"We know of a deaf man who was in hospital for 21 days without any interpreting support. Global agencies often provide poor sign language services in favour of profit," explains Jen Smith on why Signalise platform co‑op was created.
"There have been cases where unqualified sign language interpreters have been used – like someone speaking holiday French."
Jen is one of a collective of British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters pioneering a new, ethical approach to the way BSL interpretation services are provided in the healthcare sector. As a platform co‑op, Signalise will operate online to serve the communities of Liverpool and the Wirral.
According to the British Deaf Association, BSL is the preferred language for more than 87,000 Deaf people in the UK. Jen estimates: "there are about 1300 interpreters in the UK, including Trainees," referencing the National Registers for Deaf and Deafblind People (NRCPD) and Regulatory Body for Sign Language Interpreters and Translators (RBSLI) registers. Sign Health’s Sick Of It report stated poor diagnosis and ineffective treatment of Deaf people currently cost the NHS £30 million a year and the suffering caused to Deaf people is incalculable.
A newly incorporated co‑op, Signalise is still developing its offering and its technology. But its aims are clear: "It’s a matching service to give deaf people more choice and empowerment. At the moment, with private agencies, deaf people don’t have a say. We want them to be able to create an online list of preferred interpreters who can be called upon when needed to assist in healthcare settings," says Jen.
A multi‑stakeholder co‑op, Signalise's membership comprises deaf people and interpreters. It’s hoped that healthcare providers will join too – as the co‑op "is a win, win, win for all three groups." Jen explains: "Being online, our overheads are much less than traditional interpreting provision. We can deliver more choice to deaf people. There's better working conditions for interpreters. And there's greater value for money to health service providers."
Having support from The Hive to incorporate as a co‑op has been a huge help to Signalise.
"Sion presented the alternatives and we knew we were doing the right thing. His advice helped us organise our rules so we understood why we were picking certain options. It helped us start out on a strong footing."
The Hive’s support also included financial advice from Andrew Woodcock. "We want to be financially robust – and to get to a point where we can raise funds through a community share offer. The Hive’s help will ensure we do this in the right way."
Signalise has also spoken to Equal Care Co‑op, also a social care platform co‑op, who helped us understand what funding and support might be available to us and, importantly, what we might expect from the journey of growing a community and becoming a platform co‑op.
Jen is optimistic about what the future holds. "We’re fortunate to be one of the first platform co‑ops in the country. It’s a privilege to be part of this movement and to be at the forefront of these changes. To have deaf people – who aren’t usually included – at the start of this journey, is very exciting!"
"Thanks to The Hive’s help, we have the confidence to move forward knowing that we can make a real social impact."