in co-operatives

SignCo.io: Why do we need a #platformcoop to deliver interpreting services for Deaf people?

This article was first posted on SignCo.io’s blog publication via Medium on 24th July. I’ve been rather quiet on this blog and elsewhere due to the ongoing work building this organisation and the platform that will go with it. If you are interested please read on, follow us on social media and sign up for our newsletter.


Our user-led platform coop has been borne out of a need to fix a broken system of how services like the NHS buy and agencies deliver (or rather don’t deliver!) interpreting services.

Ask any Deaf person about their access to health around the country and you’ll get a postcode lottery of answers. Ask anyone on Merseyside and you’ll find a shocking lack of provision and, where there is some kind of service in place, it’s generally not a very good one. A long list of agencies have been given contracts across the area but are mostly not specialists, the interpreters won’t work for them and the Deaf community do not know if there’ll be an interpreter there when they turn up for an appointment or even which agencies hold contracts.

There are some shocking stories where Deaf people are left without any interpreter at all and zero access to information. This is despite the NHS Accessible Information Standard now being in place. This impacts upon patient outcomes and can lead to serious implications such as misdiagnosis and treatment, and worse case scenario, preventable deaths (Sign Health’s Sick of It report, 2014).

When a Deaf person attends a medical appointment without an interpreter, they are not able to gain sufficient information to give consent, therefore any healthcare professional that carries out medical or surgical procedures without consent, could be charged with the crime of assault.

We’ve all been involved in different Deaf community organisations, interpreting organisations, the interpreters’ Union, NUBSLI, and been involved in campaigns work. We’ve had those conversations with national and local statutory organisations about the problems with the system and know that the best way of fixing this is by creating an alternative that can deliver, that provides social impact and that works for all users involved.

The only way an alternative will work is by creating a co-operative with both Deaf people and interpreters as members, and by working with services to co-create a digital platform that works for all three user groups.

Digital platform co-operatives have been gaining in popularity since 2015 as a way to use technology for good, to reinvent the internet and use platforms that serve workers and users rather than shareholders and provide better value for money for services and communities.

Our aim is to improve interpreting access to health for Deaf people. The long-term aim is to use profits after maintenance and development of the platform to improve standards and support within the interpreting profession. So as we improve access to health for Deaf people, the access they get will continue to get better and interpreters will be better supported.

Co-operatives UK and The Hive logos

We have been successful in getting support from The Hive via Co-operatives UK to get our governance, membership structures and finances in order and get incorporated. We are so passionate and excited about this venture. If you are too, you can show your support by sharing on social media, sign up for updates or send us a message.

Jen Smith, Nicky Evans, Kate Boddy and Wes Mehaffy

The SignCo.io Team

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