the only way you could imagine people putting support behind a deaf candidate."

Sign language expert Tessa Padden "says" the offer is good news for deaf people in Scotland. She signs, from top: "good"; "news"; "deaf person/people"; "Scotland".

The thumbs-up gesture is recognisable to everyone as representing something good; "news" is signified by the letter "N" – created by placing two fingers on the palm – then two fingers just below the ear signifies "deaf"; the sign for "Scotland" involves a mime of playing the bagpipes.