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Mobile network operator (MNO) Three is to pilot a new scheme to help deaf customers communicate with staff in selected retail stores using British Sign Language (BSL) through a video service provided by Birmingham-based BSL learning and services organisation Sign Solutions.
The new partnership extends an existing relationship that exists between Three and Sign Solutions through which it has enabled a video-communication service on its website that uses a computer’s webcam or smartphone camera to help deaf customers get answers to their questions from fellow signers.
Its new in-store video relay is designed to help deaf customers get more out of their mobile devices and services, and will enable them to talk to in-store staff via an iPad video connection to a Sign Solutions interpreter.
The interpreters will relay questions to in-store staff who can then offer customers much better support for purchases and customer services than they would be able to provide using more traditional audio induction loop technology.
While many retail stores will already have audio induction loops installed, and UK businesses are required to make them available where possible under the terms of the Disability Discrimination Act, often this technology is neglected and not functional, staff may not be properly trained in its use and it may not even be the most appropriate solution for the customer.
“This pilot extends on our commitment to give all of our customers the best possible experience with Three,” said the firm’s head of executive office operations, Steven Cocker.
“This means providing the support needed to make our products and services accessible for everyone,” he said. “We introduced video relay for customers online three years ago and are excited to be able to build on this service in-store.”
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A report released earlier in 2017 by national charity Action on Hearing Loss – formerly the Royal National Institute for Deaf People – said a lack of deaf awareness among businesses, and society at large, could be costing the UK almost £25bn per annum – five million Britons have some degree of hearing loss, although the BSL-fluent population is much lower.
“The existing online platform Three uses has already transformed the experience for many of its customers,” said Sean Nicholson, CEO of Sign Solutions. “We’re delighted to be continuing our work with Three, using technology to provide more inclusive services for all customers, both online and in-store.”
The in-store BSL video relay will initially be piloted at four Three locations, at Westfield Shepherd’s Bush in London, as well as Burnley, Cardiff and Liverpool.