Interview Series: Clare Vale, Managing Director, Sign Solutions

In our latest edition of our 20 Interviews in 20 Days feature, we interviewed Clare Vale, Managing Director of Sign Solutions.

Sign Solutions is a sign language interpreting company that has seen a 250% rise in uptake of its video interpretation services for Deaf people during lockdown.

Clare was keen to get the message out about the struggles Deaf people are facing in the current pandemic, and crucially, the support available to them.

Could you tell me a bit about your service?

As a specialised interpretation and translation company, we enable Deaf people to communicate with Hearing people across the UK, using British Sign Language (BSL) Interpreters and also other types of communication support, used by people with different levels of hearing loss.

For example, if I became deaf, I probably wouldn’t learn British Sign Language, as English is my first language; instead I would use a speech to text reporter who would type for me what was said within a meeting,  I would use subtitles on the TV and written forms of communication such as email/letter and so on.

For somebody that is born Deaf within the UK, they usually use BSL as their first language, which is very different to English and has different syntax, grammar and structure.

There are 87,000 people in the UK who are BSL users and use BSL as their first of preferred language.

Our company offers specialised non-spoken interpretation and translation services for every type of scenario where you would need to have information or a conversation interpreted between d/Deaf and hearing parties.

We offer interpreters and communication professionals for medical and legal appointments, student support within higher education, meetings at work and any encounter where a conversation between d/deaf and hearing parties is required.

Video interpretation… 

We also offer a video interpretation service ‘Interpreterslive!’ which provides on-demand access to BSL interpreters whenever they are needed – anytime, anywhere.

BSL interpreters are in short supply in the UK and therefore cannot be available to interpret every single interaction that a Deaf person would have. So, by being available on video and not having to travel to deliver interpretation face to face, they can be available more.

Rather than Interpreters carrying out one or two appointments in person, through video, they can do many more and be available in seconds, rather than being pre-booked sometimes days or weeks in advance.

This ultimately means that Deaf people have increased access to products, services, information, healthcare, when they need it most.

We provide the video interpretation service in two ways. The first is via an app called Star Leaf, which is a secure video conferencing application free to download that allows Deaf service users or clients to dial our interpreters when they are required and communicate instantly.

Alternatively, Deaf service users can click on the ‘contact us via a sign language interpreter’ link on any of the Interpreterslive client websites and immediately contact that organisation via phone using an online BSL interpreter.

It is the organisation that pays for our video service on a permanent basis, so the individual contacting that organisation, in BSL, can do so free of charge.

What challenges are you facing at the moment during Covid and how have you adapted?

We’ve lost probably about 70% of our normal income because most of our service delivery is still face-to-face and we are heavily contracted to the NHS and they are currently not scheduling non-emergency appointments.

We also support Deaf students within higher education and obviously with colleges and universities closed and very little moving to online lectures, this decline has also impacted us as well as all the students across the UK missing out on their vital education.

Some of the in-person interpretation requests have converted to video, for example we are supporting remote GP consultations with GPs that have our service but also ones that just want to use our solution on an ad hoc basis.

Normally we wouldn’t use online interpreters for mental health or cancer appointments, but because those haven’t been able to happen face-to-face, we are bringing the Deaf person along with the Interpreter into secure video meetings, where the clinicians join too. If the clinician cannot join by video, they can join by phone and still go ahead with the interpreted consultation.

We are a small part of a long chain in delivery of services to d/Deaf people, but when it comes to healthcare, we play a vital part in ensuring equal access for Deaf people.

There’s a social media and legal campaign at the moment called ‘#where is the interpreter?’ – that’s against the government, asking where the interpreter is on briefings at Downing Street. This has been initiated due to d/deaf people feeling isolated without equal access to vital COVID-19 information.

Many do not consider how accessible they are as an organisation, service provider or even an employer to their Deaf clients, employees or patients, when ensuring customers can access services/information/work or buy products should be a massive consideration. This is not only of benefit to the d/Deaf person but the organisation too!

What projects are you working on at the moment and what’s coming up?

We have been investing in our video interpreting service due to increased demand and will be launching some new features in the coming months!

We are also working on our Sign Solutions and Interpreterslive! websites to make sure they are easier to navigate and find information, advice or services more quickly.

From Clare’s clear success with Sign Solutions, we asked her what her best piece of career advice is as well as her go-to entertainment in lockdown at the moment. 

The best advice I can think of is don’t let anyone ever tell you “you can’t do something”. I always say to my kids, “there’s no such word as can’t!” – I like to push the boundaries and innovate to create solutions for all of our clients.

My go to entertainment at the moment is Netflix binging! We are rattling through the box sets and movies! We are also having some seriously long family video calls; I’m probably keeping in touch more now with family and friends than I ever did prior to Covid.

Final thoughts from Clare…

For us, we’ve been pushing people to embrace video technology and understand security and the differences between video systems! We are finally seeing that clients are understanding the ease of use and quality of our service and in the future they will utilise more of a mix of in-person and remote interpreting services.  Video Interpreting doesn’t replace in-person interpreting, it just compliments it, providing instant interpretation and leading to increased access and freedom of communication!