Why do we need a #platformcoop to deliver interpreting services for Deaf people?

This article was first posted on’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 Team

DV: Tell the MoJ what you think of its interpreting contract…

Recently the excellent DeafHope team (Domestic Violence (DV) service supporting Deaf women experiencing or who have experienced DV) published a BSL (British Sign Language) clip asking people to take part in the Home Office (and Ministry of Justice) consultation on Domestic Violence.

As the video points out Deaf people can suffer worse from the journey by a lack of access to services. It may take them more time to be referred to the DeafHope service which is specialist. Deaf women can often be turned away from a refuge due a lack of Deaf access equipment (such as vibrating fire alarms, flashing light doorbells). Booking of interpreters may be refused from services such as police, courts, local DV service, CAB, housing, council services and social servies. Social workers may display a complete lack of Deaf awareness in how Deaf women communicate and relate to their children. This has sometimes also resulted in care proceedings and in the worst cases, children being taken away from parents.

One of the main issues is the MoJ (Ministry of Justice) contract for interpreting, which was the trigger for starting this blog some 6 years ago, and it has been awful. In that time we’ve seen a spoken language agency take the whole contract on and fail miserably. Cases adjourned, quality of service reduced and a reduction in fees (which has exacerbated the first two issues mentioned).

At least in the second generation contract BSL was taken out of the main contract and put in the “non-spoken” languages part although I think the damage has been done and I’ve seen nothing to suggest any improvements. Due to the reduction in fees, court interpreting which should attract the best now (generally) lures in the newly qualified and less experienced. Deaf professionals have reported incidents of seeing appalling interpreting where their clients do not understand the court proceedings.

With relation to DV this can lead to cases being adjourned, leaving Deaf people at a disadvantage waiting for their case to be heard. Perpetrators have benefited from this or have claimed not to understand the interpreter, resulting in getting charges dropped. Deaf women and men should not have to receive a lesser service from the departments that the Home Office and Ministry of Justice oversee, resulting in society level discrimination. We might not be able to wave magic wands but interpreters and Deaf people… (or any friend of Deaf people), have your say and respond to the consultation before 31st May. Scroll down, click on the blue box and if you want to respond in relation to Deaf people only you can click “Supporting victims with specific needs”.

It is an irony that one MoJ contract is affecting vital services for Deaf people experiencing DV and that the Home Office (and MoJ) has initiated this consultation. Tell them so please.