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How our Advocacy and Interpreting service supports people with British Sign Language needs

Posted on: 29 September 2023

Earlier this month, (23 September), individuals and organisations who support those with hearing problems celebrated the International Day of Sign Languages. Here’s how the GP Care Group helps people who use British Sign Language in our local community. 

There are more than 70,000 deaf people in the UK reportedly using British Sign Language (BSL) as their first language, according to the World Federation of the Deaf. 

It is vitally important that everyone has the means to communicate, and be understood, especially when it comes to accessing healthcare. In Tower Hamlets, the GP Care Group’s Advocacy and Interpreting Service offers easier access to primary healthcare through bilingual advocacy, interpreting, translation, and telephone interpreting services. The team also offers British Sign Language support, just one of 14 languages offered by the team. 

British Sign Language is recognised as an official language used by individuals who are deaf or who experience hearing problems.

In 2021, after identifying the difficulties of providing BSL interpreters for our deaf community in Tower Hamlets, the Advocacy and Interpreting Service rolled out a BSL App that is accessible to all GPs and Community Health Services managed by the Care Group. The on-demand, video BSL Interpreting Service ensures that deaf patients have seamless access to a BSL interpreter through a video link anytime they go to their GP practice.

Awareness-raising campaigns like the International Day of Sign Languages reminds us that much more can be done to support our local deaf and BSL community in Tower Hamlets. Colleagues from our Advocacy and Interpreting Service stressed the importance of catering to this community and shared their thoughts on what we can all do toward this effort. 

“I strongly believe that being able to communicate with each other is a fundamental human right. It is therefore profoundly unfortunate if a person, due to their own particular set of circumstances, is unable to do so. Many people manage only via the medium of sign language (BSL).”

“Our team, Advocacy and Interpreting, knows how important the service is to its BSL users and the BSL community; that they have an advocate/interpreter, when it matters most.”

“I know that in the Bangladeshi community not everyone is aware of or can communicate via sign language. Sometimes the individual lives with family members who are in this unfortunate position [i.e cannot communicate via BSL]. However, I have come across, on more than a few occasions, people who are skilled in sign language assisting people who need it!”

“I often think about how a person with this issue may feel, how vulnerable and extremely isolated they may feel if they did not have access to this service or to people with this wonderful skill set! I feel if more people get trained and become involved with learning sign language, they will help reach those people within the community that need it the most.”

Learn more about the Advocacy and Interpreting services click here: Accessing Advocacy and Interpreting.