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Saturday, 23 October 2021
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Sign Assist – A groundbreaking service for deaf people

THIS May, to coincide with Deaf Awareness Week, Connect Assist is launching what they believe is a UK first: Sign Assist, a helpline for deaf and hearing-impaired people, staffed by Deaf and hearing impaired advisors.

Where it all began for Connect Assist

Connect Assist is always looking for ways to improve its services. Last year, they explored inclusivity, and it struck them that deaf and hearing-impaired people couldn’t use their helplines.

Deafness is the second most common disability in the UK, affecting around 12million people. Yet, the community remains significantly underserved by most businesses, and, as a result, they are searching for organisations that understand their needs.

Sure, deaf and hearing-impaired people could use email or chat services, but these can be impersonal and don’t lend themselves to people in crisis.

Connect Assist run services for several military veteran charities and an international musicians’ mental health charity. Many service users have hearing impairments, which got them thinking about offering helplines with British Sign Language (BSL) interpretation.

Employing deaf advisors

Connect Assist has worked with a leading deaf consultancy company, which brought about a change in their thinking.

The company made it clear that, accomplished though BSL interpreters are, they don’t live the same day-to-day life as deaf people. Plus, third-party interpretation services are cumbersome: there’s a lot of toing and froing before a query is answered, and they’re not very empathic, either.

So, Connect Assist decided to train deaf people as advisors so that they can support callers directly. They are better placed to understand the lives of fellow deaf people and offer a truly empathic service.

As an added bonus, this approach creates jobs in their call centre for talented deaf people who might otherwise struggle to find employment.

Sign Assist – A groundbreaking service for deaf people

The right space and tech for deaf people

Launching Sign Assist has meant making some changes to their offices.

They have created a unique working space for their deaf advisors, so there are no distractions, and the viewers’ eyes can focus on the body, lips and hands.

You can’t rely on fuzzy laptop webcams if you need to lip read and pick up on body language, so they have installed high-res Logitech cameras and very clear lighting.

And, to ensure their colleagues’ health and safety, they have had to upgrade things like fire alarms across their buildings to include strobe lighting.

Welcoming their new colleagues

Internal communications are also important. So, Connect Assist offered all their staff BSL training and have bought transparent face masks to enable lip reading.

They have distributed best practice guides on Teams calling a deaf colleague, while in video meetings, deaf colleagues can use real-time transcripts or BSL interpreters where necessary.

#jointheconversation

Connect Assist think Sign Assist is the start of something much bigger. They would like to be training advisors for charities, local authorities and commercial companies.

So, when deaf people go to those organisations’ websites, they’ll see that they offer real-time BSL helplines and know they are valued as service users/customers.

If you want to find out more about Sign Assist, join the conversation today.

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