Katie Rowley, UK. On being a mum, an advocate for equal access and challenging the UK government in court… and winning!

My name is Katie, and I live in Leeds, West Yorkshire. I am profoundly deaf and have been since the age of 2 years 9 months through what I believe was mumps. I also have ushers syndrome. I have no sight in my left eye and a small amount of central vision in the right eye. I have a cochlear implant in my left ear. 

British sign language is my first language and I am a proud Mum to my 5 month old son Noah-James who is hearing.

When the UK prime minster first made his announcements about COVID back in March 2020 I was so in the dark and I felt all of the information went right over my head. For the first 2/3 weeks there was no interpreter at all to deliver information so I just got on with my daily life as usual before my Mum made me aware of the seriousness of COVID. 

I began to feel so anxious and fearful. As time went on it became much more than just being regular anxiety (it’s difficult to describe) but then in July 2020 I fell pregnant with my son. After that the fear was much more to the point I was afraid to go out because I wanted to protect my unborn baby as well as myself. 

The later briefings in September and October also had no live interpreter present and I felt myself shake with fear – what does this mean? Instead I contacted CODA (child of Deaf Adults) friends and asked them for help translating what was going on.

All of this made me feel so angry and it also made me more determined to support the campaign to change things for the better for the deaf community including myself. I knew if I was struggling and frightened the larger deaf community would be feeling the same if not worse.

I began supporting the #whereistheinterpreter campaign by Lynn Stewart Taylor and did admin for them, emailing and looking at sponsorships and who was taking part in the walk to 10 Downing Street. I was meant to do the walk myself but falling ill during pregnancy meant I couldn’t take part.  

Lynn Stewart Taylor and Chris Fry (lawyer) chose my case as lead to put up for judicial review, our argument being that the government had failed to provide access for the deaf community. I had a stronger case than the other four people who also provided cases, as with me also being pregnant I was extra vulnerable.

I felt nervous and terrified when we first submitted the case back in October 2020 but I had the support of Chris and Lynn on the day of court as well as the support of my family. 

We had to submit the case notes in January and the hearing took place on June 16th. The outcome was announced on 28th July where we were told we were successful! We had won! 

The outcome means that the government acknowledge the discrimination that took place and they are now responsible for thinking ‘where is the interpreter?’ every time they do a COVID talk on television. I guess it’s still sad that we have had to fight in 2021.

One specific outcome was that the undocumented agreement with BBC and Red Bee media was not accepted by the judge. This means that proper arrangements should have been made to ensure interpreters would be used whether on platform or in vision. The government had delegated this to the BBC and Red Bee media and passed the responsibility on without following through.

But now and in future the responsibility of arranging interpreters remains with government as a service provider.

To be honest I do still feel very anxious about COVID but I not only have myself but my son to think of and the cases here in Leeds keep fluctuating, going up and down. So hopefully when numbers are minimal then I’ll feel confident again.

My hard work and campaign for change continues however and as the case has now been passed to the county court for damages award, I currently am fighting a case with the NHS due to them refusing an interpreter.

On top of this I also have a case against a taxi driver for refusing to take a guide dog back in 2019. The court case is on 8th sept with a good outcome I hope. 

What’s more I am also writing a chapter as part of a legacy book on the #WhereIsTheInterpreter campaign. Watch this space!


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