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Rose Ayling-Ellis: Strictly Come Dancing Star Joins Widow’s Campaign

April 11, 2023

    Strictly Come Dancing winner Rose Ayling-Ellis has backed calls for emergency workers to learn sign language, after staff were unable to tell a deaf widow her husband had died.

    Elizabeth Corbett, from Derby, learned about the death of her husband David, 51, via a video call.

    Ayling-Ellis, who was the first deaf celebrity to take part in Strictly, backed the campaign on Twitter.

    The ambulance service has apologised and said it was working to improve.

    Mrs Corbett, 43, who was born deaf, was at work when her children rang her to say her husband had fallen ill.

    By the time she got home, paramedics had arrived but they would not let her in the house.

    “Not one of them could communicate with me and I couldn’t explain who I was,” she said, of the incident which took place in June 2021.

    “I wanted to know what was happening and the police were asking me questions, but they were all wearing facemasks so I couldn’t tell what they were saying.

    “Eventually I contacted work and the receptionist spoke to the paramedics who told her that David had died. So I found out over FaceTime that he had gone.”

    A post-mortem examination revealed Mr Corbett had suffered a blood clot that caused a fatal heart attack.

    Mrs Corbett, a teaching assistant at Royal School for the Deaf Derby, now wants all emergency workers to have some British Sign Language (BSL) skills and the ability to connect to a qualified interpreter instantly.

    Ayling-Ellis, writing about the story on Twitter, said paramedics “should have been given the right tools [and] support to be able to communicate with this lady”.

    She also responded to comments that suggested the paramedics could have written down their message or asked Mrs Corbett’s children – aged 11 and nine – to tell her that her husband had died.

    “Some of the comments are quite upsetting,” the former EastEnders star wrote.

    “I just want to break it down as simply as possible. ‘Why can’t the children tell the mother?’ No child should ever do this.

    “Imagine going through the most traumatic time of your life.

    “You need someone there you can access in the full language. Not writing backwards and forwards.”

    She backed calls for paramedics to learn basic BSL and to have emergency interpreters on iPads on call.

    “We pay our taxes too; we have every right to receive the same care,” she added.

    Mrs Corbett said: “I have been shocked and upset with some of the comments on social media channels, but I have tried not to dwell on them.

    “But the fact that Rose has got involved is amazing – she is such an important deaf role model and I’m thrilled she has stood up for me.”

    She added she was currently fundraising online in her husband’s memory to buy a specially-adapted minibus for the school – which he also attended.

    Head teacher of Royal School for the Deaf Derby, Paul Burrows, said: “There are no winners in this story at all – but it should be used as a force for change and to spur on every emergency service to become more deaf aware.

    “There is a deep misunderstanding by many around BSL and deaf awareness in general.

    “I am so proud of our school and what we are doing to educate our amazing pupils.”

    Craig Whyles, divisional director for Derbyshire at East Midlands Ambulance Service, which attended to Mr Corbett, said: “We would like to offer our sincere condolences to the patient’s family and I am deeply sorry for the poor experience they had with our service.

    “As an organisation we are currently working with the Nottinghamshire Deaf Society to discuss how we can improve our education to staff around deaf awareness and common emergency communication problems.”

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