SignCo.io: “We bring deaf people and interpreters together”

"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 SignCo.io 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, SignCo.io 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, SignCo.io 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, SignCo.io'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 SignCo.io. "We’ve received business support from co‑op development advisor Sion Whellens. It’s given us real clarity. We knew we wanted to be a multi‑stakeholder co‑operative. The trend of privatisation has caused a rift between the two communities. It means we can bring deaf people and interpreters back together again. The Hive has helped us clarify that."

"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."

SignCo.io 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."

Find out more and follow: SignCo.io | Facebook | Twitter | LinkenIn | Instagram


Applications for The Hive support are open throughout the year. Find out more and apply today at: www.thehive.coop/apply

Hear from other groups and co‑ops who have received support from The Hive.

Written by Jennifer Banks
Updated: 06/12/2019