A British Sign Language (BSL) interpreting service has been launched for Deaf people to use in health settings, it has been announced.
BSL Health Access, created by Deaf health charity SignHealth and online interpreting company InterpreterNow, will allow BSL users in England and Wales to communicate with healthcare professionals for free during the current coronavirus outbreak.
James Watson-O’Neill, Chief Executive at SignHealth, said he is proud that the charity funded the service and that he looks forward to it “being funded by the public sector in due course”.
He said: “Deaf people must be able to access healthcare, whether to visit their GP, have a scan during pregnancy or be treated in intensive care for coronavirus.
“We should all be able to talk to our doctors and nurses, and for them to talk to us.”
The news comes after British Sign Language interpreters told deaf news website The Limping Chicken of their concerns for the Deaf community, with individuals offering their services for free for BSL users needing to contact healthcare professionals such as their GP.
Over 80,000 people in the UK are reported to use British Sign Language as their first language, with SignHealth saying research also shows that Deaf people’s mental health is much poorer than that of hearing people.
“Deaf people often rely on asking family and friends to interpret for them but they can’t do that with the current social distancing and stay at home policies.
When people wear PPE it makes communication and lip-reading impossible and Deaf people are being left frustrated and isolated. We need to be able to communicate with doctors and nurses now,” a statement on their website reads.
It follows an investigation by The Limping Chicken in 2018 which revealed the emergency BSL policies of UK hospital trusts, with services across the country having various levels of support for Deaf people.
Andrew Dewey, from Sign Language Interactions, said: “At a time when there is less access to face to face interpreting and with more healthcare services only being provided over the phone, the BSL community and health professionals can still use an interpreter by simply downloading the InterpreterNow App or by using a PC and clicking on the ‘BSL Health Access’ website”
BSL Health Access launched at 9am on Thursday, and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Liam O’Dell is a deaf journalist covering issues affecting the UK Deaf community and more. You can find more of his reporting and articles – including his series covering the coronavirus’ impact on deaf people – over on The Limping Chicken‘s website.