Language & Communication11th June 2015

Barclays & Sainsburys Forging a Path Towards Deaf access

Two big companies have hit the headlines recently by introducing new ways for Deaf, BSL-using customers to contact them in their preferred language.

by Sarah Lawrence, Editor

Two big companies have hit the headlines recently by introducing new ways for Deaf, BSL-using customers to contact them in their preferred language. Both have adopted the remote access to live interpreting provided by SignVideo.

 The two companies are Barclays, the high street bank and Sainsbury’s, the supermarket chain. Both companies have provided a number of ‘accessibility services’ over the years, offering things like Text Relay and hearing loops (when they work!) for those who use a hearing aid, but this is the first time sign language users will be able to connect with the services through their first/preferred language of British Sign Language (BSL).

From June 2nd 2015, Sainsbury’s is undertaking a one year trial which allows Deaf customers to get in touch with their contact centres (Sainsbury’s Careline and Grocery Online Contact Centre) via the SignVideo service, providing deaf customers with the ability to ask questions, make complaints or pass on compliments, all at no extra cost to the customer. Sainsbury’s themselves have acknowledged that in the past, Deaf customers were forced to rely on hearing family or friends to make a call on their behalf, but are now hoping this new service will be the end of that, empowering the deaf community to take back control.

 The Sainsbury’s service will be available from Monday to Friday and between the hours of 8am and 6pm and they say the waiting time should be no more than 30 seconds. Strong, well-established values are integral to Sainsbury’s success and they have been consistently involved with equality and diversity over the years. They were one of the major sponsors of the Paralympics in 2012 and the first company ever to sponsor only the Paralympic games.

Tim Fallowfield, Corporate Services Director and Board Champion for Disability and Carers at Sainsbury’s said, “We pride ourselves on our customer service, and part of this is making sure it’s as easy as possible for all our customers to communicate with us about their shop. We already have induction loops in all our stores for hearing aid users, and we’re pleased to be trialling this innovative solution to make it even easier for our deaf BSL customers to get in touch with us when they need to.”

The Minister for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson MP, said, “I wholeheartedly commend Sainsbury’s for implementing this innovative SignVideo service. As one of our key Disability Confident partners, they are showcasing how businesses can use technology to make their products more accessible. I hope others will follow Sainsbury’s lead and recognise the business benefits of supporting disabled customers.”

Barclays have been doing this a bit longer. They have already been offering a video relay service for customers to contact them from their homes for more than a year. What has changed now is that they allow Deaf customers to make use of the relay interpreter from the bank branches themselves so they can chat face-to-face with a advisor. They say that if you let them know you would like to use the SignVideo service, they can provide an iPad to allow instant access to communication in-branch – the first, and as far as we know, the only bank currently offering this in the UK. They also point out that if you would prefer the more traditional face-to-face interpreter then they are happy to provide that too, although they say they may need up to 2 weeks’ notice to arrange that meeting.

Barclays have been trying to get the information out to the Deaf community and have had adverts appearing during the recent ITV news broadcasts. If you haven't seen their advert yet, you can watch it on YouTube. They have also "just launched a permanent display in our Top 40 flagship branches which includes a SignVideo emblem to facilitate easier communication between staff and customers when this service is required."

For their work with SignVideo and intriduction of the VRI service, Barclays have also been shortlisted for a Tech4Good accessibility award, the winner of which will be announced next month. If you'd like to vote for them or read a bit more about the awards you can check out the Tech4Good website

Barclays previously made a video featuring a Deaf man called John Denerley where he explains the issues and embarrassment that he has been caused in the past when trying to communicate with bank staff because of the language barrier. He says the SignVideo service has made a big difference to him and feels it allows him to talk to the bank more directly than previously possible. If you would like to see John’s video you can press play below (video in BSL, with English subtitles).

This service is a valuable option for the Deaf community in the UK and is long overdue. It is about time other companies started to follow suit. For years, deaf and hard of hearing people have been unable to contact banks, insurance companies, shops or other services because of barriers to communication, issues that are so often so easily solved. It is staggering how many businesses only offer a phone number as the way of contacting them. They need to realise that they are missing out on a huge number of potential customers. 

When I asked SignVideo for their thoughts on this, they said "There has certainly been a shift in thinking. Rather than just providing access which is required by law, companies and businesses now see deaf BSL users as a market segment that they can tap into. Providing access in BSL is a competitive advantage. A business that offers deaf customers an option to contact customer services in BSL and have their enquiries discussed in their preferred language is likely to gain a lot of positive feelings towards your service, which leads to referrals within their circle of family and friends. As we know, in the deaf community news spread fast!"

I also asked SignVideo about why these two companies are being so proactive while others lagged behind, they said "By signing up to the BSL Live service, these businesses become ambassadors of BSL. They are making a statement that they value their BSL using customers and strive to offer them equal access to communications. This attitude should be adopted by all other companies. This is already happening because it is the right thing to do. You can't really say 'No thanks, we are not interested', can you?" 

It’s not only deaf people that will be taking their custom elsewhere – with the younger generation getting so accustomed to text messages, on-line shopping and email, if companies don’t offer these things, they are just going to go elsewhere.Sure, I would love to order a take-away, buy broadband or open an account with you – but if you only offer me a phone number for contact and your competitors offer me remote interpreting, SMS, email or online chat, I will be taking my custom elsewhere.

I asked Barclays what prompted them to take up this service and they said "Our reason for introducing this service was because we wanted to be able to offer deaf customers the same level of access to banking as hearing people, without having to worry about requesting a face-to-face interpreter for their booked appointment, unless they want one (we still offer this option)." It's fantastic to finally see a British Bank and a leading supermarket recognising the need to connect with their deaf customers - all we need now are more businesses take notice and follow suit.

How to use them

If you are a Barclays’ customer, would like to become one or if you have something to say to Sainsbury’s then here’s how you can get in touch with them using the SignVideo service:


To get in touch with Barclays Bank, from their website you can navigate to the contact us page that looks like this:

Press on the SignVideo button which will take you to their page about SignVideo and other accessibility options,

Then, just press the button that says ‘Use SignVideo now’ and it will connect you up to a relay interpreter who will then confirm who you are calling and put you in contact with Barclays.


It’s not quite as obvious to find the SignVideo link on the Sainsbury’s website, as it is not currently listed on their main ‘contact us’ page. So, if you would like to get in touch with Sainsburys to provide some feedback or ask them about any of their stores or products, then you need to use this address:

Click on the SignVideo link and a new window will pop open to connect you with the relay interpreter. Their website says that for now, you will need to let them know whether you want ‘Option 3’ which relates to online food shopping or ‘Option 5’ for customer care.

Is my computer compatible?

If you would like to know a bit more about the service and whether your computer or laptop is compatible with the live video system, check out the video below for a good explanation of everything you’ll need:

Article by Sarah Lawrence, Editor

posted in Community / Language & Communication

11th June 2015