Soap box - Nick Williams, head of corporate and public affairs, Fleishman-Hillard

Challenging our assumptions about the principles of comms - and that includes political comms - must be one of the most fundamental skills that anyone in the industry can possess.

Political comms: Nick Williams
Political comms: Nick Williams

And this has been clearly demonstrated by one of the most fascinating campaigns that I have ever had the honour to work on. VRS Today! aims to create equal telecoms access for the UK's 50,000-plus British Sign Language (BSL) users through the widespread availability of Video Relay Services (VRS), a technology already available in many countries, but not in the UK on a universal basis.

The campaign, which will require DCMS ministers to positively support VRS, relies on grass-roots engagement to mobilise the UK's BSL community.

We soon discovered that even the latest digital public affairs techniques and skills - which are best known to generate grass-roots support - have their limitations.

Our goal of energising the deaf community to lobby their MPs and ministers was frustrated - simply because the first language for many in this community is not English but BSL.

Not only did we have to translate all materials into BSL, but we also had to recognise the importance of word-of-mouth within the BSL community to communicate. So assumptions were totally challenged.

These lessons have been critical to the success of VRS Today!, which is gaining increased political support based on a depth of grass-roots support combined with solid economic and legal research.

Never has challenging one's own comms assumptions been more important. Now it is for political decision-makers to challenge their own assumptions and allow universal VRS in the UK.

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