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National roll-out for sign language interpreting service

2nd March 2015

New video call service for deaf people is UK first.

A nationwide roll-out of a new online interpreting service will allow deaf people across Scotland to use sign language to contact public sector services.

The Scottish Government has announced today the extension of the current NHS 24 online British Sign Language (BSL) Video Relay Interpreting Service pilot to the rest of the public sector in Scotland.

The new Scottish Government-funded service, contactSCOTLAND, will mean deaf people can now speak to public services, such as their local council, doctor's surgery and the Scottish Government, without the need for someone to call on their behalf.

This project is unique in the UK and is the first nationally funded public sector Video Relay Service.

Minister for Sport, Health Improvement and Mental Health, Jamie Hepburn, welcomed the new contactSCOTLAND service which will be available from today.

He said: "There are estimated to be around 6,500 people living in Scotland who use sign language and these people deserve to have the same access to services as everyone else.

"By extending this programme to cover all public sector services in Scotland, we are removing the barriers that some deaf people face when trying to get in contact with their local services.

"For the majority of people who rely on sign language to communicate, they need to arrange to have someone to call on their behalf. This new project will mean deaf people can video call an interpreter at contactSCOTLAND directly who will then speak to the relevant public sector organisation and act as an intermediary for the deaf person.

“This is a fantastic project and gives British Sign Language users equal access to public sector services, allowing them to enjoy greater participation in daily and public life."

Andrew McCafferty, lives with his wife in Greenock, who are both profoundly deaf and recently used the video relay service to call NHS 24 - receiving treatment that saved his life.

He said: “My wife and l are profoundly deaf and use British Sign Language to communicate. It can be really difficult and frustrating to communicate with doctors, police officers and workman from the council that come to carry repairs in our home.

“Recently l took seriously ill and contacted NHS 24 through the online BSL interpreter service. The online interpreter assisted me throughout the call and later when l received treatment at the hospital, the doctors said the treatment saved my life. Being able to use contactSCOTLAND is amazing - it means my wife and l can understand what is being said, which makes us feel much more confident. This is a great service which Deaf people can use when they need it, no matter where they live in Scotland."

Janis McDonald, Chief Officer, Scottish Council on Deafness (SCoD), said: “SCoD is proud to have been involved from the early days of the pilot work and sees many benefits to Deaf People wishing to access services that are readily available to hearing peers. It is terrific; accessible, discreet and confidential, designed with people in mind. Many have already received information and treatment because of it.

“We can see this type of access would have wider benefit - to help interaction with other public bodies and could be applied to many other situations of day to day life. It greatly reduces the inequality and access barriers Deaf, BSL Users face daily.

“We therefore welcome that the service is now being extended to all national and local public bodies ready to promote and support BSL and Deaf Users across Scotland and that Deaf users have access to public services like everyone else."

The service is free and can be used to contact all public sector bodies in Scotland. It is not for emergency 999 calls. More information on how the BSL Video Relay Interpreting service works can be found on the contactSCOTLAND website www.contactscotland-bsl.org.

For the financial year 2014/15 the Scottish Government has provided £184,000 in funding to NHS 24 to support the BSL pilot project, which includes the cost of selected members of the NHS 24 workforce studying for the MA in BSL offered by Heriot-Watt University.

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