Communication support for deaf people

Deaf and hearing people communicate with each other in many areas of everyday life. Often they need support to communicate effectively with each other. Find out about your rights.

Professional support

People who are employed to provide communication support services are called Language Service Professionals. They include:

  • British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters
  • Irish Sign Language (ISL) interpreters
  • deafblind interpreters
  • lipspeakers
  • notetakers
  • speech-to-text reporters (palantypists)

Communication support may be provided in a variety of situations by service providers and employers, such as:

  • at a job interview, on a training course or at work
  • when visiting a doctor, optician or hospital
  • when attending court or at a public meeting

Video Relay Service for deaf people claiming benefits

If you are deaf or hard of hearing or speech impaired and use either British or Irish Sign Language (BSL) (ISL) you can now communicate in real time with benefit staff using the Video Relay Service (VRS).

VRS can provide you with access to an interpreter using a video connection on an electronic device including laptop, PC, Smartphone or a tablet.

Video Relay Service is now available in the following benefit areas:

How communication support is arranged

In most situations, support has to be booked beforehand. Booking may be required up to six weeks before.

Service providers need to think about what communication support you may need to get their goods or use their services. 

You should give as much detail as possible so they can book the right support, for example:

  • the length of the session
  • information about the session such as medical diagnosis, presentation slides or the agenda at a meeting

 This is especially important when medical or legal information is involved - such as in hospital, at a police station or in a courtroom. Some Language Service Professionals will have extra experience in certain situations.

Service providers, local authorities and government offices can access communication support:

  • by employing in-house Language Service Professionals
  • through agencies or individuals that offer communication support

Hospitals, doctors, and legal agencies (such as the police and courts) should have a standard procedure and booking system for arranging interpreting services.

A remote interpreting service for British Sign Language (BSL) and Irish Sign Language (ISL) users in Northern Ireland has been introduced to provide access to NHS 111 and Health and Social Care services during the COVID-19 pandemic. More information is available on the Health Services page.

Examples of communication support

At the doctor's or in hospital

Deaf people have the right to have a qualified interpreter for medical appointments. Children and family members should not be used as interpreters or communicators generally. However, sometimes it may be suitable for an adult, for example a spouse or partner, to act as an interpreter.

Looking for work and while in work

At a Jobs and Benefits office an interpreter may be able to support you to write application forms and CVs. An interpreter can translate information between you and the Disability Employment Adviser.

The 'Access to Work' scheme can provide support to people with disabilities and employers. People who provide communication support under this scheme are called 'support workers'.

They give invoices to the employer for payment of the services carried out, and the employer and the employee sign a claim form to get back their fees from the scheme. In certain circumstances, your employer may be expected to contribute towards the costs of communication support.

At college or university

Colleges can receive additional funding to meet the additional learning needs of deaf or hearing impaired students which may include providing Language Service Professionals.

Disabled Students' Allowances can help pay the extra costs a student may incur to study a course of higher education, as a direct result of a disability. The allowances can help pay the cost of a non-medical personal helper such as an interpreter or notetaker.

What the law requires

Employers and providers of goods and services to the public are legally required to make reasonable adjustments to assist people with disabilities in recruitment, employment and to allow them to access goods and services. Special Educational Needs (SEN) requirements does the same for the provision of educational services by schools, colleges and universities.

For deaf people, reasonable adjustments might include providing communication aids or services, such as sign language interpreting.

Employers and service providers only have to make adjustments that are reasonable in the particular situation. Factors such as the cost and practicability of making an adjustment, and the resources available to them can all be taken into account in deciding what is reasonable. What may be expected of one service provider or employer in a situation may not be suitable or 'reasonable' for another.

You can find out more on the following nidirect page and by visiting the website of The Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID).

Qualifications for Language Service Professionals

Most service providers use only fully qualified Language Service Professionals. You can find out the types of qualifications, levels of training, registration categories and more from the website of Signature (formerly the Council for the Advancement of Communication with Deaf People).

The website also has an online directory of qualified Language Service Professionals.

More useful links

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