Innovative Technology Service helps Deaf overcome access barriers

December 2016

A new study has found an innovative technology based service helps deaf people overcome a major barrier to everyday services and tackles limited access to sign language interpreting.

The Irish Remote Interpreting Service (IRIS) provides an online video link to an Irish Sign Language (ISL) interpreter, using video-chat programmes, such as Skype. The IRIS interpreter joins a meeting by video link and translates between ISL and spoken English for the participants. This makes it easier for deaf people to access everyday services, while also supporting public and private entities to fulfil their commitments under Disability and Equality legislation. IRIS is funded and supported by the Citizens Information Board. The report was launched by Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar in the Deaf Village (28th November).

Minister Varadkar said: “This is a great example of how new technology can make a real difference to people’s lives. IRIS is a fantastic service and I commend everyone who has been involved in its development. I encourage other Government Departments, State agencies, and private companies to make it available. IRIS was developed to help reduce the inequalities Deaf people face in accessing rights and services”.

Speaking about the report John Stewart, Manager of IRIS added: "An independent evaluation of the service found both public and private services have been slow to use IRIS. In effect, the lack of awareness and actions of these organisations are actually compounding barriers Deaf people face in trying to live full and equal lives".

Speaking at the event Angela Black, Chief Executive, CIB extended a warm welcome to all attendees at the event. She emphasised the importance of the work of SLIS in helping CIB to realise its mandate to assist and support individuals particularly those with disabilities. Figures such as 2,713 Irish Remote Interpreting Service (IRIS) bookings between January and September 2016 point to the ever increasing need for their services.

The evaluation of the service over its first five years was carried out by independent researcher Ann Clarke. The report concludes that IRIS is an innovative and cost effective service, which is free to Deaf citizens. She says however, “There are real implications for Deaf people because of the slow uptake by both public and commercial services. The quality of life of Deaf citizens is restricted in practice by inaction on commitments by public and private decision makers”. This is despite a surge in demand, and use of the service has doubled in the last 6 months. However, many organisations do not use the service including banks, insurance companies and utility companies and ironically no telecommunications company has subscribed to the service. “This contravenes the Consumer Protection Code, not to mention equality legislation” John Stewart points out.

Anne Coogan, Chairperson of Sign Language Interpreting Service, is calling for decision makers in companies and public services to become Deaf friendly and subscribe to remote interpreting. “Some forward thinking organisations have good policies in place to communicate with Deaf people - such as Trinity College, Rabobank and 123.ie – but most expect the Deaf person to pay for interpreters. It is particularly useful for public services to ensure access for Deaf citizens.”

Anne wants 100 organisations to sign up to remote interpreting in the next 6 months. “Using IRIS to communicate with Deaf people sends out a strong message that you are a caring and responsible organization, inclusive of the needs of all consumers. It also enables you to comply with Equality and Disability legislation.”

A video in Irish Sign Language with subtitles and audio in English shows how IRIS works. https://www.youtube.com/IRISvideo

Pictured at the launch were from left: Angela Black, Chief executive, Minister for Social Protection, Leo Varadkar T.D. and Ann Coogan, Chair, SLIS.

Pictured at the launch were from left: Angela Black, Chief executive, Minister for Social Protection, Leo Varadkar T.D. and Ann Coogan, Chair, SLIS.

Sign Language Interpreter at the event

Sign Language Interpreter at the event

Pictured discussing the evaluation report are from left: Ann Coogan, Minister Leo Varadkar and John Stewart, Manager, SLIS

Pictured discussing the evaluation report are from left: Ann Coogan, Minister Leo Varadkar and John Stewart, Manager, SLIS

Ann Clark, researcher and report evaluator.

Ann Clark, researcher and report evaluator.