Why equality law and Deaf people don’t get on

This is Part 1 of a series of posts exploring why equality law and Deaf people don’t get on, which forms the basis of Chapter 2 of my PhD thesis.

In an attempt to determine how Deaf people fit within the auspices of equality law, it is necessary to explore exactly what ‘equality’ is, and consider many of the concepts and theoretical perspectives that come into play when we talk about being ‘equal’. The British Deaf Association (BDA) espouses that “equality is what it stands for”1, and on the international stage, the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) highlights that one of its most important priorities in its work is to ensure human rights for Deaf people all over the world, in every aspect of life2. Thus, it would appear that what Deaf people want above all is equality. This begs the question: why equality is such an ideal for Deaf people, the reasons for which will be explored.

Exploring what ‘equality’ is will be no easy task given the complexity of the concepts and theoretical perspectives in relation to the equality discourse, and in any case, it is not intended to regurgitate and explain the concept of ‘equality’ and relevant law in its entirety, inasmuch that the focus is on how equality law relates, or is relevant to, the Deaf-World. Therefore, as each of the schools of thought surrounding equality are explored, consideration of their applicability to the Deaf-World will be attempted. It is pertinent to note that “different analyses of equality may be suited to different protected grounds”3, with Vickers citing Fraser’s suggestion that “class inequality is best understood in terms of redistribution, and sexual orientation inequality best understood in terms of recognition”4. Consequently, what must be done is to discover which equality analyses lend themselves more closely to the Deaf-World.

It will become apparent that Deaf people need equality simply because they do not currently experience equality. For example, the number of Deaf people in employment is lower compared to the national average; Deaf people typically leave compulsory education with a reading age of eight and are less likely to achieve General Certificate of Secondary Education qualifications than the national average; access to the law is restricted, and Deaf prisoners are more likely to experience a “double sentence” compared to hearing prisoners; Deaf people are not allowed to serve as jury members; and generally have poorer health which has been attributed to problems accessing health care and communicating with healthcare professionals.

In Part 2, we will explore what is equality and attempt to draw upon academic research published within the field of Deaf Studies in order to bridge the gap between Deaf Studies and Law/Legal Studies. Subsequently, we will explore in Part 3 what equality means to Deaf people, and examine the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the European Convention of Human Rights, the Equality Act 2010 and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to determine their relevance to the Deaf-World.

  1. BDA, ‘What we stand for’ accessed 22 August 2015. []
  2. WFD, ‘Human Rights’ accessed 22 August 2015. []
  3. L Vickers, ‘Promoting Equality or Fostering Resentment? The Public Sector Equality Duty and Religion and Belief’ (2011) 31(1) Legal Studies 135, 152. []
  4. ibid 152, citing N Fraser, ‘From Redistribution to Recognition? Dilemmas of Justice in a ‘Post-Socialist’ Age’ (1995) 212(1) New Left Review 68, 68. []


Deaf, hubby to Rachel, dad to Corey, Libby and Emily, Solicitor, Lecturer in Legal Practice at University of South Wales, PhD student at University of Leicester.

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3 Responses

  1. Chaplin says:

    Interesting read Rob, clarification of ‘deaf’ would also be a vast area of research – at what point is a person defined as ‘deaf’. Good Luck!

  2. Natalya D says:

    Looking forward to these posts! 🙂

  3. Rob says:

    Cheers. An interesting question that I hadn’t really thought about yet.

    My primary focus is on Deaf BSL users, but a great deal of the problems experienced by them will also apply to deaf people.

    When I have finished this series of posts focusing on Deaf people, I will post again with some thoughts on how what I’ve researched applies to deaf people.

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