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Sign language interpreting service expands

First anniversary of video call service for Deaf people.

Online British Sign Language (BSL) interpreting service contactSCOTLAND is celebrating its first anniversary by expanding into the third sector.

The Scottish Government-funded service, which allows Deaf people across Scotland to contact public sector services using sign language, is being extended to community groups, voluntary organisations, charities, social enterprises, co-operatives and individual volunteers.

This project is unique in the UK and is the first nationally funded public sector Video Relay Service (VRS).

Minister for Sport, Health Improvement and Mental Health, Jamie Hepburn, confirmed the Scottish Government’s commitment to the service as it marked its first anniversary.

He said: “Firstly, let me congratulate everyone involved with contactSCOTLAND on celebrating this milestone.

“There are estimated to be around 6,500 people living in Scotland who use British Sign Language and these people deserve to have the same access to services as everyone else.

“Last year, we extended the pilot of this programme to cover all public sector services in Scotland – so people could contact their local council, doctor’s surgery, NHS 24, the police or us at the Scottish Government, among others.

“The service is going from strength to strength. There has been a sustained increase in the uptake of the service with calls averaging 100 per week. Now it’s rolling out to the voluntary sector and breaking down even more of the barriers that some Deaf people face when trying to get in contact with their local services.

“For the majority of people who rely on sign language to communicate, they need to arrange to have someone to call on their behalf. But this means Deaf people can video call an interpreter at contactSCOTLAND directly who will then speak to the relevant public or third sector organisation and relays the conversation for the Deaf person.

“This is a fantastic project and gives BSL users equal access to public sector services, allowing them to enjoy greater participation in daily and public life.”

John Downie, Director of Public Affairs, Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) said:

“This is an important step forward for thousands of people in Scotland using British Sign Language who will find it easier to access the vital services and support provided by third sector organisations across the country, and for charities and other third sector organisations who will have a new way to communicate with deaf BSL users. This service will make a real difference to people’s lives by making sure they receive the information and support they need when they need it.”

Paul Tipling, a contactSCOTLAND user from Greenock, said:

“Using contactSCOTLAND is brilliant as it provides access for me to use BSL rather than written English. I am now able to access numerous organisations when I need them and I no longer have to rely on someone to telephone for me.

“I can contact local voluntary groups, local disability organisations and make arrangements to attend meetings etc.

“Making contact using contactSCOTLAND means I have clear communication on my terms. It’s fantastic. I am really pleased with the service. Thank you so much."

Notes To Editors

The service is free and can be used to contact all public and voluntary services in Scotland. It is not for emergency 999 calls. More information on how the BSL Video Relay Interpreting service works can be found on the contactSCOTLAND website

The service was initially piloted by NHS 24, before expanding to cover the rest of the public sector in Scotland in March 2015.

Following an initial six monthly review of the expanded service, it was agreed in September 2015 that the service had been successfully implemented and was starting to deliver real outcomes for the Deaf community. A further review on usage and potential improvements was conducted with the support of the Deaf Sector Partnership.

As a result, the pilot will move to full implementation when the current contract expires in September 2016. A procurement exercise to secure a new Scottish Government contract is underway and an Invitation to Tender will be issued shortly via the Public Contracts Scotland website


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