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Council Offers Real-Time Sign Language Video

Deaf users of Sutton Council’s website in the UK will be able to contact customer services through a live, online sign language interpreter, in what the system’s owners believe to be the first service of its kind.

Sutton Council’s website features a ‘SignVideo’ link which connects deaf users to a specialist video call centre staffed by British Sign Language interpreters. The interpreters then contact the relevant council department and act as translators between the deaf website user and the hearing council staff member. This means that deaf website users can instantly discuss their queries with the council from any location with internet access and a webcam, without first having to book an appointment to ensure an interpreter is present.

The system was created by the social enterprise Significan’t. Brigitte Francois, director of interpreting services at Significan’t, told E-Access Bulletin that as well as giving deaf residents equal access to customers services within the council, the system also makes financial sense for the council.

“People are reluctant to book interpreters for a small conversation of 10-15 minutes, because most face-to-face interpreters charge for a minimum of three hours,” Francois said. “Significan’t’s director, Jeff McWhinney, decided that video interpreting would bring a solution to this. Face-to-face interpreting is very necessary – we don’t want to get rid of it – but in some circumstances it makes sense and is more cost efficient to be able to make a short call on the videophone.”

The system has already received positive feedback from residents in Sutton, a borough in which there are around 250 deaf people. Sutton is the only London borough to have been awarded accreditation for accessibility by the Shaw Trust, a charity which assists disabled people to find and prepare for employment.


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