Deaf ‘sign-on’ for new Scots invention

Some 50,000 deaf and hard of hearing people in the UK will get the chance to communicate freely thanks to new mobile technology being introduced by Scotland’s leading charity, Deaf Connections.

The Glasgow-based organisation has commissioned specialist designers to develop the UK’s most advanced video phone and laptop software that allows deaf people to speak to the hearing community in real-time, via an online interpretation service.

Sign On Screen will give 25,000 deaf people and 50,000 hard of hearing people in the UK  the opportunity to carry out day to day tasks, such as visiting the doctor, ordering a pizza or getting a tradesman without being misunderstood.

Instead of having to plan ahead and pay for a costly interpreter, the UK’s deaf community will be able to use to Sign On Screen to talk to whoever they want – whenever they want – by dialling into a central interpretation service at the touch of a button.

The interpreter will use video technology to translate British Sign Language into English and vice versa, ensuring that all parties understand what is being said. Additional features include a queuing system, video mail and automatic routing, which works in two ways by both alerting the caller that a deaf person is on the line or is activated when a hard of hearing person is being contacted.

Gordon Chapman, CEO of Deaf Connections, said: “With interpreters in such short supply and so costly, deaf people often try to manage without and frequently end up not getting what they want or need.

“Simple tasks, such as explaining to your doctor why you suddenly don’t feel well or what colour sofa you would like to buy becomes almost impossible and many deaf people just give up – sometimes with disastrous consequences to their health, finances or quality of life.

“Sign On Screen also benefits hard of hearing people who want to use their voice to make a call but need to read the reply in either text or sign language. Taking their online interpreter out on the road with them – or having it built into their telephone system – will open up products and services to the deaf community that they can’t currently access.”

He added: “By launching Sign On Screen we hope to improve the lives of thousands of deaf and hard of hearing people around the UK as it gives them the same freedom that everyone else takes for granted.”

Sign On Screen is the result of two years development by Deaf Connections and is the only offering of its kind in the UK.

The charity currently supports 2,000 deaf and hard of hearing people in the West of Scotland, including the provision of a face-to-face interpretation service to the Scottish Courts, television and public sector organisations.

In a unique move, Deaf Connections is in talks with organisations across Scotland that already use its interpretation service and Scottish businesses that are keen to tap into the spending power of the deaf community.

Although Sign On Screen is initially being marketed in Scotland, Deaf Connections plans to roll it out everywhere that uses British Sign Language. It is available to individuals and organisations and prices start from just 75p per minute.

For more information about Sign On Screen, please log on to or call 0141 420 1759.

Scott Campbell – Case Study

Sign on Screen is helping one Glasgow man speak to family and friends over the telephone for the first time in 39 years. Scott Campbell is piloting Sign on Screen, the UK’s first freely available visual telecommunications tool for deaf people and it has changed his life.

Using Sign on Screen Scott can now telephone businesses, organisations and individuals using a video-phone or laptop webcam where his British Sign Language (BSL) is translated into English for the listener by an interpreter.

Until he began using Sign on Screen a year ago, Scott relied on the Text Direct messaging system (until recently known as Typetalk) to communicate remotely with hearing people but the technology is not very user-friendly.

Scott, 39, said: “Hearing people take it for granted that they can express a thought immediately every time they speak, but unless I’m communicating with another BSL user, there’s always a delay while I wait for a translator to help me be understood.

“Typetalk has been very useful over the years, but it can make those delays in conversation very long and make the process of communicating effectively difficult, especially when you’re trying to express something which requires a lot of back and forth between each side.

“There’s another element of difficulty in that my first language is BSL but Typetalk requires me to type in English, so it’s almost equivalent to a hearing person having to conduct all their telephone conversations in a second language they’re not entirely comfortable speaking.

“Sign on Screen removes a lot of those barriers and makes conversation much more immediate, because it’s the same as communicating through an interpreter. I recently used it to have a complicated conversation with a car park company over a parking issue which just wouldn’t have been possible using Typetalk. A few months ago, I used Typetalk to communicate with NHS24 and it was difficult to get the information I needed. It would have been much easier to use Sign on Screen.”

He added: “Sign on Screen has certainly made my life easier and it saves a lot of time, too.”

Scott, who became deaf at the age of three, now regularly uses Sign on Screen to keep in contact with his friends and family.

He said: “I often check in with my mum in Troon using Sign on Screen. It’s much simpler to talk to her now, and I think she appreciates that our conversations flow more easily without the delays of Typetalk.

“The system has also made it much easier to keep in touch with my friends, both hearing and deaf, so it’s helped improve my social life too!”

Scott has just finished an HND in photography at Glasgow Metropolitan College, and is keen to pursue a career as a professional photographer.

Scott said: “Sign on Screen has made a big difference to my quality of life, and it has the potential to revolutionise the way deaf people communicate with the hearing world.”