A consumer watchdog has warned law firms that they could face unlimited discrimination cases from deaf and hard of hearing clients, if they continue failing to take into account their special needs.
The warning comes following nearly 1,500 complaints and enquiries to the Royal Association for Deaf People law centre between August 2007 and September 2011, along with a further 429 during the first seven months of 2011/2012.
Many deaf clients seeking legal advice, feel they have to “win a battle with their own advisers” before they are able to succeed in legal action; blaming legal firms “lack of preparation and consideration.”
According to Legal Choice, Silent Process published by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, the Legal Services Consumer Panel and Action on Hearing Loss, the lack of preparation and consideration by legal firms includes legal materials not being adapted for the needs of deaf clients; and also communication barriers such as badly maintained loop systems, poorly lit rooms and firms often failing to provide sign language interpreters when requested.
As a result of the warnings, the Solicitors Regulation Authority have said it will be issuing best-practice guidelines to address the issues raised, including online ‘deaf awareness’ training covering interpreting services, how the law applies, and different ways of communicating with deaf people.