The coronavirus affects
society profoundly, but in which ways has the pandemic influenced access to and
need for sign language interpretation around the world? In our blog series “Sign
Language interpretation in the time of corona,” we will
take a closer look at the situation in different countries. This time, we’ll focus on the UK,
as Andy Irvine at Sign Language Interactions, discusses accessibility for Deaf sign
language users in the country.
How extensive are sign
language interpretation services in the UK usually?
Apart from business that relied
on ‘footfall’ we have provided continuity of services to some extent. In
regards to specific health- and social care services that Deaf BSL users
access, many have continued to provide services—albeit slightly limited. GPs (local doctors) for
example were fully reliant on telephone contact to arrange repeat
prescriptions, test results, etc. This new situation has brought video remote interpreting into the
Service providers who normally accepted calls via a third party (interpreter) continued to
do so with no real change. We are all operating in challenging and different
times, in which technologically-assisted communication is currently the only
acceptable method of communication.
How has the overall need
for sign language interpretation services increased due to Coronavirus?
Call volumes on nearly all of our
queues/services have increased. This is especially true for access to health-related
information. In particular there was a spike in calls to our national
non-emergency health help line during March and April.
We have been able to meet the demands of the
higher level of calls and the availability of online interpreters at most
times. Most interpreters in the country were either employed by organisations
and furloughed (granted leave form work, being paid 80% of wages by the UK government) or freelance with no forthcoming
income. We were able to secure the services of additional interpreters to work
Within the first week of lock-down,
we had all interpreters set up to be home-based and deliver services as normal.
Some were already set up prior to the COVID-19 response.
Interpreters fully utilized chat facilities such as WhatsApp group messaging and have had a number of ‘get togethers’ on Zoom conferencing. Management and support has been different during these times.
In your opinion, what
does the best-case future scenario for sign language interpretation services
look like? What tools and decisions should be in place to increase
accessibility for deaf people?
One main feature that is
beneficial is the use of three parties on screen: Deaf user – Interpreter –
This can be achieved within
MMX if all parties were on app/WebTC – interoperability with MS Teams, Zoom and
other video platforms as standard, would be ground-breaking. The interpreter
being able to ‘call-in’ from MMX would offer far wider accessibility.
With increased use of video
technology (nation-wide) and now becoming an acceptable method of communication
in these times, for both sign language users as well as ‘hearing’ members of
society, governments (local and national) should work with video remote
interpreting services to ensure that firewalls/network restrictions can easily