Help & Advice12th October 2013
Deaf Friendly Council Services
Bridgend County Borough Council offering Deaf Friendly Services
Deaf and Hard of Hearing people access public services regularly. Along with the Health services, they use the different functions of Local Authorities more than any other. If either of these public bodies took steps to become deaf friendly, it would make a significant difference to the lives of many of their Deaf and Hard of Hearing service users.
Bridgend County Borough Council are doing just that, and the staff involved are committed to raising standards. Bev Davies, Customer Service Manager explained, “Access for all is at the heart of our Customer Services Charter and we are working hard to ensure that our Deaf and Hard of Hearing customers find it easy to conduct their business with us”.
Under the Borough Council umbrella there are a wide range of services, including refuse collection, education, housing, jobs, health care and transport. This means that Deaf and Hard of Hearing residents may need to contact the Council regularly. To do so, councils need to be accessible, and Bridgend are taking steps to make sure they are.
In a visit to the Bridgend County Borough Council offices, SL First discussed the steps being taken with Bev, who is providing the energy behind much of the change, along with the Council’s Diversity Officer, Paul Williams.
Upon arrival, the first thing we noticed were the signs displayed in the reception area, telling visitors that BSL was available. I asked the receptionist about it, and with a warm engaging smile, she offered to get me someone who could use BSL. The receptionist joked with me about the little BSL she knew, comfortable to do so, and seemingly totally at ease in dealing with me.
The reception area was busy and I learned from Bev that Bridgend CBC had decided to introduce a Customer Service Centre at the Council’s Civic Offices so that the vast majority of public enquiries could be dealt with in one location. That area was buzzing with activity showing that the public had connected with the decision to change the way enquiries were being dealt with.
In support of this change, Bev was keen to ensure all sections of the community were informed about what the council were doing and the services they offered. Having consulted widely with the Deaf Community and Action on Hearing Loss, Bev has already commissioned some BSL translation of information provided to the public.
Bridgend CBC are now looking to extend the provision of information in BSL and arrangements are in place for that to be done. I asked Bev why she felt this was important and she said, “We have the Browse Aloud facility on our website for Blind and sight impaired customers, and Welsh translation for our Welsh speaking customers, so making information available in BSL is the next logical step. We’ll start with the key customer information and then continue to consult with the local Deaf community to prioritise further translations”.
In speaking to Bev, I could tell this wasn’t just a flash in the pan, here today, gone tomorrow issue. There was genuine commitment to making improvements, and Bev had engendered interest from other staff within the council. Through this increased focus on Deaf awareness, Bev along with several staff members were undertaking the ‘Start to Sign’ introduction to BSL, and others had already progressed to Level One. To help the staff learn, Bridgend had bought in those services, providing the maximum opportunity for its staff to learn. I tried having a conversation with one member of staff, and I was delighted that she was confident enough to try out her BSL with me. She was also very comfortable doing so, and along with other staff members, showed a genuine interest in Deaf culture and Deaf points of view.
Bev also explained that the council had put in place a brand new service for Deaf BSL users visiting the Customer Service Centre only a week before my visit. “We installed a telephone link to ‘Sign Video’ from our website early in 2013 so we wanted to provide the same on demand service for walk in customers. We have an on demand translation service available for more than 30 other languages. Hearing customers don’t have to wait, sometimes days, for an interpreter to become available, so why should our Deaf and Hard of Hearing customers”. I asked to try out the new service, provided by Sign Video, and in a jiffy a call handler had put on a head set, and was dialling into the internet based system.
Within minutes, I was looking at the screen of a lap top computer with a BSL interpreter looking back at me through the in-built camera. As I signed to her, she spoke to the lady with the headset on and we were able to enjoy a very effective conversation, just as effectively as I could do with an interpreter actually present with me.
Some people might have concerns about confidentiality and dialect, but as an option, I thought Sign Video was excellent. As a service supporting a drop-in centre, I think it is brilliant and a major step forward.
What I liked most is the excitement amongst Bev and the other Council staff about the steps they are taking and the progress they are making in support of the Deaf community. There was an energy and a buzz that I have not witnessed before. Even without Sign Video, the Council had taken great strides of progress, but the addition of Sign Video considerably enhances their accessibility.
You can find out more about Sign Video at www.signvideo.co.uk
I left their offices feeling really positive about the steps they are taking, and delighted that a Council was taking the issue of Deaf Friendly services very seriously. We need to get the message out to residents in that area so that they know what is available.
I also hope to see other councils and public services follow suit.
Article by Sarah Lawrence
posted in Community / Help & Advice
12th October 2013