Members of the deaf community in Preston have called for the NHS to transform the way it communicates with British Sign Language users.
Academics at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) want to see the health service creating videos allowing people who are deaf or hard of hearing better access to website content.
They say that use of video with key information or an online interpreting service would allow for greater engagement.
Dr Jun Hui Yang, senior lecturer in deaf studies at UCLan, says: “Information about health should be fully accessible to the deaf community.”
Although there are some videos explaining about health conditions and services to people who use British Sign Language (BSL) to communicate, Dr Yang argues that there is not enough and they do not go into enough depth.
“Generally sign language videos don’t have the same amount of information as what is written in text on NHS websites, it’s limited,” she says.
She and her colleagues, BSL and deaf studies lecturer Dr Luigi Lerose and senior lecturer in BSL and Deaf Studies Nicola Nunn, are calling for parity when it comes to information provided on NHS websites for those who are hearing and those who communicate through sign language.
Dr Lerose says: “The ways of communicating through technology now are broad - I can speak to my family through Skype and FaceTime and these tools are very useful to the deaf community. These programmes are developing all the time and we can use interpreters through a live video service to contact banks for instance.
“It’s important that there is information on websites for sign language users and it’s a relief when you see that they have an interpreting service or there’s a video which translates the information so that the deaf community can have access to the content in their own language.
“It’s often forgotten that deaf people need to get this information and it really should be there, we are tax payers and therefore we should have parity of access.”
The reason people who use sign language have a hard time reading English is because they are two very different languages.
Heidi K. Robertson, who is a Creative Freelancer in the field of digital media, says: “With English script the words can be quite formal and are quite formally laid out which can be overwhelming.
“Sign language is a visual language so its more about concepts and meanings within the concepts which English doesn’t do really so they’re totally different languages.
“A lot of deaf people struggle with English, it’s a second language and it needs to be seen like that so articles with lots of written English is a barrier.
Heidi, who is also a new mum, says that for deaf people access to an interpreting service and videos which translate content for the NHS is paramount.
She says: “I think that the health service absolutely should have all of their information in sign language. For instance stuff to do with how to look after a baby and information about breast feeding.
“They’ve got loads of information online that’s really important, what to do if your child’s ill for example or anything else that’s to do with health such as information about cancer treatments.
“It needs to be in sign language, I think that’s really important.”
While she feels that having information translated into sign language on every website is unrealistic she does think that text which is written in clear, simple English would be very helpful to people in the deaf community.
“Partly it’s not just about using awkward jargon-heavy English,” she says. “It’s about just making the English simple and to the point and plain and having a clear layout on the website and with pictures and graphics so that the site isn’t text-heavy.
“I don’t think we can say that every company and business needs to have its whole work set translated into sign language.
“What’s more important is the design of the website so its not just reams and reams of text because nobody wants to read that.
“I don’t think it would just benefit the deaf community, I think it would benefit people who’ve moved here from abroad who are still learning English.”
Heidi’s husband Lee is a support worker and he says he gets very frustrated when the only option companies give as a way of contact is a telephone number.
He says: “We get very fed up, you get your insurance information through and it says phone us up to change this and you think oh there’s a telephone number, and we can’t and they don’t give you an email.
“They don’t give you options, the top option is always telephone. I think that is the number one bug bear for the deaf community.”
That’s where a company like the one that Heidi works for, SignVideo can come in.
SignVideo helps people call companies signed up to the service through a video link. It connects callers to an interpreter who can translate sign language to an adviser.
Vodaphone, Barclays, BT, Sainsbury’s, 02 and Sky are just some of the companies which offer the service to their deaf customers.
Heidi explains how it works. “It’s similar to FaceTime,” she says. “Say I want to call Barclays, I click on the SignVideo logo on the website and it just connects you to an interpreter straight away.
“So on my screen I’ll see an interpreter live and I’ll say I want to speak to Barclays and then she’ll be interpreting our conversation on screen and she’ll have a head set on to speak to the bank.
“It means that deaf people have the same accessibility as a hearing person. The service has just started to really take off, lots of companies are now getting on board with it which is great.”
With thanks to Gail Caudrelier, Cath Roughley and Bridget Noble who interpreted the interviews with the people quoted in this article.