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Northern Ireland gets remote sign language service for health and social care


Mark Say Managing Editor

The Northern Ireland Executive has set up a remote sign language interpreting service for access to health and social care services during the Covid-19 pandemic.

'Friend' in sign language

It has been funded by the Department of Health and Department of Communities and set up in partnership with the Health and Social Care Board and with input from the British Deaf Association.

The service is being provided by InterpreterNow, which provides similar access to NHS services in England, Scotland and Wales, and uses British Sign Language and Irish Sign Language. Information on how to access it is being made available through the public services portal NI Direct and the websites of the Health and Social Care Board and Public Health Agency.

It consists of the two elements. A video relay service enables deaf people to use the service app to contact any health and social care service via a BSL or ISL interpreter. Once they are connected the interpreter telephones the provider on the deaf person’s behalf.

Alongside this, a video remote interpreting service creates a secure video link between the deaf person and interpreter who can help them conduct a conversation with a provider.

Access and engagement

Health Minister Robin Swann said: “This service will enable deaf people to access vital public health information and engage with healthcare professionals on the same basis as hearing people.

“The Coivd-19 public health crisis has raised awareness across government of the importance of providing information and services that are accessible to people with sensory, physical and learning disabilities.”

The pandemic has created a fresh momentum for the use on online sign language services to maintain social distancing. Last week the Department for Work and Pensions announced it was launching a service to support deaf people applying for universal credit.

Image by Marina del Castell, CC BY 2.0

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