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February 14, 2005

Significant help for deaf

From: ic, UK - Feb 14, 2005

By David Callam

A COMPANY providing communication services for deaf people has just signed a revolutionary deal with the National Health Service.

The new contract with Significan't, a company based at the Start International Centre in Woolwich, and Bowne Global Solutions will allow the health service to make sign language interpretation available 24 hours a day.

Significan't is providing the video-phone technology that will allow deaf people to communicate over long distances using British Sign Language (BSL).

This innovative product is likely to have as significant an impact on the deaf community as the telephone did on hearing people.

The service will be implemented in four NHS trusts initially - three in London and one in Manchester - to be followed by a nation-wide launch in March.

The move by the NHS has been prompted, in part, by the recent introduction of that part of the Disability Discrimination Act that demands businesses and organisations make services available equally to disabled people.

This addition will make a huge difference to the care of hospitalised deaf people, especially in Accident and Emergency departments.

At present a deaf person may have to wait three weeks to see a BSL interpreter. Some trusts fare better, but even then it can take a couple of days to arrange an appointment.

The new video call centre will give A&E departments guaranteed access to a BSL interpreter within one hour. Brigitte Francois, an international sign interpreter, founded Significan't in 2003 to provide sign language services.

Brigitte is a qualified teacher of the deaf and trainer of sign language interpreting in the UK and Belgium.

Jeff McWhinney, former chief executive of the British Deaf Association, joined the company last September.

During his 10 years at the BDA, Jeff successfully campaigned for recognition of British sign language and better access for deaf people to public information and services.

He also fought to end discrimination against deaf people in the workplace.

He said: " The advent of video-phones and the call centre offers users of sign language true independence.

"It gives them the chance to communicate effectively with other people leading to better job opportunities and immediate access to services that have so far been denied them."

Copyright Trinity Mirror Plc 2005