Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Webcams provide better communication access to deaf people in Scotland

From The Evening Times in Scotland. In the picture, Ian Hamilton, chair of the Lanarkshire Deaf Club (back row, far right), and Laurann Cuthbertson, chair of the North Lanarkshire Deaf Forum (seated, far right), are joined by members of the two organisations at the launch of the pilot project.

A computer program described as revolutionary could change the lives of deaf people.

The pilot project, which is being trialled in North Lanarkshire, uses the Sign on Screen program.

It makes it possible for deaf people to make and receive phone calls with the help of a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter.

The program uses webcams to link to interpreters who will communicate with the deaf person in BSL and then translate to a hearing person either via a phone call or through the webcam.

North Lanarkshire Council is working in partnership with Deaf Connections, Lanarkshire Deaf Club and Lanarkshire Deaf Forum to run the six-month project.

The initiative will provide 50 deaf people with free access to the service, which removes the need for an interpreter to be present.

At the pilot launch, deaf people were asked to ring a local pizza delivery service to place an order.

For most, this was the first time they had ever been able to make a phone call without encountering problems.

Previously, deaf people had to communicate by phone using cumbersome and time-consuming text services.

Graham Chapman, chief executive of Deaf Connections, said: “Deaf people who use BSL often have real difficulty in using public services because they can’t communicate easily with others.

“Daily tasks that most people take for granted, like contacting the doctor, reporting a repair or talking to your children’s school, can be almost impossible for deaf people without the assistance of an interpreter.

“Anticipating the need for an interpreter and ensuring one is booked in advance for every occasion a deaf person needs to communicate with a hearing person is challenging and a common cause of stress and unhappiness.

“Sign on Screen removes the requirement for deaf people to book interpreters in advance by giving them access to interpreters at Deaf Connections via webcam link.”

Sign on Screen is the first service of its kind to be available for use by deaf and hard-of-hearing people across the UK.

North Lanarkshire Council is the first authority to support the service by making it available to local people.

There will be no cost to the people taking part in the pilot.

If the pilot is successful, the council will work to identify ways of rolling out the initiative to other local authorities and public services.