Who are you?

I am Janis McDonald, Chief Officer at deafscotland. My background is in nursing and in my early career I specialised in long stay/rehabilitation. Over the years I worked in addictions, homelessness and more latterly in umbrella bodies at local level. I live in Linwood, enjoy live music, travelling (especially to Mallorca) and have two grown sons.

You have recently changed your name from Scottish Council on Deafness (SCoD) to deafscotland. What do you hope to achieve with your new brand identity?

The new identity has to fulfil several purposes.

  • Firstly to modernise and “refresh” our image which did seem a bit old fashioned to many people.
  • Secondly, it has to convey our position and diverse approach: e.g. the spectrum of deafness and people affected by it – across the four key pillars: Deaf / Deaf Sign Language Users; Deafened; Deafblind; and Hard of Hearing.
  • Finally it needs to portray our “Connect and Thrive” programme of work, focussing on connections, collaboration and communication. I hope we have succeeded in the vibrant and fresh logo. The feedback to date has been substantial and consistently positive.

Tell us about more deafscotland and what your main aim is?

We aim to achieve equality, access and citizenship for deaf people and build appropriate interventions. We seek to do this through awareness raising, information sharing, policy influencing, networking and developing action through our membership, education and training. Our strapline is ‘equality & integration through communication for all’. This reflects our beneficial “Connect and Thrive” programme.

What are the four pillars of deafness?

The four key pillars of deafness are important to us. We work to the social model of disability and promote a rights based, person centred approach. Our sector includes people with a wide range of different views. The four pillars indicate that there are generally quite different barriers and solutions within those groups although we are clear that everyone is an individual and should be respected as such.

Deaf / Deaf Sign Language Users: (Congenital Deafness)

People that are born Deaf have significant challenges developing spoken language. Most although not all have British Sign Language (BSL) as their first language. Some may have cochlear implants or hearing aids. There are around 12,500 BSL users in Scotland.


Those 4,000 or so people who face significant challenges tough hearing and sight loss which may often be as a result of Usher Syndrome or combination of deteriorating symptoms. Tactile language may be required.

Deafened: (Acquired Deafness)

First language is often English. Some people may prefer Sign language, generally depending on the age at which they became deaf. Hearing loss is significant. People may have bilateral hearing aids or cochlear implants. There are around 355,000 deafened people in Scotland.

Hard of Hearing:

Hearing loss is sometimes described as mild or moderate in medical terminology. Whilst often age related it can also be as a result of damage, virus or combinations of reasons. People may wear one or two hearing aids. There are around 600,000 hard of hearing people in Scotland.

What are the biggest challenges that deaf people face in 2018?

The barriers that people face related to access, participation and integration.

For example:

Access: many services are accessed through door entry systems and/or telephone appointment systems. Simply getting into car parks, buildings and services is a problem. Communication is then an ongoing barrier, whether it be due to access in the correct language, for example British Sign Language or English, or a combination of language and technical supports. Various communication supports include: lip-reading, electronic note-taking, sign language interpreting, hearing loops, induction loops, radio aid equipment, microphones and many more….

Process: whilst access is sometimes easier than it used to be processes can often mean that for example, goods can be ordered online but changes in delivery arrangements need to be done by phone. Both access and process can be challenges.

Participation: without good quality information people can very, very, disadvantaged in participative processes. Communication support would need to be in place to ease conversation, express opinions and understand other’s views.

What best practice have you come across recently that others should follow?

Access and inclusion is challenging and best practice for us includes the provision of a range of supports. We always ask and try to provide consistency through British Sign Language (BSL) / English Interpreters, Electronic Note-takers, Guide Communicators and a range of technical supports.

There are many good websites and apps around that reduce the need for difficult conversations and minimise problems: from coffee at Starbucks, through shopping online with Amazon to passenger assist at ScotRail.

What can employers do to improve accessibility for deaf people in Scotland?

Employers should consider the age ranges of their customers and workforce. Scotland is facing an aging population and deafness has age related issues: Whilst figures suggest anywhere between one in five and one in six has some sort of hearing loss we know the percentages are age related. At age 40 persons have a 40% likelihood of deafness, at age 60 it’s 60% and at age 75 it’s 90%.

Employers can generally do more to facilitate good quality communication and need to consider barriers such as good lighting, training, hearing loops, use of notes and records, acoustics, supply of assistive technology and of course the development of access to work.

Can you tell us more about the British Sign Language (BSL) National Plan and how deafscotland will be involved?

The British Sign Language (BSL) National Plan has 10 actions with 70 ambitions. It was developed to accompany the BSL (Scotland) Act 2015 and promote & support sign language development. The Act is seen as an enabler and the action plan raises key tasks to improve the lives of BSL users in Scotland. The key aim is to “make Scotland the best place in the world for BSL users to live, learn, work and visit”.

Should BSL be introduced into the curriculum?

We want to see baby sign and family sign development as well as BSL used at playgroups, nurseries, schools and beyond. It will be fantastic to see qualifications develop and the language as a part of the general curriculum in Scotland.

What has deafscotland got planned for the remainder of 2018?

We are currently revising out plan for the rest of 2018 into 2019. There is work to raise awareness around access in English in the summer, an event with Scottish Care in the autumn to look at barriers faced by those in care services and work to raise awareness about the increased risks of mental health issues for deaf people in the winter months.

We are currently working with partners to develop a conference and awards ceremony next year on Friday 15 March 2019 in Glasgow. Watch this space! And if you would like to be part of our work, please get in touch with us at deafscotland.

Phone: 0141 248 2474 Email: admin@deafscotland.org  Website: www.deafscotland.org