University of Leicester

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Making equality law work for Deaf people

posted on 2023-10-11, 11:42 authored by Robert B. Wilks
Equality law is not working for Deaf1 people. The majority of deaf children attend mainstream schools without resource provision and are often denied the opportunity to engage with their deaf peers. Deaf people are likely to be in underemployment or unemployed and discrimination in the workplace is commonplace. There is evidence of injustice within the criminal justice system for deaf people, Deaf people are not able to serve their civic duty as jurors, and their access to legal advice services is dire. Deaf prisoners suffer a ‘double sentence’ when in prison, and deaf people generally do not have access to healthcare services. Thus, this thesis seeks to explore why equality law is not working for Deaf people, and what can be done to ensure that it does. In order to answer this research question, after a consideration of what evidence exists to suggest that Deaf people continue to experience inequalities, an attempt is made to ascertain why the framing of Deaf people as disabled is problematic, giving rise to what is termed the ‘Deaf Legal Dilemma,’ whereby Deaf people are faced with a stark choice: accept the disability label, or have no access to any rights at all. There is then an attempt to determine which concepts of equality are relevant to Deaf people, utilising a specific methodology that allows the author to categorise these concepts into either formal, substantive or transformative equality thus establishing a standard of measurement by which it is possible to determine how effective particular concepts of equality are in eradicating inequality. A doctrinal analysis of equality law in the UK is then undertaken, incorporating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights, the Equality Act 2010 and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. These are critiqued in order to establish how they apply or may apply to Deaf people, and how effective they are in addressing their inequalities. The findings of this analysis are that the instruments examined are not effective, and sign language recognition is proposed as a solution. The conclusion reached is that sign language recognition proffers a transformative approach to the Deaf Legal Dilemma and should – at least in the long term - give Deaf people ‘equal and inalienable rights’ on par with hearing people, in full cognisance of their status as Sign Language Peoples.



Pascale Lorber; Lisa Rodgers; Loveday Hodson

Date of award


Author affiliation

School of Law

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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