Can we talk about the right to healthcare without language? A critique of key international human rights law, drawing on the experiences of a Deaf woman in Cape Town, South Africa

H. Jensen Haricharan, M. Heap*, A.P.M. Coomans, L. London

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


A case study in Cape Town, South Africa, explores the right to health for signing Deaf patients attending health services and who are unable to communicate in a language they understand. It argues that, without language, Deaf South Africans dignity and right to health is violated, resulting in serious consequences such as incorrect diagnosis, improper treatment and standard of care not being applied. It critiques the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and the limits of General Comment 14 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The paper demonstrates that Deaf patients do not have informational access to healthcare. It argues that language via professional interpreter services is essential to their South African constitutional right of access to healthcare. General Comment 14 addresses informational accessibility, but this is insufficient without addressing language as a pre-requisite. The CRPD imposes on the South African government human rights obligations to provide professional interpreter services for Deaf people, but unfortunately it allows a loophole by enabling cost to serve as reasonable grounds to defer action.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)54-66
JournalDisability & Society
Issue number1
Early online date18 Jul 2012
Publication statusPublished - 2013

Cite this