Council signals a change

Jayne Lewis (left), Midlothian Council Planning Officer for Physical Disabilities with BSL users Catherine McGrath and James Ferguson
Jayne Lewis (left), Midlothian Council Planning Officer for Physical Disabilities with BSL users Catherine McGrath and James Ferguson

Midlothian Council is introducing the use of new technology to help staff communicate with deaf people who use sign language.

Employees can use a new app from contactScotland BSL (British Sign Language) which provides access to an online BSL interpreter enabling deaf people to communicate with council staff in face-to-face meetings and on the telephone.

If a meeting is prearranged, a one-to-one interpreter will continue to be booked, but if someone needs to speak to a member of staff briefly or in an urgent situation, staff will have access to an iPad which is set up with the interpretnow app, ready to link a deaf person to the live, web-based BSL interpreting service.

The iPad is kept in council offices in Dalkeith and is available to any council employee – ranging from social workers to housing officers – who has a meeting with a deaf person.

The interpretnow app can also be used for telephone calls with a deaf person.

A member of council staff can use contactScotland to phone a client, providing the client has the app downloaded on their own phone or tablet and has their appliance switched on at the time. With the same proviso, a deaf client could use it to phone the council.

Jayne Lewis, planning officer for physical disabilities, said: “The new app gives deaf people the opportunity to have equal access to face-to-face meetings and telephone calls as hearing people. Here in Midlothian we are keen for as many deaf people as possible to download the app so they can get in touch with us about our services and any issues they may have.”

Midlothian BSL users Catherine McGrath and her partner James Ferguson have tried out the interpretnow app. James said: “It is a fantastic service and people will be able to download the app personally. It will be a huge benefit.”

Catherine said: “It will be really useful to use in an emergency situation.”

Any member of the public can download the app onto their smart phone or tablet by going to contactscotland-bsl.org. The service is available seven days a week from 8am to midnight.

Midlothian has 5,640 people with a hearing impairment, 233 of whom use sign language.