Help & Advice30th October 2013

Bridgend Council Setting the Standard

Bridgend County Council are taking steps to becoming more and more deaf friendly

by Sarah Lawrence

Accessing public services that are deaf aware and sensitive to communication needs is a hit and miss affair for swathes of Deaf and Hard of Hearing people across Britain. For many years, appropriate provision to the deaf community has been a patch work quilt of quality and availability, but there are pockets of good practice emerging, and Bridgend County Council are taking some bold steps to improve the way they do things.

Incremental change is a good thing, but it does mean things take a long time to improve. Just occasionally, a step change is what is needed and at Bridgend Council it feels like bold leadership is doing just that.

Like a few Councils, Bridgend completely changed the foyer area to their main offices, turning it into a One Stop Drop-In Centre to visitors who wanted to discuss anything about their council services. Staff from various parts of the council make themselves available throughout the day and deal with things there and then. About 90% of council service issues can be dealt with through these new procedures, and when SLFirst visited, it is clear that the people of Bridgend have embraced this change, with the Council offices a hive of activity.

In support of this major change, Bridgend Council recognised that Deaf and Hard of Hearing people may need additional communication support when coming to the Drop-In Centre. Consequently, the Council arranged for staff to receive deaf awareness training, teaching them basic understanding regarding lighting, eye contact, positioning, speed of speech and supportive gestures. Basic level BSL instruction was also made available to staff who wanted to learn and some staff have pursued further BSL tuition.

The Council have also bought into the provision of BSL/English translation through a video relay service using Sign Video. I got to trial this service, and I must say that it worked well and met my communication needs without any pre-warning that I needed an interpreter.

Outside of the One Stop Shop, the council are also rolling out BSL videos on their website, acknowledging that for some Deaf people, written English can be a barrier to full understanding. The council have been working with Sarah Lawrence, the Editor of SLFirst and an expert in BSL, to produce these videos. The first videos have been produced for three specific groups, adults, young people and toddlers, setting out clearly the Council's complaints procedure, using age appropriate BSL.

The steps being taken by Bridgend Council are thoughtful and progressive, addressing barriers to service that have existed for many years for Deaf and Hard of Hearing residents, and it is a pleasure to be supporting them in these endeavours.

Article by Sarah Lawrence

posted in Community / Help & Advice

30th October 2013